by: Andrea Laine White, Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner
We’ve all heard that we should eat more vegetables, that vegetables are good for us…but why?
Perhaps you’re already sold on the value of vegetables, but you’re in a vegetable-rut. You buy the same go-to vegetables every week and you prepare them pretty much the same way every time. Let’s face it, some vegetables can be downright intimidating! Cleaning, prepping, cutting, storing, preparing…it can all be overwhelming and time consuming.
It’s time to breathe new life into your vegetables! Let’s begin with why vegetables are so beneficial to your body.
The Benefits of Vegetables
#1 Nutrient Density: Nutrient density is a fancy way of saying ‘how to get the most bang for your buck’. When you eat with nutrient density in mind, you optimize each meal to give your body all of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it needs to function in optimal health. This way of eating focuses on high quality foods that contain the most nutrients for the calories you consume.
Vegetables are packed with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are plant nutrients, or more specifically antioxidants. Phytonutrients stimulate our body’s own natural antioxidant defense system, which cascades a whole host of benefits in the body. Perhaps you’ve heard the advice, “Eat a rainbow of vegetables.” That’s because the bright colors we see in produce come from these phytonutrients and they each have unique benefits:
• Red & Pink: Improve heart health and lower risk of cancer.
Sources: Apples, Pomegranates, Grapefruit, Cherries, Beets, Watermelon, Tomatoes, & Raspberries
• Orange & Yellow: Promote good vision, healthy skin, and a strong immune system.
Sources: Oranges, Carrots, Squash, Papaya, Pumpkins, Bell Peppers, Pineapple, Peach, Banana, Lemon, & Yam
• Green: Assist with detoxification, circulation, digestion, and immune health.
Sources: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Spinach, Kale, Kiwi, Avocado, & Collard Greens
• Blue & Purple: Reduce the risk of cancer and support mental clarity.
Sources: Plums, Red Onions, Eggplant, Grapes, Blueberries, Blackberries, & Red Cabbage
• White or Colorless: Reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and prevent diabetes.
Sources: White onion, Potato, Pear, Garlic, Cauliflower, Leaks, Scallions, and Chives
#2 High Fiber + Low Calorie = Weight Loss: Vegetables are high in fiber, yet low in calories, which means they fill you up and leave you satisfied. They’re also low in calories, so you can eat a bunch of them and maintain a healthy weight or lose weight. Calories are only part of the weight loss equation, but they do play a part, so if you’re watching your midline, vegetables are always a good option.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collared greens are particularly high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, which means they help stabilize blood sugar, the key to weight loss.
#3 Good for your Gut!: We’ve laid out the argument for gut health being the linch pin for overall good health in pervious editions of this newsletter. If you’ve missed those, you can catch-up on our blog here.
Vegetables contain the carbohydrates that feed beneficial gut bacteria. The gut bacteria ferment and convert these carbohydrates into energy that contributes to the overall health of the gut. So, eating vegetables helps to feed, maintain, and nourish your beneficial gut bacteria.
Vegetable Tips & Tricks
Okay, now it’s time to spice it up! Here are some simple tips and tricks to breathe new life into your vegetables:
• Fresh vs. frozen? Fresh fruits and vegetables are awesome, but they’re not necessarily better than frozen. Why? Frozen fruits and vegetables are often a better choice because in many cases they’re flash frozen right after they’re harvested, so there’s not as much time for the nutrients to degrade. Fresh produce may have a lengthy journey to get to you, leaving more time for the nutrients to degrade.
• Eat in season. The most economical, environmentally-responsible, and delicious way to enjoy your vegetables is in season! Experiment with combining different seasonal vegetables together and see how the flavors complement each other. Mix and match different colors, flavors, textures, and even throw a piece of seasonal fruit in the mix. If you’re curious what’s in season in Colorado, check here.
• Switch up your technique. There are so many different ways to prepare vegetables. Try different cooking methods and seasonings to make the same vegetables taste completely different. You can boil, steam, simmer, roast, grill, sauté, stir-fry, braise, stew, and pickle your vegetables. Try different herbs and spices like dill, Italian blend, rosemary, basil, parsley, cilantro, paprika, minced onion & garlic, garlic salt, a seed blend like Nature’s Eggs, or just good ‘ole salt and pepper. Experiment with lemon juice, olive oil, and Coconut Secret coconut aminos too.
• Clean 15 vs. the Dirty Dozen. Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a guide to shopping conventional vs. organic. The Dirty Dozen are the foods most heavily sprayed with harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides. You should buy these foods organic. The Clean 15 are the foods least likely to be sprayed with chemicals. If you’re on a budget, you can buy these conventional. Check here for the full list.
• Shrink your veggies. You can get so many more vegetables into a blended smoothie than you could ever sit down to eat whole. The mechanical part of digestion is largely done for you when you blend a smoothie, which means lots of nutrients quickly delivered to your body. To make your smoothie, start with a coconut water base. Add in your favorite seasonal fruits and vegetables. Don’t forget the high-fiber leafy green! Cool it down with some frozen berries. For a creamier smoothie, try half an avocado. To thin your smoothie, add a vegetable with high water content, like a cucumber.
• Make veggies the new dip vessel. If you prep veggies in advance and have a colorful array of radishes, celery, heirloom carrots, broccoli, and sugar snap peas ready to eat, you (and your kids) will be more likely to reach for them when tempted to grab a chip or cracker. I pair this vegetable medley with my homemade guacamole. Delish!
• Keep it simple. One of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables is with just a little lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Perhaps some fresh Parmesan, if you tolerate dairy. Or, whip up a homemade dressing with high-quality vinegar, oils and whatever herbs and spices you fancy. Super simple ways to allow the flavor of the vegetable to shine through.
• Watch a video. Not quite sure how to prepare a leek? Watch a video on YouTube and you’ll be chopping leeks like a pro. Don’t let any vegetable intimidate you. With the power of the internet, you can master any obscure veggie.
• Smart storage. Vegetables will actually last longer and stay fresher if you pack them loosely in your refrigerator. The closer they are, the quicker they will rot. Store your fruits away from your vegetables. Fruits give off high levels of ethylene (ripening agent) that can prematurely ripen and spoil your vegetables.
Keep trying new ways to eat your veggies. The more you eat, the more you’ll enjoy!
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