While it may be tempting to toss the stems, leaves, or flowers of plants, you might be well served to think again. If you cook these pieces instead, then in addition to reducing waste, you’ll also be improving the nutritional quality of your diet.
Here are some simple tips to help you use the whole plant:
- Stems: The stems of vegetables are often tossed, but give them a taste before they go to waste! Stems from kale, spinach, and other greens provide fiber, phytochemicals and vitamin C. Given their rough texture, try them sautéed in olive oil with garlic or onions.
- Leaves: The leaves of celery, beets, and other green veggies should not be ignored. They contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium and they are virtually calorie-free.
- Roots: Beets, parsnips, and carrots are all root crops, which are good sources of fiber, vitamin C, and other nutrients. These particular root vegetables tend to be lower in calories than potatoes and other tubers.
- Tubers: Tuber vegetables like sweet potatoes are great sources of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. When cooked, they are a source of resistant starch, which has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, lower appetite, and aid in digestion.
- Flowers: The flower of a plant is not just pretty, it can often be edible! The following flowers can be used in salads, desserts, or smoothies: roses, chrysanthemum, violets, or daisies. These provide vitamin C, potassium, and phytonutrients.
- Legumes: "Legume" is a fancy word for beans like black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, etc. The beauty of beans is their fiber and protein content as well as their versatility. Use them in soup, salad, or stew.
- Seeds: Don’t dismiss these tiny nutritional nuggets! Seeds provide protein, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E. Sunflower or pumpkin seeds may be used in salads, trail mixes, or for snacks while smaller seeds like chia or sesame seeds can be used in oatmeal, yogurt, or as a garnish.
And as for the more well-known parts of the plant....
- Fruit: Fruit is nature’s candy! High in fructose, fruit provides carbohydrates for energy in addition to vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Choose a variety of fruits and eat seasonally for best price and nutritional quality.
- Vegetables: These provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic illnesses. Nutrients in vegetables are often more bioavailable when eaten raw (such as broccoli or spinach), but cooked carrots and tomatoes provide more nutrients when consumed cooked.
By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.