Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Royal Family of health food

Actually, there's more than 'Royal Family'.  One of them is the genus allium.  Among the family’s proud members are onions, garlic, shallots, scallions, and today’s slender superstar, the leek.

Leeks are surprisingly uncommon in American dishes, but an everyday ingredient in the foodiest countries of Europe - who are definitely on to something.  Like many of earth’s finer things, leeks have been around and appreciated since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs.  And like most of those finer things, they’re not only delicious, but very, very good for us.  Their health benefits have been less studied than some of their fellow allium family members.  So, many are presumed, rather than proven.

But presume along with me...

The health food with an “on” switch!

Most leek recipes tell us to hold off cooking or eating them for five minutes after slicing or chopping them.  That’s because they need those minutes to “turn on” their full complement of benefits.  Slicing or chopping a leek pushes the “on” button.  It turns its many antioxidants into a compound called allicin (the active ingredient in leek’s cousin, garlic), which has a wide range of amazing health benefits:
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-viral
  • Anti-fungal
  • Bad cholesterol-reducing
  • Good cholesterol-increasing
It’s like eating an entire cleaning crew!

The leek’s overall antioxidant content is impressive in its range, reducing your risk of health problems related to oxidative stress and chronic low-level inflammation, including:
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Allergic airway inflammation
And the leek keeps on giving, delivering more than half of our daily vitamin K requirement - helping us make proteins for healthy bones and tissues and for blood clotting.

And here comes nearly one-third of our vitamin A requirement, essential for healthy vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell functions, and immune system.  And there’s even more: healthy doses of B vitamins to help us turn food into energy and help form red blood cells, including:
  • Folic acid for proper DNA absorption and cell division
  • Niacin which helps with hormone production and improves circulation
  • Riboflavin for red blood cell production
  • Thiamin to help cell reproduction
Leeks just won’t quit.

They’re also rich in magnesium, which controls enzymes throughout the body and helps make almost everything happen correctly.  And they have diuretic, laxative, and antiseptic properties.  They even deliver two proven cancer-fighting compounds: kaempferol, which supports your heart and cardiovascular system, and quercetin, which inhibits creation of carcinogenic cells.

In fact, leeks not only slow the growth of colorectal and stomach cancers, they may also help prevent breast, esophageal, colon, and lung cancer altogether.  Research is under way, and I’m hopeful.

There’s a lot to like in a leek.

How to get and keep a good one

Look for a firm, straight leek with dark green leaves and a white neck.  Avoid any that are yellowed, wilted, cracked or bruised.  The bigger the leek, the more fibrous it will be - so stick with one that’s one and one-half inches across or less.

If you’re getting a bunch to cook, try to get them all around the same size so they’ll cook evenly.  You can keep unwashed, untrimmed leeks fridge-fresh for up to two weeks, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out.  They’re ok to freeze if you blanch them for two to three minutes first, and they’ll keep in the freezer for about three months.  Cooked leeks will only stay fresh for about two days.

Cook, eat, enjoy.  Your body will thank you!

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