"Eat Your Veggies!"
With the vast array of nutrition information that is available, it is often hard to find common ground among the recommended eating plans.
There is at least one thing that all credible plans have in common, though — the importance of eating enough vegetables.
I'm sure you've heard that vegetables are good for you because they are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. They have been promoted for their capacity to reduce risk for a variety of diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. What's not to like?
How much should you be eating to get these benefits? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fruits and vegetables should account for at least half of each meal, with vegetables taking the larger proportion. This translates to a minimum of 2-3 cups of vegetables a day. The USDA also offers a handy tool to find out how many servings are recommended for you. Some preventive health experts like Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommend more. Studies have found that people who eat the most vegetables have the lowest risks of chronic disease.
Unfortunately, most U.S. adults don't eat enough vegetables. Nationally, nearly 1 in 4 adults don't eat vegetables even once a day, and the median amount of times adults each vegetables daily is 1.6 times.
There are good reasons for this. Most of us don't crave vegetables. To put it simply, vegetables aren't addictive like foods that are high in sugar and fat. Fresh vegetables also aren't available everywhere, and they require some preparation before consuming them. In today's busy world, it is easy to understand why people choose easier, but less healthy options.
So, what strategies can we use to make vegetables more convenient?
Here are five ideas:
1) Make veggies visible, accessible, and snackable. Marketers have known for years that we tend to buy products that are at eye level. When you're hungry, you're less likely to reach for vegetables that aren't prepared and in a drawer, out of sight. Schedule time to cut up raw vegetables for snacks and stock some healthy dips like hummus. Then, place these on the top shelf of your refrigerator where they are easy to grab!
2) Include extra veggies in soups, stews and sauces. During these cold winter months, hot meals are comfort food. As you prepare your favorite family meals, think of how you can increase the vegetables in them. Grated vegetables like carrots or zucchini are great additions to red sauces. Frozen greens and mixed vegetables are quick and easy additions to soups and stews. Experiment with new variations and see what you like!
3) Serve sauces over vegetables instead of pasta. Many of us are accustomed to eating pasta dishes with sauce, but there is no reason those delicious sauces can't be served over vegetables instead. Try making vegetable noodles with a vegetable spiralizer. Sauces are also great over steamed or sautéed greens like spinach or kale.
4) Make more salad than you need. Salads are great, but all the vegetable prep can be time-consuming. Save time by doing the prep all at once so that you have enough for more than one meal. You can toss the ingredients in a big bowl together (without dressing so they don't get soggy), store them in individual containers so that you can have your own salad bar, or even prepare mason jar salads in advance to travel with you throughout the week.
5) Go for a green smoothie. Green smoothies have been a big fad over the past few years, and they are good options for increasing veggies as long as they are done in moderation. There are many recipes online. The healthiest versions have more vegetables than fruits (since these can raise your blood sugar) and include the peel (to prevent quick rises in blood sugar and reduce absorption of oxalates - a compound that can cause kidney stones and other problems in susceptible people).
What about you? What strategies have you used to include more vegetables in your food plan? Please share your ideas in the comments below!