I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite time of the year. Not only is the weather beautiful and the days long, but it means our fresh local vegetables are here! They are at the road side stands, the Farmer’s Markets, and the CSAs begin delivering. For those of you unfamiliar with the term CSA it means Consumer Supported Agriculture. You (the consumer) buy direct from local farmers who offer these programs. There are many CSAs in our area with deliveries likely into your neighborhood and I encourage you to find one. It is not only good for you, but supports your local farmer as well. The CSA I belong to had its first delivery of the year including basil, lettuce, spinach, arugula, green onions, pole beans, and even some maple syrup!

Among the few concepts that virtually everyone providing nutritional advice will tell you is “eat more vegetables!” Why? Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The most nutritious vegetables are the dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, chard) and the Cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage). These are loaded with Beta-Carotene, Vitamin C, Folate, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Zinc.

In this article I’ll provide a brief summary of these vitamins and how they support the body. Part 2 will summarize the minerals.

Beta-carotene is found in plant food, such as carrots, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens). Beta-carotene is the plant form of Vitamin A which our body will convert. Vitamin A supports the endocrine, immune, integumentary (that's skin), and reproductive systems along with our eyes. It is required for growth and natural repair of many body tissues, and maintains integrity of blood cells and epithelial tissue lining the gut, lungs, and reproductive tract.

Vitamin C is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, and red bell peppers. And of course during the summer we can get plenty of blueberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe melon – also a great source of Vitamin C.Vitamin C supports all our cells and tissues and in doing so aids the blood, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems. It helps to form collagen which is in our connective tissue – it keeps us together! It also facilitates iron absorption and assists in cholesterol metabolism.

Folate is found in leafy greens (collard greens, spinach), legumes (black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans), and asparagus. Folate is the natural form of folic acid used by your body to facilitate life! It is critical to the metabolism of nucleic acids and amino acids. This metabolism is what makes everything happen in your body which is why I say it facilitates life. Folate is at the heart of methylation – perhaps the most critical function of the body. It is beyond the scope of this article but I encourage you to consult Dr. Google to learn more. In short, folate supports overall growth and development and blood cell formation and supports normal growth of the fetus.

Vitamin E is found in leafy greens (collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens), and olives. We can also get Vitamin E from almonds and sunflower seeds. Vitamin E supports a healthy immune system and proper nerve and muscle function. It is also important to the heart and supports circulation through healthy blood clotting.It keeps the skin and hair shiny and healthy.

Vitamin K is found primarily in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage. There are two forms of Vitamin K – K1 and K2 – one from plant and one from animal – and yes we need both! While it is best known for clotting, it is also involved in bone mineralization, a critical part of making bone and promotes healthy liver function.

Please note that these vitamins are found in other food sources as well. For the purposes of this article I wanted to illustrate their availability in all the wonderful fresh vegetables (and a few fruits) that are being grown locally and are now or will soon be available to you. Enjoy!

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.