Vegetables-Importance and Natural Benefits
Vegetables are important protective food and highly beneficial for the maintenance of health and prevention of disease. They contain valuable food ingredients which can be successfully utilized to build up and repair the body.
To derive maximum benefits of their nutrients, vegetables should be consumed fresh as far as possible. Most vegetables are best consumed in their natural raw state in the form of salads. An important consideration in making salads is that the vegetables should be fresh, crisp and completely dry. If vegetables have to be cooked, it should be ensured that their nutritive value is preserved to the maximum possible extent.
The following hints will be useful in achieving this:
(i) Wash the vegetable thoroughly & cut into large pieces.
(ii) Boil water with salt and then add cut vegetables. (No water necessary for leafy vegetables)
(iii) Use minimum water just to cover vegetables.
(iv) Vegetables should not be exposed to sun after buying.
(v) Vegetables should not be exposed to atmospheric air.
They should be covered while cooking.
(vi) They should be cooked for short time just to make them
soft to touch for easy mastication.
(vii) They should be served hot.
To prevent loss of nutrients in vegetables, it is advisable to steam or boil vegetables in their own juices on slow fire and the water or cooking liquid should be drained off. In case it is boiled hard for long time in a large quantity of water, its nutritive and medicinal properties will be lost.
No vegetable should be peeled off, unless it is old and peeling is tough and unpalatable. In most root vegetables, the largest amount of vitamin and minerals are just below the skin and these are lost when deep peeling is done. Soaking of vegetables in water be avoided if taste and nutritive value are to be retained.
Finally, avoid using aluminium utensils for cooking as it being soft metal, is attacked by both acids and alkalis. There is scientific proof that small particles of aluminium from foods cooked in such pots enter the stomach and that the powerful astringent properties of aluminium injure the sensitive lining of stomach, leading to gastric irritation, digestive and intestinal diseases.
An intake of about 280 gms of vegetables each day per person is considered essential for the maintenance of good health. Of this, leafy vegetables (40%), root and tubers (30%) and other vegetables (30%) like brinjals, ladies' fingers etc. should be taken.
Medicinal Value - Vitamins & Minerals
Many vegetables contain a substance called carotene which is changed to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is necessary for normal growth and vitality, for good eyesight and healthy skin and for protection against diseases; especially of the respiratory tract. A deficiency of this vitamin causes eye infection, poor vision, night blindness, frequent colds, lack of appetite & skin disorders. Generally, coloured vegetables such as green leafy vegetables, carrot, papaya, tomatoes and yellow pumpkin are rich sources of carotene.
Several leafy vegetables like fenugreek leaves, turnip greens and beet greens contain riboflavin (Vitamin B2), a member of vitamin B-Complex. This vitamin is essential for the growth and general health of eyes, skin, nails and hair. Its deficiency causes cracking of the corner of mouth and eczema.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is present in good amount in many vegetables such as bitter gourd, tomatoes, cabbage and leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and drumstick leaves. Generally, fresh vegetables are better sources of vitamin C than dried, stale or withered ones. Vitamin C is essential for normal growth and maintenance of body tissues, especially of the joints, bones, teeth and gums and protection against infection. A deficiency of this vitamin causes scurvy, tooth decay, bleeding gums, anaemia and premature ageing.
Regarding minerals, the highly soluble one is calcium. Phosphorus, iron, magnesium, copper and potassium present in the vegetables maintain the acid-base balance of the hydrogen concentration of the body tissues. They are helpful in absorption of vitamins, proteins, fats and carbohydrates of the food. They are also helpful in throwing out excess liquid & salt from our body. The diuretic action of vegetables like potatoes, beans, spinach, radish, turnip and brinjal are specially important in cases of oedema or swellings, kidney and heart conditions.
Two important minerals, calcium and iron, found in vegetables, are very useful. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. Iron is essential for blood formation. It is an essential constituent of haemoglobin, which helps to carry oxygen to the cells in various parts of body. Calcium and iron can be obtained in plenty from leafy vegetables like spinach and fenugreek leaves. Carrots, bitter gourds, onions and tomatoes are also fair sources of iron.
Vegetables contain various medicinal and therapeutic agents. There are a large array of laxatives, sedatives and soporifics or sleep inducing components in the vegetable kingdom. Vegetables like onion, radish and celery exercise a tonic effect and are excellent for the nerves.
Certain vegetables are highly beneficial in the treatment of various diseases. Carrots are good for the blood. White crisp juicy stalks of celery serve as much better medicine in case of rheumatism or nervous dyspepsia than any nervine that relieves nerve disorders. A dish of spinach or dandelion will be beneficial in the treatment of kidney troubles. Lettuce can be used as a food remedy for insomnia. Onion can be used with advantage in the treatment of cough, cold, influenza, constipation, scurvy and hydrophobia. The leaves of fenugreek are highly valuable in the treatment of indigestion, flatulence and sluggish liver. Garlic can be beneficially used in heart diseases, hypertension, hypoglycemia, diabetes and even in fatal form of meningitis. It has been effectively used in lowering blood cholesterol and preventing blood clotting.
In gastro-intestinal disorders, vegetables playa vital role. Fibres in vegetables act as the mechanical intestinal expanders and draw more water and proteins in them and help easy expulsion of the waste in the form of stool. They prevent habitual constipation and keep the entire intestinal tract free from harmful germs. Fibres in the form of cellulose help the elimination of cholesterol. Such vegetables are: beetroot, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, green peas and beans. They are also useful in case of arteriosclerosis, high BP and constipation. But when there is inflammation in the intestines, vegetables having less cellulose (fibre) content such as tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes and vegetable juices should be taken.
Pectin found in vegetables such as brinjal, radish pumpkin and beetroot absorb water, kill certain bacteria and toxins and eliminate them from the body. Garlic, onion, radish and mint contain pectin as well as anti-microbic qualities.
In blood disorders, vegetables also supply trace elements which are essential for human organism. Iodine, for instance, is essential for thyroid hormone which regulates much physical and mental activities, cobalt for increasing the number of blood corpuscles, and zinc for proper growth.