The concept of ‘Food as Medicine is the belief that eating wholesome food is the basis for good health. Consuming nutritious foods can decrease your risk of disease, while the opposite is true for highly processed foods. Specifically, a high intake of vegetables can lower the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
The season of Autumn brings a sense of change, solace and warmth and an opportunity for reflection. The weather may be getting a little colder, but in today’s crazy climate everyone could do with a little comfort food. There are some wonderful vegetables that are available during the autumnal season that provide an array of benefits. Below is a taste of what nature has to offer.
Beetroots (or Beets as they are also called), were first cultivated by ancient Romans, however, the commercial value of beets grew in the nineteenth century when it was discovered that they could be converted into sugar. Beetroot is an excellent source of folic acid and a good source of fibre, manganese and potassium. And don’t throw away the green parts! These are high in nutritional value and are a rich source of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Beetroot and beets have long been used for medicinal purposes, especially disorders of the liver due to their stimulating effects on the liver’s detoxification processes. The pigment that gives beetroot their rich purple-crimson colour (betacyanin), is a powerful anti-cancer-fighting agent and their fibre content has an added bonus of improving bowel function and reducing cholesterol levels.
Cabbage is the king of cruciferous vegetables, which also includes broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, turnips and many other common vegetables. The modern-day cabbage developed from wild cabbage brought to Europe from Asia by roving bands of Celtic people around 600 BC. Cabbage provides a great source of nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and manganese. The cabbage family of vegetables contains more phytochemicals with demonstrable anti-cancer properties than any other vegetable family. Cabbage has also been shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of peptic ulcers due to its glutamine content, which is important for the growth and regeneration of the cells that line the stomach.
Broccoli’s history dates back 2,000 years to Europe. Broccoli is especially rich in vitamin C, A and K, as well as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and fibre. It has anti-cancer benefits due to its compounds lutein and sulforaphane. Lutein can also assist with preventing eye-related disorders such as macular degeneration.
Cauliflower, thought to have originated in ancient Asia, is not as nutrient-dense as many of the other cabbage-family vegetables, however, it is still packed with nutrients such as vitamins B, K, C and fibre and cancer-fighting compounds.
Carrots are believed to have originated in the Middle East and Asia. The earlier varieties were not orange, but mostly purple and black. In pre-Hellenic times, a yellow-rooted carrot variety appeared in Afghanistan and this was further cultivated and developed into a version of the carrot we know today. The humble little carrot provides the highest source of vitamin A and beta-carotene and is a good source of vitamin K, C, potassium and fibre. The compounds in carrots help protect against heart disease and cancer. Carrots also promote good vision and protection from macular degeneration and cataracts.
Celery originated from wild celery native to the Mediterranean, where its seeds were widely used as a medicine, particularly as a diuretic. Celery is a good source of vitamin C, B vitamins, fibre, calcium and potassium. Celery contains compounds known as coumarins, which have been shown to be useful in cancer prevention and are capable of enhancing the activity of white blood cells, helping to support the immune system. Coumarins also assist in lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and may be useful in cases of migraine.
The leek is related to onions and garlic. However, while the bulbs of garlic and onions are typically the edible portion, with leeks it is the leaves and stems that are eaten rather than the long narrow bulb. Leeks are native to central Asia and have been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years. The Romans are thought to have introduced leeks to Britain where they were able to flourish because they could withstand the cold weather. In addition, leeks have attained esteemed status in Wales, where they are the country’s national emblem. The high regard that the Welsh hold for leeks can be traced back to their being placed under the caps of Welsh soldiers to differentiate themselves from the Anglo-Saxons during a successful battle. Leeks are high in vitamins B, C and are a good source of the minerals manganese and iron. Leeks can help lower cholesterol levels and improve the immune system.
Onions originated in central Asia, from Iran to Pakistan to the Southern part of Russia. Onions have been revered throughout time, notably for their culinary use, but also for their therapeutic properties. Onions are a great source of vitamin C, B, chromium and fibre and can help to decrease cholesterol levels, prevent clot formation and lower blood pressure. Onions have significant blood sugar-lowering capabilities and have also historically been used to treat asthma.
Spinach has been cultivated in China and many parts of Asia and the Middle East for at least 2000 years. Spinach cultivation in Europe has a more recent history, as it began only in the eleventh century when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact for a while Spinach was known as the ‘Spanish vegetable’ in England. A one-cup serving of spinach is extremely nutritious, providing vitamin K, C, folic acid and magnesium. Historically spinach was regarded as a plant with abilities to restore energy, vitality and improve the quality of the blood, based on the fact that spinach contains twice as much iron as most other greens. Like broccoli, spinach is also high in lutein and helps to promote healthy eyesight. Researchers have also identified at least thirteen compounds in spinach that function as anti-cancer agents!
Pumpkins are believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago. The original pumpkins were small with a bitter flavour, rather than the sweet, plump varieties we are familiar with. A pumpkin isn’t actually a vegetable, it’s technically a berry; defined as ‘simple, fleshy fruit that usually has many seeds’. But like tomatoes and other fruity vegetables, it has become known as a vegetable by association. Pumpkin is a high source of beta-carotene and is also rich in fibre, potassium and vitamin C. It can help reduce the development of certain cancers, particularly lung cancer, and offers protection against asthma and heart disease.
Enjoy these vegetables roasted, in a salad, stir-fry or soup. Have them as a side dish or a main meal, and if you’re after something cooler, juice them for a nutritious drink.
Roasted Autumn Vegetables
1 beetroot, cut into 1cm pieces
2 cups peeled butternut pumpkin, cut into 1cm pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into1cm pieces
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
1 packet of Haloumi cut into strips
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan-forced. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Combine the vegetables, olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, in a large bowl and toss by hand to coat.
Spread the mixture evenly onto the baking paper and bake for approx. 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, place halloumi strips over the vegetables and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
Want to learn more?
If you love eating well and want to learn more about how food can be used as medicine, Switch on Health has several short courses and accredited qualifications that you will love, including Advanced Diplomas in Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy and Homeopathy.