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nutrition

Information on the dish

Survey of green vegetables is intended to improve food in this country

Brazilians attach no great value to green vegetables. On average they eat only 50 kilograms (kg) of them a year. This is three times less that the average consumption in Germany, the United States or Japan, for example, even thought they need less because they are not tropical countries. And the consumption of green vegetables in this country is low regardless of social class: it ranges from 30.8 kg a year per head for those earning up to two minimum wages (the minimum wage is R$180.00 a month), to 72.3 kg a year for the income band earning more than 30 minimum wages.

If we go on like this, it will not be for lack of information: researchers at Embrapa Hortaliças, in Brasília, have put together on a 60 cm by 60 cm poster extensive information on the nutritional composition of 53 green vegetables set out alphabetically from squash to haricot beans (alphabetically in Portuguese). For each green vegetable, the table shows the content of 19 nutrients. To this table, where information is scattered, many books and manuals is put together, the researcher added the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations and those of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the minimum consumption of nutrients necessary for adults, pregnant women and children.

The table also gives guidance on meeting specific needs. Those, for example, that are anemic – or do not wish to become so – should look for iron rich foods. If they get tired of the taste of broccoli, which has 15 milligrams of iron per 100 grams, they can turn to chickpeas (6.240 mg), chard (2.900 mg) or even carrots (0.6 mg). The other way round, those that need to avoid zinc, an excess of which can cause the skin to crack , can eat plenty of wild chicory, white and red sweet potato, carrots, kale, peas, nightshade, and green beans, vegetables in which this mineral is not present, according to the survey conducted by the authors of this work.

The work refers to a broad problem. “We have to revise our eating habits”, says agronomist Rita de Fátima Alves Luengo, one of the authors. In a country that normally has a mild climate like Brazil’s, in addition to the trivial but valuable rice and beans and “mixture” (That is what Brazilians call the main course of a meal, usually animal protein), people need to eat more of the so-called maintenance foods, namely, green vegetables and fruit, rich in vitamins and mineral salts. The position is different from that in cold climate countries, where the priority focused on proteins and fat, to help the body retain heat. A complicating factor is that vitamins and mineral salts are not held in the body, like fats; they need to be replaced constantly.

We need, therefore, to increase their consumption, as well as that of fruit. Incidentally, concludes Rita, “a similar table for fruits would be very welcome”. Prepared by the agronomist Rita jointly with the librarians Rosane Mendes Parmagnani, Márcia Regina Parente and Maria Fátima Bezerra Ferreira Lima, the Nutritional Composition of Green Vegetables Table can be requested from the address sac.hortalicas@embrapa.br.

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