When it comes to nutrition, vegetables are all gold medal winners. Filled with fiber, macro- and micronutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and possessing other cancer-fighting, disease-preventing, and health-enhancing qualities, they taste great and maintain health at the same time.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics over, we can look forward to the 2016 Summer Olympics. In the meantime, what about building a team of the world’s best nutritional plants? We’ve offered up the following vegetables as must-haves on the Engine 2 squad in the plant-strong Olympic Games.
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafies are the Michael Phelps of vegetables. Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, turnip greens, or Brussels sprouts can be cut up and tossed into most any soup or pasta. Or try them stir-fried or steamed, topped with garlic, lemon juice, or cashew sauce.
2. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are hearty and satiating. Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Usain Bolt’s father attributes his son’s speed to his favorite food: the Jamaican sweet potato. Wrap them up in aluminum foil and place in the oven or toaster oven for 1 hour at 400 degrees. Sweet potatoes don’t need a thing added; eat ‘em naked.
Like Claressa Shields, the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in boxing, these root vegetables pack a great one-two punch. Boil the beetroots in water for 45 minutes or place in the toaster oven for 45–60 minutes. Immediately rinse them off in cold water and—behold! The brown outer layer flakes off and a glistening silky red dermis reveals itself. Remember to cook up the beet greens as well. You get great nutritional benefits with both parts of this plant.
4. Romaine Lettuce
This robust, leafy green vegetable is a nutritional monster. Use this hearty and hefty lettuce as the foundation in salads. As an added bonus, Romaine lettuce will keep for several days in the chiller bin of your fridge.
They may make your eyes water, but there’s nothing wrong with a few tears—even tough Olympians may cry when they win a gold medal. Start any stir fry, soup, or homemade pasta sauce with an onion. They are multi-layered and complex, just like us.
Technically a fungi, mushrooms are a strange breed, indeed. They come in a variety of weird shapes and sizes—white button, shiitake, crimini, portabello, and oyster, to name a few—and all are delicious. Used as a meat substitute in any dish, mushrooms are a chef’s best friend.
Tomatoes are a gift of nature. A versatile food, they are actually classified as a fruit. You can use them in sandwiches, salads, casseroles, and appetizers. Like decathletes, they can perform in a variety of settings.
Ditch the mayo and butter and go for the green gold. Avocados are smooth, satisfying, and satiating; they work well as either a tasty condiment or a hearty side.
9. Bell Peppers
Red, gold, green, purple, and orange, bell peppers make the top ten list due to their color, taste, presentation, and versatility. Whether cut up in a pasta primavera sauce, stuffed, served in a stir fry or salad, roasted, or simply left plain, bell peppers are an Engine 2 favorite.
Ancient Greeks and Romans prized the asparagus; a recipe for preparing this veggie is included in the oldest known cookbook. The asparagus is still valued today as a wonderful veggie that can be eaten hot, cold, in salads, and with grains, and it always makes a special addition to any meal.
(Serves 2) From The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds, by Rip Esselstyn
1 large cooked sweet potato, skin removed, cut into cubes
1 mango, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped
½ bunch chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Balsamic vinegar to taste
1. Warm the sweet potatoes in a microwave if using chilled leftovers.
2. Place a generous portion of sweet potatoes into a large serving bowl. Top with mango, bell pepper, black beans, avocado, and cilantro.
3. Drizzle with lime juice and vinegar, stir gently, and serve.