Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Eat more vegetables….I know this, you know this, my mom knows this, your mom knows this, everyone and their mom know this! So why don’t we do it?....perhaps the taste? The prep? The inconvenience? The fast shelf life? It could be a multitude of reasons.
Why is it so Important to Eat Your Veggies?
One of the main health benefits of vegetables is their high nutrient content. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals that contribute to growth and the maintenance of good health. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that many vegetables are high in potassium, which is important for healthy blood pressure. Various vitamins, such as C and A, help keep eyes, skin, teeth and gums healthy, fight infection and promote wound healing. Perhaps most importantly, vegetables are rich in a particular group of nutrients called antioxidants, which fight cellular damage and help prevent heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's disease, atherosclerosis, heart attack and Alzheimer's disease.
Another key benefit of vegetables is Dietary Fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient found only in plant foods. As part of a healthy diet, fiber helps eliminate bad cholesterol out of your arteries, lowering your risk of heart disease. Fiber also keeps your digestive system running smoothly, helps control your blood sugar levels and may help lower your risk of cancer.
Vegetables are generally low in calories, you can eat a lot of them without worrying about weight management. If you substitute vegetables for other, higher-calorie foods in your diet, you'll slash your calorie intake and boost your nutrient intake, making weight management easier. The fiber in vegetables also helps you manage your weight. Fiber makes you feel fuller for a longer period, helping you eat less overall and aiding with weight loss or maintenance.
How many servings of vegetables do we actually need per day?
The USDA recommends eating six to eight servings of vegetables per day.
What is categorized as a serving?
For Fresh, frozen, canned and dried
1 cup raw leafy greens
½ cup cut-up vegetables
½ cup cooked beans or peas
¼ cup 100% vegetable juice
If you do not have a measuring cup, a basic rule of thumb is to use your fist as a serving size. 1 fist = 1 serving or 1 cup of veggies!
Eight servings a day may seem like a lot of vegetables to fit in daily, but as you are reading these tips, think about unique ways for you in which you can add in more vegetables to your every day diet!
1. Breakfast! Most of us eat a simple grab and go breakfast such as a bagel or a bar or cereal. But, eggs pair wonderfully with vegetables!
Omelets are a great dish to include in your breakfast if you want to eat more veggies. Any type of veggie tastes great in omelets. Spinach, onions, garlic and tomatoes are common additions. You can also add chopped bell peppers to omelets, such as in this recipe, which is a great way to enhance your intake of vitamin C and vitamin A!
Breakfast sandwich: Take an english muffin with a slice of cheese and toast it, fry one egg and then as you build your sandwich spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes + more are easy vegetables to add to your sandwich! If you are running short on time you can microwave an egg in a cup in under 1 minute and it comes out in a perfect circle!
2. Add Veggies to Tuna Salad!
Adding veggies to tuna salad is a quick and simple way to add nutrients to your protein packed lunch!
In general, tuna salad is made by blending tuna with mayo. Try swapping the mayo for avocado and add any type of chopped vegetables to increase the flavor and nutrient content, such as onions, carrots, cucumber and spinach are common additions, such as in this recipe.
3. Blend Veggies into Meatloaf!
Another way to increase your veggie intake is by blending them into meatloaf.
You can add just about any type of chopped vegetable to meatloaf, including onions, bell peppers, carrots and zucchini, such as in this recipe.
Additionally, you can make “meatloaf” that is completely veggie-based, like this one, which includes chickpeas, carrots, onions and celery.
4. Adding Vegetables to Sauces
Adding extra vegetables to your sauces is a sneaky, unique way to increase your veggie intake.
While you are cooking sauce, such as vodka sauce, simply add some veggies of your choice to the mix, such as chopped onions, carrots, spinach or bell peppers.
You can also puree certain veggies with seasonings and make them into a sauce on their own.
One of my favorite ways to sneak veggies into sauces is blending them together, for example blending a zucchini to marinara sauce.
Here are some examples of sauce recipes that incorporate extra veggies:
5. Experiment with Veggie Noodles
Veggie noodles are easy to make, and a great way to pack more veggies in your diet. I understand that most of us don’t want to give up pasta, and I don’t think that we should. However, we can change our serving of pasta to ½ regular noodles and ½ veggies noodles to still indulge in our pasta craving while adding more veggies!
You can now buy premade veggies noodles from the grocery store or you can use a spiralizer for almost any type of vegetable. They are commonly used for zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes.
Once the “noodles” are made, they can be consumed just like pasta and combined with sauces, other vegetables or meat.
Here are some veggie noodle recipes for you to try:
6. Adding Veggies to some of our favorite comfort foods
This week I had 3 clients tell me that their favorite comfort food is mac and cheese, and I admit it is one of my favorite comfort foods as well! If you make homemade mac and cheese, adding pureed butternut squash or sweet potatoes is a great way to sneak in nutrients. Adding roasted broccoli or cauliflower to your actual bowl of mac and cheese can give it more bulk ultimately resulting in you eating less mac and cheese but still satisfying your craving!
Try this recipe here! Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
7. Lastly, challenge yourself to try a new vegetable each week!
When you are shopping at the grocery store, pick up something new and google a recipe about how to cook it. We often eat the same things on a weekly basis. Especially during this time or quarantine while you are likely cooking more, aim for new recipes and flavors! Some less known vegetables include: Purple cauliflower, bok choy, watercress, leeks and jicama!
A diet rich in vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check, lower your risk of chronic disease and the list goes on and on. Eating non-starchy vegetables like green leafy vegetables, asparagus, radishes, etc may even promote weight loss. Their low glycemic loads prevent blood sugar spikes that can increase hunger.
At least nine different families of fruits and vegetables exist, each with potentially hundreds of different plant compounds that are beneficial to health. Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Check out my previous blog post: https://www.dietitiandish.com/post/superfood-or-superfad on the benefits of incorporating different colored veggies into your every day diet.
How do you plan on adding more vegetables into your daily diet?
Christina Ellenberg MS, RD, LDN, CSCS is a Registered Dietitian and Strength and Conditioning Specialist located into the Atlanta Metro Area.