Nigerians love their soups containing leafy vegetables especially when consumed with pounded or cooked cereals and tubers (swallow). There are some commonly eaten vegetables in Nigeria and there are many more consumed especially in the Eastern part of the country. All in all, Nigeria has a lot of green leafy vegetables that can provide us with many vitamins, minerals as well as antioxidants and other bio-active compounds that help us to maintain our health and prevent diseases.
Some the Leafy Vegetables commonly consumed include: Amaranth, Fluted pumpkin (Ugu), Water leaf, Afang, bitter leaf, Lagos Spinach (Sokoyokoto), Bush buck, Jute mallows (Ewedu), Okro, Indian Spinach, Cocoyam leaves, garden egg leaves and Moringa leaves. There are many more; some which are underutilized and might probably become extinct if they are not cultivated.
These leafy vegetables have varying nutritional contents and it is always best to eat a variety so as to get access to the different nutrients that they are contain. It is however not a enough to eat a variety of them; the handling and processing of these vegetables for consumption also play a huge role in whether we are getting the nutrients they contain or not.
Here are some ways to get the best out of your leafy vegetables:
- Buy fresh leafy vegetables and process in good time
Fresh leafy vegetables that have not been ‘distressed’ by handling are best. Try to avoid wilted vegetables when purchasing. You can also keep it fresh for a few days after purchasing. Your Leafy veggies can be wrapped in a paper towel (some people use old newspapers) and keep in a plastic bag before refrigeration. You need to ensure that there are no rotten leaves among them.
- Wash before cutting/chopping/shredding
Many nutrients are lost in leafy vegetables when we cut them after washing. For some vegetables that we squeeze and shred by hand like the bitter leaf, many nutrients are lost in this process. It is best to wash the leaves whole first before cut them to the sizes we want.
- Reduce cooking time of leafy vegetables
Vitamins, which are mostly water soluble like Vitamin C and Bs are often lost when leafy vegetables are overly processed. Boiling them in particular significantly reduces most of the Vitamin C in the leafy vegetables. Like cooking, blanching causes a reduction in Vitamin C but it is not as great as boiling. Minerals on the other hand are not destroyed by heat and incorporating veggies into your diet every day can give you a daily supply of minerals. However it should be noted that if you boil the leafy veggies, the minerals would leach into the boiling liquid and the minerals would be lost except if the liquid is used to cook part of the meal. Blanching also reduces the mineral content as well as antioxidant properties.
Steaming your leafy veggies for about 5-10 minutes helps to reduce cooking time and helps to retain the nutrients while still making your food palatable. Steaming increases the antioxidant properties of most of the common vegetables we eat although the Vitamin C content reduces just like other processes.
Depending on what type of meal you are cooking, you can also sauté your leafy veggies for a few minutes. Once the base of your soup is done, you can add your cleaned and cut veggies at the last minute, allowing a few minutes for the heat to penetrate the vegetables and make them palatable for eating while still firm.
If your style of cooking destroys most of the vitamins and minerals, be rest assured that at the least you would get some dietary fibre from these leafy vegetables which adds bulk to your meals and thus enhance your gastrointestinal functions and prevent constipation. You will get that feeling of fullness when you consume a good amount of these veggies with your meals. However, it would be of great benefit to handle your leafy veggies very carefully so that you can benefit from the great nutrients that are inherent in them.
- Consume your leafy veggies with other foods
The issues with nutrient unavailability are more common with plant based diets. To enhance the nutritional values of many plant based foods, combining them with foods from other sources helps to increase their availability. For example, Minerals like iron and zinc in plants are more readily available for the body to use when vitamin C and Protein are present. Also, foods from animal sources also help to improve the availability of certain nutrients in plant based foods.
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