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Parsley health benefits and uses

Parsley is one of the most popular herbs in the world. Easy to grow, you can also find this biennial plant in most supermarkets year round. While perhaps not the most glamorous of herbs, parsley is versatile, nutritious and offers many health benefits. If you think parsley is just a decorative garnish, you’re missing out!

Herbs and spices add flavor to foods but are powerful disease fighters, rich in nutrients. Parsley is high in vitamins K and C and is a good source of vitamins A and folate (per 1/2 cup, fresh). Parsley contains two health promoting compounds: volatile oils and flavonoids. Some of the benefits of parsley’s compounds include reducing inflammation, promoting heart health, a strong immune system, healthy bones and more.

Fresh is best. Look for vibrant green leaves, absent of dry, wilted yellow patches. Keep fresh parsley in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Sprinkle chopped parsley on everything including meats, poultry and fish. Add parsley to salads, salad dressings, soups and sauces. Chop the stems for a crunchy topping to pasta and potato salads. Add a handful to your favorite green smoothie recipe. Make a delicious pesto with fresh basil, spinach, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice and fresh parmesan.

Asparagus nutrition information and benefits

Did you know that the tender spears (of asparagus) were very popular in the royal households of 17th century France? Asparagus was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac! Well now spring is here and you can enjoy this ‘in season’ fresh vegetable for its many benefits (aside from the above)! If you have tried asparagus and loved it, good for you. If not, perhaps you have eaten asparagus that was prepared incorrectly (under-seasoned and over-cooked), making it mushy and bland. At only four calories per spear, asparagus is a low-calorie vegetable packed with nutrients and disease-fighting compounds.

Asparagus: nutrition information

In addition to being low in calories, asparagus is a great source of the B-vitamin folate and a good source of both vitamins A and C. Five spears provides 20 calories, no fat and 110 micrograms (mcg) of folate, which meets 28% of the recommended Daily Value (DV). Optimal folate intake is crucial for a healthy pregnancy, making new cells and forming neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain. Folate is also important for reducing your risk of developing heart disease. It controls the amount of homocysteine (an amino acid) in your bloodstream. When folate levels plummet in your system, homocysteine levels increase, causing damage to the delicate arteries which supply brain to your brain and heart. Keep in mind that folate is highly susceptible to destruction through cooking (heat, air, light) so cook your asparagus whole (briefly) and don’t submerge it in water.

Vitamins A and C are antioxidants. They protect cell membranes from damage and promote a healthy immune system. Vitamin A plays a role in the creation of new cells, reproduction, growth and development, promotes healthy eyesight among other functions. Vitamin C is needed to form collagen, a fibrous protein that acts like cement in your body, along with elastin it gives your tissues form and provides firmness and strength. Without these substances, your body would fall apart. One serving of asparagus, or five spears, meets 10% of the DV for vitamin A and 15% for vitamin C.

Asparagus contains a powerful compound which acts like an antioxidant, offering protection against cancer. It is called glutathione (a small protein). Like vitamins A and C, glutathione protects cells against free radical damage which can, at worst, lead to cancerous changes. In fact, in an analysis of nearly 40 green vegetables, fresh cooked asparagus came in #1 for glutathione content.

Asparagus selection and storage

Choose odorless asparagus with dry, tight or compact tips (most of the nutrients are in the tips!) versus loose, frayed tips. You can refrigerate fresh asparagus for up to four days. Simply wrap the ends of the stalks in a wet paper towel and placing the asparagus in a plastic bag. When preparing, remove the woody stalk or the point where it naturally ‘snaps’ off toward the bottom of the stalk. If they are very thick stalks, try using a vegetable peeler to remove some of the exterior and make it easier to find the woody part, which you can cut off with a knife.

Preparing flavorful asparagus

Never overcook your asparagus. It is best ‘al dente.’ Try grilling it or cooking it in a pan with a bit of oil (browning the sides). Make a orange-soy dressing or marinade with about 1 TB each of reduced-sodium soy sauce and fresh orange juice, 1/2 tsp each grated fresh ginger, orange rind and sesame oil. Toss it in the mixture before steaming, browning in a pan or grilling. Top with diced shallots, if desired.

Other varieties

When we think of asparagus in the U.S. we typically think of ‘green’ asparagus. White asparagus is not a different variety of asparagus but is grown using a different cultivation technique. It is more popular in Europe and tastes slightly less bitter than its green cousin. Purple asparagus, originally cultivated in Italy, is actaully a different variety and has more sugar and less dietary fiber than green asparagus.

Nutrition Month: Get Your Plate in Shape

National Nutrition Month Tips

March is National Nutrition Month. The theme, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for 2012, is to ‘get your plate in shape.’ These days it is all about your ‘plate.’ Take the traditional food guide pyramid for example. It is a part of our nutrition history – a thing of the past, having been replaced by the ‘choose my plate‘ graphic.

So, how can ‘A Perfect Plate’ help you to “get your plate in shape?” Try these National Nutrition Month tips this week. Look forward to more helpful ‘good nutrition‘ suggestions this month!

Devote half of your plate to fruits and vegetables

This is particularly important for your lunch and dinner meals. For optimal health benefits and weight management, choose more vegetables (from all five subgroups: orange, dark green, starchy, beans and ‘other’) than fruits. recommends consuming 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits on a 2000-calorie diet. Don’t forget bright colors such as red (think red bell peppers) and purple/blue (blueberries and beets). Look for what is in season and/or try frozen produce for quick smoothies and side dishes. For each meal, aim to consume at least one piece of fruit, one serving of vegetables, or both.

Vary your protein choices

Think your only options are beef, pork or chicken? Think again. It could be time to update your plate! You have varied nutrition needs. Therefore, you should choose from a variety of foods every week from the ‘protein’ food group. Options include seafood, legumes (starchy beans and peas), eggs and less common plant-based proteins, such as whole soy foods. Examples include edamame, or whole green soybeans, which can be purchased in the frozen food section for ultimate convenience, and quinoa. Quinoa is an iron-rich, high-quality whole grain which also happens to be a ‘complete’ protein food. Complete proteins contain all of the amino acids, like meats, dairy, poultry and fish. Because fish is generally low in total and saturated fat, make it your protein choice at least twice weekly. How much space should lean protein foods take up on your plate? No more than 1/4 of your plate, roughly 3 to 5 oz.

These tips may be publicized during National Nutrition Month throughout March, but you should aim for ‘optimal nutrition’ year-round.