Are you eating enough vegetables? Let’s face it – getting the recommended amount of veggies can be tough, particularly if you are used to eating the “Standard American Diet.” The benefits of eating more vegetables are countless, though, so there is no time like now to start getting more garden greens on your plate.
Why Should You Eat More Vegetables?
There is a reason your mom always told you to eat your vegetables; they are some of the most powerful foods available to get you healthy and keep your body functioning. Your body needs essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, to function. Almost all of these essential nutrients come from food sources, with the single exception of vitamin D. While animal foods in your diet can provide a number of vitamins and minerals, plants offer the largest variety and highest concentrations.
Not only do vegetables provide the vitamins and minerals that support overall health, they are a natural source of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are plant compounds that offer protective benefits to your body. Many of the over 4,000 phytochemicals that scientists have identified have antioxidant properties. These antioxidant phytochemicals may be the reason that scientific studies have linked consumption of a diet high in fruits and vegetables with a reduced risk of chronic disease. The specific pigments that give vegetables their red, purple, orange, yellow, and green colors actually have very different, and powerful, health promoting properties. So branch out and include a rainbow of veggies on your plate for the most antioxidant benefits.
Antioxidants benefit your health by ridding your body of harmful molecules called free radicals, which can damage a cell’s DNA. Free radicals can be caused by internal and external circumstances including inflammation, environmental pollution, radiation, certain drugs, and even exercise. Research suggests that free radical damage to cells leads not only to the aging process itself, but to a number of diseases and disorders. Antioxidants help keep free radicals from running rampant through your body by neutralizing them.
If you needed one good reason to eat more vegetables, this is it: Vegetables contain antioxidant compounds that fight the free radicals that lead to aging and illness.
Vegetables Can Help You Lose Weight
Vegetables are typically lower in calories and fat, and higher in fiber, than many other foods. That means you can eat vegetables until you are full without sending your caloric intake through the roof. You could sit down to five cups of broccoli, and still only have eaten 100 calories. To put that in perspective, compare 100 calories worth of the following foods:
- Peanut butter – 1 Tbsp
- Eggs – 1 ½
- Chicken breast – 3 oz
You would need to eat 22 spears of asparagus, three cucumbers, or 12 stalks of celery to consume 100 calories.
A plant-based diet has actually been proven to be the most effective diet for weight loss. Researchers compared four different diets and found that a vegan diet led to more weight loss at the two month and six month mark compared to the others.
If you are worried that you won’t get enough protein if you are eating more vegetables, don’t be. All foods, even fruits, contain a variety of amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins. Nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and yes even vegetables, will provide you with plenty of protein. (A potato or ear of corn offers almost as much protein as an egg.) As long as you are eating a variety of foods, you should be getting enough protein and amino acids.
Tips For Veggie Haters
If you love vegetables, you probably don’t need to be convinced that they are healthy and that you should eat more of them. This is for those of you who think you don’t like vegetables. Even the most enthusiastic veggie-hater can start changing their ways, and enjoy the slimming, health-supporting benefits of vegetables.
1. Find “The One”
There is probably one vegetable that you can stand. Carrots, zucchini, celery… find that one veggie and start there. See? You don’t hate all vegetables.
2. Start Adding Vegetables to Every Meal
Sure, adding a vegetable to your dinner or lunch might be easy, but how do you add a vegetable to your breakfast? Try a combination fruit and vegetable juice. Orange-carrot, blueberry-beet, apple-cucumber. If this sounds too extreme for you at first, then just be sure to get some fruit with your breakfast, and work on adding vegetables to the rest of your meals (even your snacks).
3. Roast or Grill Veggies
Vegetables take on an added flavor when you toss them in olive oil, season them with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and then roast them in the oven. Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and even corn, all taste better when cooked with a dry heat. If it is summer time, put them on the grill instead. Dry heat coaxes a sweeter, nuttier flavor out of your vegetables compared to steaming or boiling them.
4. Hide Veggies
No, don’t hide them in your napkin like you did when you were a kid. If you really can’t find any vegetables that you like, start “hiding” them in other foods. Grate carrots and parsnips and add them to meatloaf or meatballs. Throw spinach leaves into marinara sauce.
To experience the awesome benefits of vegetables, aim for filling up half of your plate with veggies each time you eat. Always try to have more than one type of vegetable at a time, and eat a variety of vegetables in a rainbow of colors. In no time at all, you will be a healthy and lean, veggie-loving machine.