You use the beets and carrots, but there could still be a great deal you throw away. It may surprise you, but there are many hidden gems right in your refrigerator. I may juice the beets or shred the carrots for a salad, but I still notice the compost bin gets full with unused food. It seems like a waste to me, not to take advantage of your favorite vegetables when there are still so many uses and benefits—for those “throw-away” parts like veggie tops.
In 2010 alone, there was approximately 133 billion pounds of food waste in the United States, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Americans toss 30% to 40% of their food into the trash or compost. How can you cut down on the waste? Below are examples using a few of my favorite vegetables.
There are typically more nutrients within the greens than the beet root, including vitamin C, manganese, potassium, fiber, magnesium, iron and copper. Beet greens are also an excellent source of calcium, vitamin A and B vitamins. Beet greens contain excellent antioxidant protection, and can absorb oxygen free radicals. They also have greater phenolic phytonutrient content than celery, carrots, onions, broccoli, or spinach. Overall, your beet greens can help improve your immune system with their antioxidant content, fight against osteoporosis with vitamin K and increase bone strength with all that calcium. You can eat beet greens throughout the year; however, there is a greater concentration of flavor and nutrients from June through October.
The green tops of carrots are often disregarded for the crunchy carrot bottoms, but they are loaded with nutrients. Some people may believe they are toxic because they contain nitrates and alkaloids, but that is only a problem when eaten in large quantities. Carrot tops also contain similar nutrients as the carrot roots, including adequate amounts of vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, B9, C, K, manganese and potassium. Carrot tops are known to contain astringent properties, which contract tissue in the body, and therefore reduce the discharge of blood or mucus. Like most bitter greens, they taste better when you know how to cook them. When eaten raw they may taste grainy and coarse. Carrot tops look a little like parsley and can actually be used to replace the popular herb. Juices, smoothies, salads, or soups are good places to use small amounts of your carrot tops. In my opinion, it is best to use organic carrot tops because the conventional greens have greater susceptibility to pesticide residue.
The radishes might have a strong taste; however, the radish leaves have a mild flavor to them, which makes them perfect for your green juice or smoothie. The leaves have a greater abundance of protein, calcium and vitamin C than the radishes themselves. They also have good sources of iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, B9, and K. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which help them fight cancer and treat skin and kidney conditions. You can also use the leaves topically for reducing the pain from insect bites. Radish greens combine well in your blender with kale, spinach, or dandelion greens. A handful of radish greens should be sufficient.
I think most people have no problem wasting the celery leaves, but you would also be giving up precious nutrients. You will definitely be glad you kept the leaves of your celery. The celery belongs to the same family as parsley and carrots. Carrot tops and parsley leaves share a similar nutrient content as the celery leaves. They contain five times more calcium and magnesium than the stalks. Celery leaves are also particularly high in vitamin A, vitamin C and phenolics. It contains important antioxidant compounds and anti-inflammatory properties. They may taste bitter when eaten alone, but they are actually tasty as a garnish. Mince the leaves with parsley, and garnish your chicken, salmon, trout, or other meats. You can also save the leaves for smoothies, juices, and salads.
I was recently asked why I kept the ends of my green onion. The health benefits do not end at the onion. The chives are important as well. Chives are not inclusive to the onion. They belong to the “allium” family, which also includes a variety of herbs and vegetables such as leeks, scallions and spring garlic. Chives are considered a great source of vitamin A, B, and K, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc. According to a 2002 population-based, case-controlled study in Shanghai, China, men with a higher intake of allium vegetables had a lower prostate cancer risk.
The study researchers interviewed 471 participants and collected information on 122 food items with different food groups. Men who consumed 10 g of allium vegetables daily had a lower risk of prostate cancer. Allium vegetables also reduced the risk of other cancers such as colorectal, esophageal and stomach cancers. The choline in chives also helps improve sleep, mood and memory. Try chives on your baked potato, in dips, soups, salads or even in egg dishes.
The green leaves on most fruits and vegetables are abundant in chlorophyll, which can help replenish and rebuild red blood cells and they are useful for cancer prevention and treatment of other health conditions. Discover the hidden health benefits and alternative purposes of your original purchase before you disregard your vegetable greens or tops. Your health will thank you for it.
“USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge: Calls on both Public Sector and Private Industry to reduce food waste,” United States Department of Agriculture, 2013; retrieved from http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2013/06/0112.xml.
Hsing, A.W., et al., “Allium Vegetables and Risk of Prostate Cancer: A Population-Based Study,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, August 7, 2002; doi:10.1093/jnci/94.21.1648.