I am nutrient rich, sometimes lightly sweet or even spicy, versatile and easy to prepare, found in many different colors but often overlooked…what am I? I’m a root… a parsnip or a turnip, rutabaga, yam, sweet potato, carrot, or even perhaps a radish… I am practically everywhere!
Root vegetables are the vegetables of fall. When the bright, delicate pea pods and asparagus are no longer around, hearty and warming root vegetables take their place at the table. They are a great source of complex carbohydrates, meaning the digestive tract has to work harder to digest the sugars within. This is good news because the sugars are not absorbed quickly to spike blood sugar, as would a slice of white bread. This allows our body to produce a constant stream of energy versus a quick energy spike followed by a crash. Further slowing the absorption is root vegetables’ large amount of fiber. Fiber also helps to strengthen colon muscles, reducing the risk for diverticulosis. Also, fiber helps clean the colon by sloughing off old cells including those that may be carcinogenic and can help reduce cholesterol by trapping the molecule as the fiber works its way through the digestive tract.
Fiber, in its natural form, found in fruits, vegetables, and grains is part of a balanced diet. Did you know that the recommended intake of fiber for women is 25g/day and for men 35g/day? Sadly, many people do not get nearly enough fiber in their diet, consequently increasing their risk for gastrointestinal disease.
However, I know that besides potatoes and carrots, root vegetables seem to bring even experienced cooks some anxiety. They are cheap and often grown locally, yet many people overlook these nutritional storehouses. Over the last few generations roots have lost their dominance in the kitchen. However, they should return as a mainstay in yours! Perhaps they intimidate you, or perhaps you don’t even think about them…either way it’s time to give them a shot. Here are three of my favorites.
Qualities: Peppery flavor and when roasted turn bright yellow. A great source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A and fiber.
What to look for: A smooth, heavy-for-its-size rutabaga without cuts or dents. Very similar in color and size to a turnip, but rutabagas are a little rougher around the edges.
Qualities: Are found in many different colors: yellow, red and even striped pink and white. Full of phytonutrients called betalains, beets are able to provide anti-inflammatory, detoxification, and antioxidant support. They also contain excellent amounts of folate – essential for women of childbearing age.
What to look for: Chose small or medium-sized beets that have a smooth surface void of any cuts, shriveled spots or bruises. If consuming beet greens, make sure they look crisp and tender.
Qualities: Rich and sweet, and are a good source of vitamin B6, needed to reduce high levels of homocysteine in the blood. Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and other minerals.
What to look for: Chose firm sweet potatoes without damage marks or shriveled skin.
An easy and tasty way to incorporate root vegetables into your diet is roasting them! Simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees and meanwhile wash, peel and dice your root vegetables into chunky bite-sized pieces. Toss them with some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out onto a large baking sheet. Do not let them overlap, and make sure to give them space. Then let them bake about 30 to 40 minutes stirring them about every 15 minutes. I set a timer for 15 minutes, which makes it really easy. When they are tender and slightly crispy along the sides, they’re done!
I like to toss these gems into my salads, soups and use them as a side – how do you like your root veggies?
All photos by Selva Wohlgemuth
Zing intern Selva Wohlgemuth is working on her Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is an avid cook and blogger, and you can find out about her latest culinary adventures and see more of her food photography at Poppies and Papayas.