Judging by the classic motherly admonishment to "Eat your veggies," it seems that some people have an aversion to them. Not me. I love vegetables -- can't live without them actually. For example, if I am traveling and have to go even one day without my fill of colorful veggies, something inside just doesn't feel "quite right." That may not be the case for you, but there are lots of reasons why you should eat your veggies even if you don't love them (but I bet they'll grow on you if you give them a fair shake).
Vegetables come in all kinds of colors, forms, shapes and sizes. Technically, a fruit is the seed-containing ovary or womb of a plant. That means fruits contain seeds. (There are few exceptions, like bananas.) Vegetables are pretty much all the rest of the plant: the stems, leaves, seeds, flowers and roots. So some foods we usually think of as veggies are actually fruit: tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, to name a few. But for our purposes, we aren't getting technical - "vegetables" here means all of the common (and not so common) vegetables you find in our produce departments.
I know you've heard that we need to eat more vegetables and here's why. Vegetables, in general, provide us with vitamins, minerals, fiber, trace minerals and plenty of disease-fighting antioxidants. In fact, it's well established that people who eat vegetables daily, as part of an overall healthy diet, are likely to reduce their risk of many chronic illnesses. According to the USDA, if we indulge in a diet rich in vegetables, we may be able to reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and more. And because many different vegetables are plentiful sources of potassium, eating more may keep bones strong.
If you are one of those people who only eats a few veggies - maybe green beans, lettuce and an occasional carrot - we'll provide some ideas for how to get more of the good stuff. If you are not used to eating plenty of veggies, start slow, but definitely start. Begin by making a commitment to try one new vegetable a week. If that's a stretch, try one new vegetable every other week. Choose colorful vegetables and look for what's in season to get the best tasting veggies at their peak of flavor. Your first week, you might try a new orange vegetable, like orange bell peppers or butternut squash. Next, add a new type of leaf to your salad, like arugula or watercress. Then, add something purple, maybe purple cabbage, a purple potato or an eggplant.
I'm always asked about using fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. While I prefer fresh, seasonal vegetables for flavor and texture, frozen and canned vegetables are also convenient, especially in the winter. It is definitely better to eat frozen or canned vegetables than none at all! Frozen vegetables, since they are generally frozen immediately upon harvesting, are thought to have similar nutrient levels as fresh. There is a wide variety of frozen produce available, from basic green beans and mixed veggies to edamame (shelled soy beans). The best canned veggies are beans, such as garbanzo, black and pinto, and tomatoes, pumpkin, artichoke hearts and vegetable soups. I am not a fan of canned non-starchy veggies such as green beans, asparagus, spinach and the like.
Here are some ideas to make it easy to get more vegetables into your daily diet:
- Include fruits and vegetables every time you eat - both at meals and snacks. Try salsa with breakfast eggs and carrot sticks with nut butter for a snack.
- Keep carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, celery sticks and sliced bell peppers in the refrigerator for a quick, healthy snack. With hummus or a little ranch dressing… delicious!
- Make combination salads with raw veggies (lettuce, celery, tomatoes) and cooked veggies (broccoli, chickpeas, green beans).
- Add color to your salad: red, yellow, orange or green peppers, dark arugula, watercress, baby spinach, red radish and purple cabbage. Top with avocado slices and chunky vegetable salsa.
- Think of ways to add veggies to standard meals, such as a tomato slice on a sandwich or grated carrot in a meatloaf.
- When preparing a specific recipe, add more veggies than are called for in soups, stews, omelets, quiches, pasta salads and green salads.
- Thinly slice zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and cabbage. Add to sandwiches.
- Marinate and grill hearty vegetables such as peppers, eggplant and large mushrooms. A simple good marinade is tamari, olive oil, lemon juice and pepper.
- Dice or shred vegetables such as summer or winter squash, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Add them to pasta sauce and cook until just tender.
- Make zucchini bread. Add yellow squash and grated carrots, too!
- Marinate fruit and vegetables, then skewer and grill. Examples: peppers, pineapple, mushrooms, tomatoes, plums and peaches.
- Crock pots are great time saving devices - perfect for stews with lots of vegetables and beans.
- When eating out, order the meal that gives you the most vegetables. Add a side salad when you can.
There are endless varieties of vegetables that change with each new season and, of course, we have plenty of recipes to help you navigate your way. Here are some easy recipes you might enjoy:
Carrot, Red Onion and Cilantro Salad
Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup
Sesame and Lemon Broccoli
Green Beans with Shallots and Almonds
Do you have a favorite vegetable or vegetable recipe? What about creative ways to get more vegetables into your meals? I'd love to hear!