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LifestyleColumnistsErica Marcus

Can't beat beets, other veggies

Beets at Sang Lee Farm in Peconic. These

Beets at Sang Lee Farm in Peconic. These veggies are great for you, but there are plenty of other vegetables that provide great health benefits. (July 21, 2006) Photo Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Q: Recently I was told that beets are good for me. I checked the Internet and found that beets have only good things for the human body. What do you think? --Jack Adler, Floral Park

A: I think that beets are good for you. But I also think you'd have a hard time finding a vegetable that isn't good for you.

The Internet is awash with good nutritional news. Google any vegetable and "health" and you're likely to come across, a nonprofit website established by George Mateljan, author of "The World's Healthiest Foods" and the founder of Health Valley Organic foods.

Beets, we learn from, are "a unique source of the phytonutrients betalains," which "have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support." Also, "betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen tumor cell growth."

But what about peas? Turns out that they contain a polyphenol called coumestrol, which "has recently come to the forefront of research with respect to stomach cancer protection." They've also isolated some green pea phytonutrients called saponins, whose "combined impact on our health may be far-reaching."

You like corn? It's full of lutein and zeaxanthin, and "recent research has shown that corn can support the growth of friendly bacteria in the large intestine and can also be transformed by these bacteria into short chain fatty acids."

On artichokes, is silent. But says they contain cynarin and sesquiterpene lactone, compounds that have been shown to "inhibit cholesterol synthesis and increase its excretion in the bile and thus have overall cholesterol reduction in the blood."

Do you see where I'm going with this? In the case of virtually every vegetable and fruit, some researcher somewhere has isolated some beneficial component and identified some healthful property. Often the produce that winds up on the evening news has been grown by folks who hired a public-relations firm to tout their crop's miraculous powers.

They are all good for you; none of them confer immortality. If you like beets, eat them. If you don't, eat another vegetable and relax.

Q: What can I do with delicata squash?

A: These ribbed, yellow cylinders are one of my favorite varieties of winter squash. For an impressive side dish, cut off both ends of each squash, then cut in half through its "waist." Use a teaspoon to remove seeds while leaving cylinder intact, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick rings. Lay rings on a lightly oiled baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, flip slices and season again. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, checking often to see if undersides of rings are nicely browned. When they are, flip and bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, until top sides are browned.

Even easier: Roast whole squash in a 400-degree oven until very tender, 45 minutes to an hour. When cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise, discard seeds, scoop out flesh, season and start adding butter, olive oil, grated cheese, minced chipotles in adobo, maple syrup, charissa or whatever other tasty condiment you have on hand.

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