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Root vegetables -- nature's winter comfort foods

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The winter of 2014 has given us some wide temperature variations so far. Over the past few weeks, we have felt frosty single digits, and then thermometers rose back up to the 50s, only to begin diving once again. This year, our Philadelphia region has been blasted with some of the fiercest winter weather in decades.

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Though we have to accept the reality of nature’s many mood swings, we can fortify ourselves with wonderful winter-defying dishes, while we spend the season wrapped in layers of warm clothing. Balance nature’s pendulum with foods that calm and nourish you and your loved ones during the shorter, colder days.

Root vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are found in fruits and vegetables, and help to give them their brilliant bright colors. They are also responsible for the way that foods taste and smell. Studies have shown that phytonutrients can offer assistance to our immune systems and may even help to prevent cancer.

In many neighborhoods, root vegetables are readily available throughout the year. Budget-minded family cooks like their relatively long shelf life and low cost. Carrots, rutabagas, beets, turnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes, parsnips, yams, radishes, and celery root can be used to create luscious comfort foods that promote vitality and offer a concentrated source of nutrition.

Using the whole vegetable can not only be a good way of wasting not, but also a more cost-effective method of nourishing our bodies. When buying beets, try using the root and the leaves as well. The entire plant contains a host of advantageous minerals and vitamins, including magnesium, fiber and iron. Their low caloric count and high fullness factor makes them a good choice for those trying to lose extra pounds, and even diabetics who need to eat foods with a low glycemic load, to keep blood sugar levels stable.

The Whole Foods website has this to say about beets:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49

If you are unfamiliar with celery root, or have seldom used it when cooking, then you may be encouraged to try a recipe or two at this interesting blog site: http://sixburnersue.com/cooking-fresh-eating-green/2010/02/ten-yes-10-things-to-do-with-celery-root/

Of course, most people are familiar with celery stalks and leaves, which are also beneficial to our bodies. Here is a link to an interesting article on the effects of celery on the digestive system:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/467082-the-effects-of-celery-on-your-digestive-system/

Those who enjoy foods with fuller flavors and more spice may enjoy the following article about how root vegetables can be incorporated into a diet that includes recipes from the Far and Middle East:

http://www.indiadiets.com/foods/wonder_foods/root-vegetables.htm

Here are some more sources of information and recipes using root vegetables:

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2349/2

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Absolutely-Delicious-Baked-Root-Vegetables/

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Savory-Roasted-Root-Vegetables/

Spring is still a couple of months away, and we could get more wild weather before spring bulbs and flowers begin to emerge. Offer family and friends warming meals which include plenty of root vegetables that fill the belly and cheer the soul, as we navigate our way through yet another winter.

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