Fennel, Avocado and Eggplant: Incorporate these Nutritional All-Stars in Your Meal
By Gennis Lafayette, N.C.
The summer season brings a rainbow of foods to market, so it’s a great time to increase the variety—and color spectrum—of fruit and vegetables in your diet. As a nutrition consultant, I encourage my clients to increase the breadth of nutrients they consume to promote optimal health.
Vitamins and Minerals—Where the Rubber Meets the Nutritional Road
It’s an over-simplification, but when we’re talking food our bodies really need just two types of nutrients to survive: macronutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Micronutrients are found in fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Our bodies need them in small amounts, versus macronutrients, which our bodies need in larger amounts. Most micronutrients are considered “essential” because your body can’t make them, so you must get them from your food. Different foods have varying amounts. For example, kale provides a significant source of calcium (more so than milk!) while potatoes are rich in potassium. Animal foods—like organic, sustainably raised chicken—do contain micronutrients, but when compared to a plant food, the plant food wins the micronutrient contest, hands down.
Phytonutrients—only found in plant foods—help plants protect themselves from free radicals (pollution or diseases) and when we eat those foods, we get that same protection. Thank you, Mother Nature! Examples of phytonutrients are carotenoids, which are in yellow, orange and red foods; lycopene, found in tomatoes; or the sulfuric compounds in garlic, which are powerful “anti-everything-undesirable” compounds. When a food is touted as having “anti-cancer” or “anti-viral” properties, it’s typically because of phytonutrients working their magic.
Many of us get into a nutritional rut and limit our nutrient intake by sticking to the same old meal. Finding new ways to enjoy your favorites and trying a wide array of seasonal produce will bring you one step closer to expanding your nutritional horizons while improving your overall health.
In addition to the sun-ripe tomato, this season offers three of my favorites: fennel, avocado and eggplant. Here are some thoughts on how and why you might consider incorporating these nutritional all-stars into your next menu.
Why I love it: This creamy green fruit provides a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin E, fiber and magnesium. They also provide B vitamins, vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese and copper and are thought to help your body better absorb certain phytonutrients like carotenoids.
New favorite ways to eat it: a few slices with a tiny pinch of sea salt on whole grain toast OR chopped in a not-so-typical salad of lentils, black beans, tomatoes and a spicy cumin-lime dressing.
Why I love it: All parts of a fennel plant can be eaten—bulb, stem and leaves—raw or cooked. Fennel contains its own unique combination of phytonutrients that give it strong antioxidant activity.
New favorite ways to eat it: in a cold fennel “slaw” with lemon, olive oil, grated parmesan, salt & pepper OR a puréed green pea, fennel and lettuce soup.
Why I love it: Eggplant provides an array of vitamins and minerals including B1, B3, B6 and K, potassium, folate, manganese and copper. It also contains important phytonutrients, many of which promote antioxidant activity that protect cell walls from damage and stimulate cardiovascular health.
New favorite way to eat it: eggplant-basil-tomato-pesto-feta “stacks.”
Gennis Lafayette is a certified nutrition consultant and instructor at the Bar Method Peninsula studios. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Facebook: Facebook.com/gennis.lafayette.ne