It is now fashionable to be a foodie, and to be seen as a connoisseur of ‘good’ food. We love to talk about what we eat, where, and how much we spend on a meal. Exotic cuisines, however unhealthy, are a talking point amongst the elite, and current trends in Myanmar, still point towards a largely non vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is not unheard of, and typical local meals are a good blend of vegetables and meats. This makes them healthier, but it is often seen that people wrinkle their nose at the prospect of eating a balanced meal with a larger vegetable component, though they are palatable when combined with some pork, fish, chicken or even processed meats or dried fish. This is more common among the youth due to their very recent exposure to inter- national cuisines with the opening of newer restaurants serving different cuisines, not all of which offer too much variety of vegetable preparations.
Eating greens can be trendy too, in the form of delectable and colorful salads and stir fries, as they adorn a corner in a plate or come as a side dish. But visual appeal apart, green leafy vegetables are nutritional power houses that improve health and help the human body fight various diseases. Nearly 70% of all known diseases and ailments are linked to dietary habits and unhealthy eating. The latest research indicates that the fiber intake in most developed and developing countries, is far below the recommended intake levels, by relevant authorities. When newer, refined grain varieties, are fiber depleted, it makes sense to supplement fiber in the form of leafy fiber rich greens.
Thankfully, all Asian cuisines include vegetables and greens as part of the main meal, and tropical climates ensure sufficient lo- cal supply of leafy vegetables which have a shorter shelf life. Some are used for their therapeutic qualities while others to enhance the taste with their strong flavor or sour, tangy taste. The latest fad of course, is ‘organic’, or organically grown vegetables which are easily available in Myanmar now.
The health benefits of green, leafy vegetables
Health is the ever elusive, much feared but often ignored, yet essential part of our lives that determines the length and quality of our existence. However, we conveniently forget how to maintain and preserve, improve and keep our health intact. We focus on our taste buds, and are averse to even trying out foods that are good for us. Eating right, combining what we like with what is good for us, will help us build stamina, raise our energy levels, strengthen our immune system and bring a sense of well being that can be felt with every breath.
Green leafy vegetables are amongst the healthiest foods to eat, forming part of the protective foods category. Low in calories and high in nutrients, they help in preserving good health while shielding the body from illness and disease. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends a daily intake of at least one half cup of green, leafy vegetables, to avoid nutritional deficiencies and serious illnesses.
Some of their benefits include:
- Green colored vegetables are rich in vitamins like vitamin A, C, E and K.
Vitamins are essential for the smooth functioning of various body mechanisms and have no substitutes. It is ideal to absorb vitamins from natural foods which must be cooked only so much as to keep their vitamin content intact.
- They are rich in minerals like iron, folic acid, potassium and calcium, and antioxidant compounds like Indoles and Lutein. Minerals keep the body metabolism in place, and ensure bone health, water balance, and are crucial for numerous other reasons. Each mineral, in the smallest quantity has a role to play in the well being of our body.
- They reduce the risk of chronic disorders like obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension and so on. This is because they are able to purify the blood, reduce the oxidative stress, restore smooth cell structure, improve absorption of nutrients and keep the circulatory system healthy.
- They enhance longevity and help build stronger bones in the young. Leafy vegetables boost overall health through improved body functions and strengthening of the immune system. Their low calorie nutrition keeps weight in check, which in turn, improves fitness, and prevents the body from ageing rapidly.
- Greens ensure appropriate nutrition to the body’s tissues and organs, and keep the neural system healthy, thus preventing or at least minimizing the destructive impact of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Green leafy vegetables contain chlorophyll that alkalinizes the blood and their high fiber content aids the digestive process. They address flatulence and bloating and ensure a healthy colon. Colon cancer has become one of the dangerous forms of cancer afflicting those not consuming leafy green vegetables.
- Phytonutrients or plant derived chemical substances, contained in greens provide the crucial link between health and nutrition, ensuring that the human body stays healthy, the skin clear and improved brain functioning.
- Their low calorie nutrition facilitates weight control and helps to fight obesity without weakening the system.
- Leafy greens help to reduce risk of cancer, fight certain types of cancer, and through immune regulation, help in tumor resolution.
- They help to remove free radicals from the human body before they become harmful and cause damage.
- Visual protection by keeping our eyes healthy is another benefit of greens since they help to filter certain types of high energy light that can damage the eyes. This reduces risk of eye ailments like cataract.
The maximum benefit can be derived if these greens are eaten raw, just slightly cooked or steamed, so that their nutrients remain intact. Overcooking must be avoided since it kills all the essential nutrients contained in the leaves. However, it is safer to soak them in water for some time so that the pesticides and other chemicals are washed off, especially if they are not organically grown.
When leafy greens are missing
Offer a small helping of spinach or water cress to children and most of them will refuse to eat it. There is some kind of mental block in many youngsters about eating any green vegetables, even broccoli, beans, and others. The result is seen in a visit to hospitals and clinics, where so many patients are rather young, and suffering from deficiencies, skin problems, obesity, indigestion and numerous other ailments. A diet without these is bound to lead to problems, diseases and impaired body functioning, which will manifest themselves later in life.
Myanmar cuisine is a good blend of meats and vegetables and its people are accus tomed to a diet which includes vegetables in sufficient quantities to promote good health. Over a hundred different vegetables including leafy ones, are grown in the fertile Myanmar countryside under different climatic conditions found in the northern and southern parts of the country. A trip to the vegetable market reveals over a dozen leafy greens, reaching the big Yangon market from farms nearby. Some of these are unique and give Myanmar cuisine its special character, with their distinctive flavor and taste.