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Our Health

June 9, 2014

‘Planting’ the seeds of a better diet this summer

Summertime is a great time to make improvements to your diet and lifestyle. Despite the conflicting “advice” you may get about diet when reading the popular press (not to mention all of the “food rules”), adding more plants to your diet is always a good idea.

Farmers markets abound, more local produce is available in the markets at this time of year, so now is a good time to get adventurous and try some new foods. Adding more vegetables to your diet is also part of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan and helps lower blood pressure.

Many people who don’t consume vegetables daily are often in one of two camps using these excuses:

- Vegetables don’t taste good (maybe you are used to boiled veggies or canned vegetables)

- I don’t have time to prepare fresh vegetables

An easy solution? Roast, stir-fry or grill them. Roasting veggies brings out their natural sugars and cuts down their natural bitterness, which makes them more appealing to more people. Roasting also seals in more nutrients than boiling since vitamins stay with the veggies in the roasting pan. Roasting is also super easy. Just cube up vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, eggplant or squash and toss with two to three tablespoons of olive oil. Lightly salt or add crushed garlic. Roast in a 400 degree F oven for 30 to 45 minutes.

When you fire up the grill for your meats, be sure to prepare a veggie to throw on there as well. Vegetables take about 10 to 15 minutes (or less) on the grill, so you can either put them on first, then keep them warm while you grill the meat, or grill the meat, remove to a platter and cover the meat with foil, and then grill the vegetables.

These vegetables work very well on the grill, and the prep for each is the same. Wash and cut the vegetables, place in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil, add a dash of salt and a crushed garlic glove, if desired.

- Eggplant. Peel and then slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Prepare with oil as above and grill for two to three minutes per side. Watch closely so they don’t burn (prepare onions the same way).

- Bell peppers. Cut peppers in half and seed. Cut in half again and prepare as above, then place on grill, inside down. Grill for about five to 10 minutes.

- Squash (zucchini type). Wash squash and slice long ways into 1/4-inch slices. Prepare with oil as above and place on grill. Cook for about two minutes per side until tender.

- Asparagus. Wash and trim bottoms from asparagus. Toss in oil as above and place directly on grill for about six to eight minutes or until crisp tender.

Other easy ways to get vegetables to the table:

- Serve a side of raw sugar snap peas and carrots with your favorite dip.

- Top your homemade grilled burgers with some new vegetables — spinach leaves, goat cheese with sliced beets, a grilled slice of zucchini or roasted peppers.

- Try using foil packets. Take a large square of foil and place cubed potatoes, onions, squash or peppers onto it. Add a little bit of butter or olive oil, and a pinch of salt or seasoning. Seal up the packet tightly at the ends, leaving some room within it for steaming. Place on hot grill for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

- Pick up ready-to-use, bagged broccoli slaw or cabbage slaw. Use it for traditional cold salad, or make a quick stir-fry — it’s already shredded and takes about four to five minutes to cook. Add cubes of cooked chicken or chopped nuts for a quick meal.

- Create your own veggie sliders or subs. Grill up eggplant, zucchini, onions and peppers. Slather a fresh crusty roll with a chipotle mayonnaise, top with roasted vegetables and a melt a slice of your favorite cheese on top. Now that’s a sandwich that even meat eaters will love!

Vegetables can taste good when prepared properly, and this can be done quickly using the grill, the oven or a stir fry pan. Don’t be concerned about adding a little bit of fat in preparation (olive oil or butter) to really deliver something satisfying.

Don’t get me wrong, canned or frozen vegetables are still good for you, but learning some new ways to prepare fresh, seasonal vegetables will allow you to start thinking outside the box the next time you are putting dinner together.

Rosanne Rust, a local registered dietitian and author, can be contacted on Facebook by searching Rust Nutrition, on Twitter @rustnutrition, by emailing her at rosanne@rustnutrition.com or on her blog at chewthefacts.com. Look for her upcoming book in August: “DASH Diet For Dummies.”

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