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Lightening Your Autumn Diet With Healthy Parsnips

Once fall comes, root vegetables seem to become more popular. Carrots, potatoes and even turnips become standard fare, yet parsnips are often overlooked. Rediscover, then add this vegetable to your me...

Once fall comes, root vegetables seem to become more popular. Carrots, potatoes and even turnips become standard fare, yet parsnips are often overlooked. Rediscover, then add this vegetable to your menu. Why?

Parsnips are quite nutritious and versatile, providing many of the same nutritional benefits as potatoes, with only half the calories. Although they have less protein and Vitamin C than potatoes, parsnips are still considered an “excellent source” of Vitamin C, fiber, folic acid, pantothenic acid, copper, and manganese.

Parsnips are also a “very good source” of niacin, thiamine, magnesium, and potassium. And they are a “good source” of riboflavin, folic acid, and vitamins B6 and E.

(For a food to be considered an “excellent source” of a particular nutrient that food must provide at least 20% of the Recommended Daily Value -or RDV. Foods that are a “good source” of a nutrient provide 10-20% of the RDV).

In addition, parsnips have more fiber than potatoes. It is currently felt that adding dietary fiber as part of our regular eating habits could hold off many health concerns.

Parsnips are an excellent source of fiber. A little more than half of the fiber in parsnips is the soluble kind, which means that it turns into a gel-like substance in the digestive system. This, in turn, helps prevent the intestine from absorbing fats and cholesterol from foods.

At the same time, it dilutes bile acids in the intestine, which can prevent them from causing cancer. Soluble fiber has been seen to relieve or prevent many other conditions as well.

Research has found that getting enough soluble fiber in your diet can prevent many intestinal digestive conditions and can also stabilize the blood sugar swings that occur with diabetes.

Parsnips are often thought of as carrot’s white cousins because they look so similar.

Like carrots, parsnips grow in the ground.

However in the grocery store, they’re often left on the shelf because of their rough, dirty skin and roots that grow off in every direction.

Even though their ivory or pale yellow skins might not catch your eye like a bright orange carrot does, parsnips pack a solid nutritional punch and are good for your health!

They help prevent colon cancer, lower the risk of heart disease, stabilize blood sugar levels, and decrease the risk of stroke.

You can find parsnips in the produce section of grocery and health food stores. Although they come in many different shapes and sizes, when picking one, look for small, firm, and well-shaped roots. The whiter ones tend to be the tenderest.

Avoid limp, shriveled, or spotted ones and remember that very large parsnips are often hard and woody. When you get parsnips home, snip the greens from the tops, otherwise they will draw moisture and nutrients from the root itself. If you refrigerate them in a plastic bag, they’ll last up to two weeks.

There are lots of excellent ways to eat parsnips. But before you begin to cook them, give them a good scrubbing.

Some of their nutrients are water-soluble and can be lost quickly during cooking. So, it’s better to cook parsnips unpeeled. Then, once they’re tender, scrape or peel their skin away.

Parsnips also have a unique taste! Parsnips are subtle, fine-tasting vegetables, sometimes described as nutty, peppery, or sweet, with a smell that’s a bit like mild celery. When left in the ground until after the first frost, parsnips become quite sweet because the cold ground causes their starches to turn into sugars.

Parsnips add a gentle sweetness to stews, soups and other combinations of root vegetables.

Bake, saut, steam, whip, puree, or boil and mash parsnips like potatoes. Exchanging parsnips for carrots, sweet potatoes, or regular potatoes works well in most recipes. (I like to roast them along with the meat, onions and other vegetables for Sunday dinner).

Be careful not to overcook them or they’ll get mushy.

For something a bit different, instead of oven fries made of sliced potatoes, try parsnip fries. Simply chop the parsnip into half-inch strips. (Remove the core).

Then, place the strips on an oven sheet; apply a slight coating of olive oil and salt; and put the strips in a 425-degree oven until crispy -around 15 minutes.

For something really different, use parsnips in desserts. In fact, when the early settlers brought parsnips to North America, they were first used to produce sugar before sugar beets were used. (Now, the best quality Parma hams in Italy are still fed parsnips to sweeten the flavour of the meat). Parsnips taste wonderful caramelized. Cooked, then mashed, parsnips can even be used (like sweet potatoes) in pies.

So this fall, root for your health. Add a few parsnips to your supper plate and lighten up your regular fall diet.

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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