If you love healthy, local produce, you might not expect Maine to have much to offer during the winter.
It’s true that most of Maine’s fields are laying dormant during the winter, but store shelves and the Bangor Farmers Market are still stocked with vegetables grown locally. You won’t find local fresh broccoli or tomatoes (unless they come from a greenhouse), but you can find root vegetables that keep well and stay fresh over the winter.
Many root vegetables are known for containing cancer-fighting antioxidants, but eating vegetables is good for your heart, too. Most are low in fat, and many contain chemicals that fight inflammation, which can lead to heart disease.
Here are five heart-healthy vegetables that are grown in Maine and are available between December and March:
Carrots: A great deal of nutritional research has shown the cancer-fighting properties of beta-carotene, a nutrient present in carrots and other orange and yellow vegetables. But a 10-year study from the Netherlands also indicates that including carrots in your diet can reduce the cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help protect blood vessels from inflammation, which can lead to cardiovascular or heart disease.
Onions: The outer layers of onions are dense with quercetin, a chemical that combats high blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels. A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that patients with high blood pressure saw improvements when given regular doses of onion skin extract. Other studies have concluded that onions, when eaten as part of diet rich in other vegetables and fruits, protect the heart and blood vessels.
Potatoes: Any article about underground vegetables in Maine would be incomplete without mentioning potatoes, one of the state’s primary crops. Potatoes are rich in vitamin B6, which is critical to having healthy cells and a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B6 also plays a role in eliminating harmful chemicals from the cardiovascular system. Researchers at the Institute for Food Research in the United Kingdom recently discovered that potatoes contain blood-pressure-reducing compounds called kukoamines. As long as the potatoes are not fried or slathered in butter or sour cream, they are a nutritious addition to almost any diet.
Leeks: Leeks are related to onions, garlic, shallots and scallions and have a milder, slightly sweeter taste than onions. Leeks contain kaempferol, which has been shown to help protect blood vessel linings from damage, including damage by overly reactive oxygen molecules. One of the mechanisms involved in this blood vessel protection may involve increased production of nitric oxide (NO), a naturally occurring gas that helps to dilate and relax the blood vessels. Leeks also are rich in folate, a B vitamin that supports the cardiovascular system in the same way as vitamin B6 in potatoes.
Squash: This fall vegetable has many nutrients that are beneficial to your heart health, including vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and folate. It is believed to help regulate blood sugar levels and help prevent diabetes. Controlling blood sugar is another way to reduce cardiovascular inflammation, and according to the George Mateljan Foundation, some research is beginning to point to winter squash as an important food for a healthy diet.
Although local produce may be limited during the winter, these five vegetables are available and are a great addition to any heart-healthy meal.
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