Vegetable of the Month – Sweet Potato

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This months’ vegetable is the Sweet Potato….or is it the Yam?  Many people call them by both names today and they also did during Colonial times. But there is a difference in sweet potatoes and yams. Actually they are not even related because they are two different species of root vegetables. 

I wasn’t aware of a difference until I got married and candied sweet potatoes picplanned to fix ‘candied sweet potatoes’ for our Thanksgiving Dinner. My husband immediately recognized the difference and said they were yams. Their color was different than what he was familiar with from his family dinners. Needless to say, from that point forward I’ve always made sure I bought sweet potatoes, and now I think I really like them better.

sweet potatos pic -for frontThe varieties of sweet potatoes will generally all have the same shape and size: tapered at the ends and are usually smaller than yams. In the United States there are two main varieties: one has white flesh that would be considered a creamy color, golden skin, and a more crumbly texture; the other variety has an orange flesh with darker skin, more copper colored, and is sweet and soft. Many confuse this particular variety as a “yam”.

Yams, however, are native to Asia, tropical regions—yams picprimarily in South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. These are starchy tubers with skin that is almost black and bark-like. The flesh can be white, purple, or red and include many varieties. Even though they are becoming more visible in the United States, they are a popular vegetable in Latin American and Caribbean markets and worldwide you can probably count over 150 varieties of the yam. 

Okay. That’s the main difference, but we want to concentrate on the Sweet Potato, so let’s learn more.

Sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known and enjoyed by man. They are actually native to Central America, but relics discovered in Peruvian caves show they were sweet potato growing picprobably enjoyed in the Americas hundreds of years ago.  Christopher Columbus introduced sweet potatoes to Europe in 1492, and by the 16th century they were introduced to other parts of the world by both Spanish explores and the Portuguese. Also during that timeframe, cultivation of sweet potatoes began in the southern United States. I’m sure our ancient ancestors did not grasp the nutritional value of this interesting vegetable, but it became a main staple food in early American eating.

Many people with diabetes are prohibited from eating regular potatoes but can enjoy sweet potatoes and find that this delicious food is helpful for controllingSweet Potato fries baked pic blood sugar regulation. My mother-in-law can enjoy sweet potatoes whereas she is very limited with regular potatoes. We’ve even peeled and sliced them, sprinkled or tossed them with a little olive oil and cinnamon and put them on a cookie sheet in the broiler just long enough to cook. What a great treat and so much better than greasy french fried potatoes!

Actually, sweet potatoes are a native crop to North Carolina and grow best in the coastal plains areas. It shouldn’t be any surprise then at that the sweet potato is the official vegetable of North Carolina. Nor it is hard to recognize that American Indians were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus discovered America in 1492. Needless to say, US Variety pic of Sweet Potatoesthese vegetables have been around since prehistoric times, and there are some scientists who believe that even dinosaurs ate these delicious vegetables.

The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission lists 9 particular varieties: Beauregard, Puerto Rico, Covington, Hernandez, Japanese, Purple, Murasaki, and O’Henry. You will be more likely to find the following varieties, though, in North Carolina vegetable marts or grocery stores: Carolina Rose, Beauregard, Carolina Ruby, Cordner, Hernandez, Jewel, and NC Porto Rico 198. If you’re able to locate these or other varieties, I hope you’ll try them.

Sweet potatoes have a wealth of the carotenoid pigments, thus providing key antioxidants for health and wellness, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits as well. sweet potatos variety picYou might not think of sweet potatoes as having phytonutrients but they do, specifically fibrinogen that is required for successful blood clotting. A sweet potato is also very high in Vitamin A that has a vital role not only in vision, but bone development and immune function. Researchers continue to learn more about the health-related benefits of sweet potatoes and in some lab studies show that sugar-related and starch-related molecules called glycosides also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. The research continues in this area, so don’t be surprised if you hear more and more about how good sweet potatoes are for a healthy diet.

baked sweet potato picDid you know that sweet potatoes have their own unique storage proteins? They do and they are called sporamins. These sporamins contain unique antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to cells. Sweet potatoes provide a colorful addition to your meals.

Indeed these unique vegetables are low in sodium, are cholesterol free, fat free, high in fiber, and contain not just vitamin A, but mashed sweet potatoes picVitamin C and E as well as manganese which also help optimal thyroid function. You can enjoy sweet potatoes in a variety of ways—baked, boiled, mashed, or broiled (maybe even raw if you like your veggies that way). This amazing vegetable with its complex carbohydrate releases energy at a steady pace so there are no sugar highs or lows, and it tastes delicious.

You can enjoy sweet potatoes with your meal OR as dessert. sweet potato pie picJust recognize that Sweet Potato Pie is NOT the same as Pumpkin Pie. Our daughter loves Pumpkin Pie but when she was little, we enjoyed a meal out at a Cafeteria in Georgia, and she was excited to get what she thought was pumpkin pie only to find out in the first bite that it wasn’t pumpkin pie but sweet potato pie!

You can find this nutritious vegetable, the Sweet Potato,  year round. I hope you will add them to your menus and enjoy them for your health.

(Sources:;; potatoes;; )


Vegetable of the Month – Artichoke

Artichoke-Bud-wideOne of the most fascinating (and delicious) vegetables in my opinion is the Artichoke. It is the perennial flower and a member of the sunflower family. It is definitely a unique vegetable and also one of the oldest-known foods, from the time of ancient Greeks and Romans.  

If you’re not familiar with the artichoke, it is actually the anatomy of an artichokebud of a plant from the thistle family. The plant itself will grow to around three or four feet tall and around six feet wide. The bud will eventually bloom into a blue-violet flower if it is not harvested, but at that point when it has “bloomed”, it is not edible.

The bud contains the center which is called the heart and the meaty core of the Artichoke (aka artichoke heart). At the top of the bud is a fuzzy center called a choke, which is discarded and not eaten. The choke is surrounded by rows of petals that actually protect the heart. Most people enjoy eating the petals or leaves and the heart. Some folks don’t enjoy scraping the artichoke meat off the petals and consider them too much work for the enjoyment.

Ever since I was a young child and introduced to artichokes, I’ve enjoyed eating them. In my early grade-school days (3rd-4th grades) I wrote a little story about how the artichoke got its name, and my teacher loved it. When artichokes aren’t too expensive, I’ll buy Boiling Artichokes picindividual “buds” for my husband and myself. They’re easy to boil but, depending on the bud size, it will take 1-2 hours until the leaves are tender and ready to eat. We will dip the leaves in a little mayonnaise whereas I know other people like to use butter.

WHY are artichokes so healthy for you? One medium artichoke only has 60 calories, a few carbohydrates, some dietary fiber, protein, and are low in the healthy unsaturated fat. It shouldn’t be any surprise that they are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6 and some Vitamin E along with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, and zinc.

If that isn’t enough, the total antioxidant capacity of an artichoke is actually one of the highest for vegetables and is primarily contained in the pulp of the leaves.  

Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean area but soon spread throughout the world. The Greeks first mentioned artichokes in literature around 40-70 AD, and both the Greeks and Romans considered them an aphrodisiac. Artichoke seeds artichoke thistle growing picwere actually discovered during excavations in Egypt during the Roman period. It was King Henry II’s wife, Catherine de Medici, who introduced the artichoke to France in the 16th century.

This “thistle” soon caught the attention of the world as it spread into Italy and further into France in the 15th and 16th centuries, but it was actually the Dutch who introduced them into Europe. They finally arrived in the United States in the 19th century thanks to French immigrants who settled in Louisiana and Spanish immigrants who settled in California.

artichokes growing picThe top artichoke producers today are Spain, France, and Italy, but 100% of the artichoke crop in the United States is grown in California. If you’re in a cool climate, you can grow them yourself.

Including artichokes in your eating plan will enhance your health. There have been studies done that show artichokes aid in digestion, gall bladder function, in reducing cholesterol levels, as a diuretic also improving liver function. Did you know the artichoke can even be made into an herbal tea? (I’d much rather enjoy the artichoke leaves with a little mayonnaise myself).

The peak growing season for artichokes is from March to May, but you can grow them yourself and enjoy them throughout the summer months. You’ll definitely want to check them out next Spring at the local grocery store, in the fresh artichoke dip picproduce section. Be sure and look for ones that are dark green with tight leaves. The heart portion of the cooked artichoke is used in many green salads and in various spinach/artichoke dips. You’ll also find them in the frozen foods section or in canned/jar form at your local grocery store.

single artichokeIf you haven’t tried them before, you might just discover that you really like artichokes. Enjoy!

(Sources: –  All About Artichokes; – artichokes; information;

Vegetable of the Month – Zucchini

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The zucchini or courgette is a summer squash which can reach nearly a yard in length,zucchini yellow but most are half that size or less for the grocery store. Along with certain other squashes, it belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. Zucchini can be dark or light green. A related hybrid, the golden zucchini, is a deep yellow or orange color.

Summer squashes probably originated in Central America and Mexico. Several different cultivars of summer squash grow throughout the United States during the warm, frost-free season. Almost all the members of the squash family vegetables feature smooth, tender skin, flesh with small edible seeds, and high moisture content.

One cup of sliced, boiled, unsalted zucchini with skin intact provides 27 calories. With these calories, the vegetable also provides 2.05 g of protein, 1.8 g of dietary fiber, 1,206 mcg beta-carotene, 2011 IU vitamin A, and 50 mcg of folate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database.

When you’re looking at vegetables that can do the most good for your weight loss or fitness diet, put zucchini as one of the top choices.

zucchini01I remember when I was around 10 years old, I would take a wagon full of zucchini, which I picked from our garden, and sold them door to door. I even had some which were over a foot long. Normally you wouldn’t use those, but I told the people you could slice them and fry them. I even sold some to a mom-and-pop grocery store downtown. I did forget to ask my Mom if I could do that, although we had way too many squash to eat.

The list of nutrients in summer squash related to healthy blood sugar regulation is a long one. Metabolism of sugar in the body requires an ample presence of many B-complex vitamins, and you can find most of these B-complex vitamins in amounts in summer squash. Included here are the B-vitamins folate, B6, B1, B2, B3, and choline. Also important in blood sugar metabolism are the minerals zinc and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and summer squash provides all of these nutrients.

Zucchini may be at the back of the alphabet, but it’s at the front of our minds when it comes to summer vegetables. We steam zucchini as a side dish,Savory Zucchini Bread sometimes steaming some onions with it. We also slice it and put it with a can of diced or crushed tomatoes, especially good are the Italian style tomatoes. Of course, you can’t mention zucchini without mentioning zucchini bread. We are cutting back on the level of carbs we eat, but a good zucchini bread hits the spot.

There are many recipes for zucchini on the internet. Check them out and try some. You never know when you’re taste a winner.

 zucchini sword



Vegetable of the Month – Carrots

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It’s no secret that carrots are good for your health. Moms everywhere have touted the benefits of carrots — particularly their ability to protect eyesight. How many times have you heard or said “Eat your carrots; they’re good for your eyes.” Carrot dangle

Carrots were Bugs Bunny’s favorite veggie and many kids followed his lead. And it’s the carrot they  keep in front of a donkey to get it to move. We also see it dangled in front of someone as a picture of motivation.

The carrot (Daucus carota from the Latin carōta, from Greek karōton), is a root vegetable, usually orange in color, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are edible as well.

carrotModern science has discovered, however, that carrots protect more than just your eyes. The carotenoids they contain are powerful disease fighters, reducing the risk of breast, colon, prostate, lung, and many other kinds of cancer. They also cut the risk of heart disease. A sliced carrot looks like the human eye. The pupil, iris, and radiating lines look just like the human eye…and science now shows and confirms that carrots greatly enhance blood flow to the eyes and with the function of the eyes.

Carrots have an excellent stash of vitamins, especially Vitamin A with about 400% of daily requirements. Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Potassium, and fiber are plentiful. All varieties of carrots contain valuable amounts of antioxidant nutrients.

Carrots are a popular root vegetable that are easy to grow incarrot1 sandy soil. They are resistant to most pests and diseases, and are a good late season crop.

An amazingly versatile food, carrots are delicious steamed, boiled, roasted, or raw, and they’re the ultimate accompaniment to roasts and chops. Their natural sweetness, however, is due to their high sugar content.

Carrot recipes are all over the internet. We eat carrots raw with hummuscarrot-potato-soup or peanut butter. We also put them in soups and stews. We also steam them for a side dish. We also have a honey glazed carrot recipe that’s good. We have in the past, juiced carrots with our Jack LaLanne juicer, but we like the nutrition of the whole carrot better.

babycarrotsBaby carrots have gotten a bad rap. Yes, they originally cut them from deformed carrots that they would have to throw away or juice. Some manufacturers still do that process. There is nothing wrong with the carrot itself. Growers have new varieties grown as baby carrots.

Baby carrots are not as nutritious as full whole carrots, because skin and just below it contain a lot of the goodness. Baby carrot making processes remove it. Although most of us peel the carrot before we use it.

After harvesting, the growers wash the carrots in chlorinated water, just like our drinking water, and clean removing dirt and mud. Some growers will wash or dip the baby carrots in a further chlorine solution to prevent white blushing once in the store. There is no evidence that this is harmful, but it is worth knowing about. However, organic growers use a citrus-based nontoxic solution, the natural alternative to synthetic biocides for the decontamination of fresh produce, food, and beverages.

carrot cakeAnd most of all you can eat your carrots and cake too. Dino’s 24Karrot Carrot Cake is the ultimate in carrot eating. If you ever go to Branson, look up his cafe or go to his website. A little expensive, but delicious.

So “Eat your carrots, because they are good for your eyes, heart, cancer fighting, and they are tasty.”


Vegetable of the Month – Cauliflower

cauliflower1 700x400According to Mark Twain “Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.”

Another neglected low-carbohydrate veggie; cauliflower can be a benefit to your eating plan. This vegetable is brimming with vitamin C. In fact, just one serving has more than half your daily requirement. It contains fiber, calcium, and iron.

Cauliflower is low in fat, low in carbohydrates but high in dietary fiber, folate, water, and vitamin C, possessing a high nutritional density.

Cauliflower traces its ancestry to the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have originated in Asia Minor. It has been an important vegetable in Turkey and Italy since at least 600 B.C.

The name cauliflower means “cabbage flower,” coming from the Latin caulis (stalk) and floris (flower).

The white, edible portion of cauliflower is called the curd, heart or head.

Cauliflower comes in several colors. White cauliflower is the mostPurple cauliflower common color of cauliflower. Orange contains 25 times the level of vitamin A of white varieties. Green cauliflower is sometimes called broccoflower. Purple is caused by the presence of the antioxidant group anthocyanins, which can also be found in red cabbage and red wine.

There are several dozen studies linking cauliflower-containing diets to cancer prevention, particularly with respect to the following types of cancer: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

From one writer here are five benefits of cauliflower.
1. Antioxidation
2. Anti-Inflammation
3. Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular
4. Digestive
5. Nutritional Cauliflower also contains vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B9 (folic acid). It serves as a good source of proteins, phosphorus, and potassium.

Cauliflower is also a versatile low-carb vegetable. You can serve it raw on a veggie tray, or cook it by roasting or steaming. It’s also great cooked and pureed into a silky soup; just cook until tender, then blend it with chicken broth. We like to just steam it and put a little mayonnaise on it. Cheese is good also. Yum.

1 Cup of cauliflower contains: Calories = 25; Fat = 0; Sodium = 30 mg; Carbohydrates = 5; Fiber = 3; Sugar = 2; Protein = 2