By Elizabeth Holm
As a nutritionist, I often have people ask me what they should eliminate from their diets to be healthy. There have been popular trends of cutting out cholesterol, fat, carbohydrates, gluten, sugar, meat and dairy products. None of these trends, however, have been shown to be as effective in reducing disease as eating more fruits and vegetables. When we plan our meals around vegetables and fruits, we naturally eat a balance of other foods that in excess can be unhealthy. So, my answer to the question of what to eliminate is, “Nothing – instead eat more fruits and vegetables.”
One way to do that is through a minestrone soup that is jampacked with a variety of gorgeous vegetables and fruits. The definition of minestrone is a thick Italian soup made of beans, vegetables and pasta. It is vegetarian, hearty and absolutely delicious.
The beans, or legumes, are technically fruits of a pod and are high in protein, soluble fibers and minerals. They have a low glycemic index meaning there is a slow and steady rise in blood glucose two hours after eating them – a benefit for those with type-two diabetes and for those susceptible to hypoglycemia.
A medley of vegetables, according to the Harvard-based Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study, was found to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Health and the Dietary Approaches to stop Hypertension Study have both shown that a diet high in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure. In addition, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends eating more vegetables, including leafy greens, onions, garlic and tomatoes to protect against specific types of cancer.
All of this is scientific evidence for why people living near the Mediterranean Sea have been found to have the lowest rate of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy.
Their traditional Mediterranean diet includes a substantial intake of vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, grains and olive oil, a moderate intake of fish, seafood, poultry, eggs and dairy foods and a smaller intake of meats and sweets. Our vegetable-rich minestrone soup is one of the best and tastiest ways to eat Mediterranean.
Recipe: Vegetable-rich minestrone soup
2 T olive oil
1 cup chopped onion 4 cloves garlic, minced 4 stalks celery, diced 3 small carrots, sliced 1 small zucchini,
8 cups vegetable broth 1 14-ounce can
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano ¼ tsp. dried thyme ½ tsp. black pepper 2 cans light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans great northern white beans, drained and rinsed
½ pound green beans, cut into ½ inch pieces 4 cups baby spinach leaves, stems
1 cup small shell or elbow pasta
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.
2. Saute the onion, garlic, celery and zucchini for 5-10 minutes.
3. Add vegetable broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and black pepper. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Add kidney beans, white beans, green beans, spinach and pasta.
Increase heat, bring to a boil and cook for another 20 minutes or until green beans are tender.
5. Serve with fresh sourdough or whole-grain bread.
Elizabeth Holm is a registered dietition and nutritionist in private practice in Alexandria. She can be reached at [email protected]