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5 Healthy Root Vegetables to Munch on this Season

By Michele Wolfson | January 19, 2012

Photo: Matupplevelser

Root vegetables are star performers on many restaurant menus throughout the colder weather months. These edible underground plants generally have no fat and are low in calories. They can be an excellent source of protein, and their phytonutrients are proven to have extraordinary health benefits. The phytonutrients include antioxidants that fight free radicals in our bodies.

Root vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Due to their nature, they can survive cold storage and are invaluable for winter nutrition in cold climates when little else is growing.

Here is a list of 5 healthy root vegetables that will satisfy your taste buds and your waistline!

1. Parsnip: It’s time to give this underrated root a chance because its flavor is surprisingly delicious and addictive. Parsnips are sweet like carrots but with rich floral and herbal undertones that pair beautifully with a number of meat dishes or can stand on their own as an excellent side dish.

Another reason to choose parsnips: a cup of raw, sliced parsnips contains 6.5 grams of fiber, nearly double the amount found in carrots. 100 g root provides 4.9 mg or 13% of fiber. Adequate fiber in the diet helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, obesity and constipation conditions. The white veggie is also a good source of potassium and an excellent source of vitamin C and folate. In addition, one cup of parsnips supplies nearly 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin K, which plays a role in preventing blood clotting.

How to store: Keep parsnips loosely wrapped in the produce drawer of the refrigerator, and use within two to three weeks.

What to look for: Parsnips look similar to ivory or pale-yellow carrots, with a bulbous top tapering down to a skinny root. Choose small, firm parsnips that are not limp or shriveled.

2. Turnip: Turnips are nutritious and versatile in any season. They really stand out during the winter as a timeless, ancient crop with its deliciously sweet and tender white roots. Turnips, often handsomely blushed with pink to purple at the crown are rich in sulfuric compounds, particularly glucosinolates that are believed to have antioxidant properties. They’re also a very good source of potassium.

When you can get them with the greens attached, they’re a two-in-one crop, like beets, as their greens bring you a whole new set of nutrients – lots of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin A and beta carotene – and culinary possibilities. Turnip greens are similar in flavor to kale, perhaps a little more bitter, and with a more delicate texture. The leaves are perfect for recipes that call for the classic cooked ‘Southern greens‘.

How to Store: When you get your selections home, cut any green tops down; wrap the vegetables in and airtight bag and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Use baby turnips within a few days; larger turnips and rutabagas will keep a little longer, some up to several weeks.

What to look for: In the garden, grocery store, or farmers’ market, choose firm, unwrinkled vegetables with root and stem ends intact. Avoid those with soft spots.

3. Beet: Sweet is the beet. They have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, which gives them an earthy sweetness. But they are also low in calories, high in fiber, rich in iron, and full of cancer-fighting beta-carotene and folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects.

These full-flavored globes are smooth with a deep, rich crimson color or an inviting gold color and strong tops. Garden beets are very low in calories (contain only 45 kcal/100 g), and contain only small amount of fat. Its nutrition benefits come particularly from fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unique plant derived anti-oxidants. They are highly nutritious and “cardiovascular health” friendly root vegetables.

Beets come with tall and flavorful tops that are excellent for harvesting as greens. Cut the tall greens and use in lieu of spinach, kale, or chard.

How to Store: Top greens should be used while they are fresh. Beetroot, however, can be kept in the refrigerator for few weeks.

What to look for: In the store, choose fresh, bright, firm textured beets with rich flavor. Avoid those with slump looking or soft in consistency. Look for bunches of firm beets with fresh-looking greens. (Wilted beet greens don’t necessarily signal bad beets, but better-looking greens mean more vegetable for your money.) Unless you’re planning to chop or grate them, choose a uniform-sized bunch so they’ll cook in the same amount of time. (Small to medium beets are generally more tender.)

4. Sweet Potato: With their dark-amber skin and bright-orange filling, sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamins B6 and C. Sweet potatoes are not only sweet to your taste buds, they are also good for your cardiovascular health. Vitamin B6 helps reduce the chemical homocysteine in our bodies.  Homocysteine has been linked with degenerative diseases, including the prevention of heart attacks.

Sweet potatoes contain Vitamin D, which is critical to the immune system and overall health at this time of year.  Both a vitamin and a hormone, vitamin D is primarily made in our bodies as a result of getting adequate sunlight. You may have heard about seasonal affective disorder (or SAD, as it is also called), which is linked to inadequate sunlight and therefore a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D plays an important role in our energy levels, moods, and helps to build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin, and teeth, and it supports the thyroid gland.

How to Store: They should be stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place.

What to look for: In the store, buy fresh tubers with intact smooth skin and firm to woody consistency. Go for organic varieties for best taste and nutrition levels. Avoid soft, flabby, or wilted roots. In addition, sprouting make them loose flavor.

5. Jicama: This is not a vegetable that is used everyday in American culture, but Jicama is very low calorie root vegetable that contains only 35 calories per 100 g. Similar to turnips, jicama is rich in vitamin C and contains powerful water-soluble anti-oxidant that helps body scavenge harmful free radicals, thereby offers protection from cancers, inflammation and viral cough and cold.

A nice change from the standard green salad, try making a crunchy jicama side dish incorporating chopped cucumber, freshly squeezed lime juice and a dash of salt and spices. This root vegetable is a perfect compliment to a fresh grilled fish or a plate of black beans and rice.

How to Store: Once at home, jicamas can be stored much alike potatoes. They have very good shelf life and keep well in a cool, dry, dark place for about 3-4 weeks. However, prolong storage converts starch to sugar, which makes the roots less sought after in savory dishes.

What to look for: Choose well-formed, firm, round, medium sized tubers. Avoid soft, shriveled, or tubers with surface cuts, cracks and bruise skin.

Photo: Matupplevelser

For more healthy tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

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