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What To Eat Now: Asparagus

There seems to be a hot new trend in the ever-changing world of food that is actually one worth exploring. I'm talking about the "locavore" movement that's picking up steam. You may have heard this buzz-word being tossed around lately. A locavore is simply someone who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. Although most food trends aren't based on sound scientific evidence, this is one "trend" that I hope becomes the norm in terms of the way we think about, purchase and prepare food.

An important aspect of buying locally-grown food involves shopping for and planning meals based on which fruits and vegetables are in season where you live. With our marketplace being so globalized now, we can buy almost any food from around the world at any time during the year. However, the environmental damage caused by shipping food thousands of miles cannot be underestimated. Additionally, if you purchase local foods in season, you're helping support local farmers while also repeating the health benefits of eating fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and grains products that haven't been heavily processed. If you buy locally, you're likely getting more nutrients because local produce has been harvested just days before you purchase it and you won't encounter nutrient losses from supermarket produce that's been picked before it's ripe, shipped long distances and stored for weeks on end before it reaches your plate.

In general, across the U.S., vegetables in season in April include:  artichokes, asparagus, beans, celery, chicory, chives, dandelion greens, horseradish, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, rhubarb, shallots, turnips, and watercress. Fruits in season in April include tropical fruits like Asian pears, avocados, mango, limes, oranges, papayas, and tomatillos.

Asparagus is a delicious, low-calorie, nutrient-packed vegetable that's in season now. Asparagus has the highest amount of folic acid of any vegetable--a 5.3 ounce serving has 60% of the RDA for folate (important for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease and neural tube defects). This ample serving clocks in at a mere 20 calories--less than 4 calories a spear. It's a good source of potassium, a significant source of thiamin and vitamin B6, and provides 3 grams of hunger-squashing fiber per serving. It's also one of the richest sources of a compound called rutin, which strengthens capillary walls. It also contains the antioxidant glutathione.

Steamed Asparagus with Mustard Sauce & Chopped Egg (makes 2 servings)

Ingredients:
½ pounds asparagus spears
¼ cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh dill-weed
2 teaspoons minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1 hard-cooked egg

Directions:
1. Snap off woody ends of asparagus. Cover and steam asparagus 5 minutes (until crisp-tender). Rinse under cold water; drain and chill.
2. Combine yogurt, dill-weed, chives, mustard, salt & pepper--stir well. Divide asparagus evenly onto 2 plates and top each with 2 tablespoons dressing and ½ chopped egg.

Nutrition Information (per 1 serving):  89 calories, 3.4 g fat, 7.8 g carbohydrate, 8 g protein, 1.2 g fiber.

*To make this completely fat-free, use 2 hard-boiled egg whites instead of 1 regular egg.

A few great websites that list what's in season where you live (you can search by state) and other tips for eating locally include:  http://www.fieldtoplate.com/guide.php, http://localharvest.org/farmers-markets, and http://www.pickyourown.org.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.

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