There are some things we all know we should be doing, but common knowledge isn’t always common practice. Eating more vegetables is one of those things most people struggle with. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 1 in 10 adults get enough fruits or vegetables. With statistics like this, it comes as no surprise that many chronic health conditions are on the rise, especially in young children who are growing up eating so differently from our ancestors.
Even if you are making an effort to get more vegetables in, chances are you’re still not getting enough, you’re consuming vegetables with low vitamin and mineral content from growing in nutrient depleted soil, or you’re consuming the same 3 or 4 vegetables over and over and ignoring some of the most nutritious ones that can make a real difference in your health.
Why are vegetables so important?
There are 3 main reasons vegetables are important for optimal health.
One is the amount of vitamins and minerals they contain. Vitamins and minerals are critical cofactors to many of our enzymatic processes in the body. Without them, our body isn’t able to function effectively and over time we will start to experience symptoms from nutrient deficiencies. Add stress into the mix and we burn through our nutrient reserves even more quickly. Feeling exhausted all the time? B vitamins are required to turn the food you consume into energy. The more active you are and the more stressed you are, the more B vitamins your body requires.
Vegetables are a great source of fiber. Fiber is the indigestible part of plants that helps to maintain the plant's structure. It comes in 3 forms—insoluble, soluble, and resistant starch. Fiber bulks up your stool to help protect against diarrhea and constipation, soaks up waste and toxins which cleanses your digestive tract, helps you feel full to control your appetite, and provides food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Vegetables are full of phytonutrients, which is a broad term that includes antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols and many other compounds that are beneficial for our health and help prevent disease. They give plants their colours and are the reason nutritionists recommend eating as many different coloured vegetables as you can. The more colours you consume, the wider the variety of nutrients you will receive.
Take a moment to answer this question. In a modern society of fancy coffees and pre-packaged snack foods, when was the last time you got five or more cups of vegetables in consistently? Nutrient poor iceburg lettuce doesn’t count!
So how do we start getting in more nutrient-dense vegetables?
9 Ways To Eat More Vegetables
1. Blend them into smoothies. If you already make smoothies but they are heavy on the fruit and protein, add a cup of fresh or frozen greens to the blender. Depending on how you flavour your smoothie, you won’t taste the greens at all. *Pro-tip: Spinach is best to consume steamed rather than raw due to it’s high oxalate content. Steam a big batch of spinach, rinse with cold water, then squeeze into small balls and place in a container or ice cube tray in the freezer. Frozen spinach balls are quick and easy to pop into your smoothies.
2. Swap grains with vegetables. Most of us consume way too many carbohydrate rich foods and it can contribute to difficulty losing weight. Grain-based foods can easily be replaced with vegetables. Use lettuce wraps in place of bread for sandwiches. Make spaghetti squash in place of pasta (shredding it with a fork makes noodles). Cauliflower can be steamed to make faux mashed potatoes, or put in a food processor or blender to make rice or flour for pizza crusts.
3. Add them to your favourite meat dishes. If you’re making a stew or sauce, add extra chopped vegetables to the pot. You don’t have to stick with the 1 or 2 vegetables listed in the recipe! If you’re making a meatloaf, vegetables can be easily baked in.
4. Make veggie dips. Try making a hummus with beets, zucchini, carrots, peppers, or cauliflower to double up on your veggies!
5. Make stuffed vegetables. Already have some cooked meat? Hollow out some bell peppers or squash, stuff them with protein, and bake in the oven.
6. Have a meatless day once per week. Going one day per week without meat will make you automatically increase your veggie consumption to compensate.
7. Join a CSA. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) will introduce you to new vegetables you haven’t heard of or tasted before. It will also keep you rotating your vegetables and eating with the seasons. I find it saves me money on my grocery bill as well!
8. Make veggie chips. Dice up root vegetables, drizzle with avocado oil, and sprinkle with himalayan salt and your favourite herbs or spices. Bake or dehydrate to your liking. Adding different herbs and spices to plain vegetables is an easy way to change up the flavour and bring some variety to your meals.
9. Use a greens powder. When you don’t have time to spend in the kitchen, you can supplement with a greens powder. A good quality greens powder will contain a wide range of fruits and veggies that have been dried and crushed into a powder. I like to use a greens formula when I travel and am not able to eat how I usually do at home. However, keep in mind that supplements are meant to compliment and enhance a healthy diet, not replace it. You can find the greens formula I use here.
Now I’d love to hear from you. How are you going to try incorporating more vegetables into your diet? Share and let me know!