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5 Delicious Ways to Eat More Vegetables

Somi Igbene PhD ANutrMay 29, 2021

Today’s post is all about VEGETABLES. Specifically, the subgroups of vegetables, why you need them, and five simple tips to help you include more vegetables in your diet.

Vegetables are the third post in this Nutrition 101 series.

In my first post, I covered how to start eating healthier and the five food groups that make up a healthy diet. My second post covered grains.

If you haven’t read the posts or watched the videos, read or watch them here:

How to eat healthier in 2021 | What you need to know about grains.

Today, I will expand on the vegetable group, and by the end of the post, you will learn:

  • The subgroups of vegetables
  • The health benefits of vegetables
  • And tips to help you eat more vegetables

Let’s dive in!

We all know that eating vegetables has many health benefits (Woodside et al., 2013). However, our intakes are still minimal.

Men, young adults, and people of low socioeconomic status have the worst intakes (Minich, 2019).

Research further shows that only 9% and 28% of American and British adults, respectively, eat the recommended portions of fruits and vegetables daily (Lee-Kwan et al., 2015; HSE, 2018), which means that we need to work on adding more vegetables to our diets.

Many people think of vegetables as leafy greens only. Conversely, vegetables consist of many colourful and delicious foods. And you enjoy them in a variety of ways including, raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried, mashed, whole or juiced!

Unless you add sauces and other seasonings, most vegetables are naturally low in saturated fats, and they’re all are cholesterol-free. In saying that, enjoying vegetables with moderate quantities of saturated fats, e.g., palm oil or coconut oil, or cholesterol-containing foods like eggs and prawns are still delicious ways to enjoy vegetables.

What are the vegetable subgroups?

Vegetables belong in five subgroups, based on their nutrient content (Slavin and Lloyd, 2012):

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables
  • Red and deep-orange vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Beans and peas
  • Other vegetables

1 | Dark-green leafy vegetables: Include spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, watercress, [and if you’re Nigerian efo, waterleaf, okazi etc.]. These vegetables are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

2 | Red and deep-orange vegetables: Include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. These vegetables are also rich in beta-carotene, vitamin c and folate.

3 | Starchy vegetables: Include foods like plantain, potatoes, yams, cassava, beetroots. These vegetables are rich in complex carbohydrates and many minerals and vitamins, including vitamin B6, zinc, vitamin C and potassium.

4 | Beans and peas: Include foods like kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, lentils and green peas. These foods are rich in vitamin B1, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium and fibre.  Beans are unique because they count as both a protein food and a vegetable. Count them in either food group in a meal but not in both.

5 | Other vegetables: include others like cauliflower, celery, iceberg lettuce, green beans, onions etc

The more variety of vegetables you eat, the better for you. And that’s because you’ll get a wide range of nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants, and increase the diversity of your gut microbiome.

Rainbow vegetables - how to eat more vegetables

What are the health benefits of vegetables?

A high intake of fruits and vegetables correlates with a lower risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and many other conditions (Appleton et al., 2016).

High intakes of fruits and vegetables also improve immunity and weight maintenance, and lower oxidative stress (Yeon et al., 2012; Gibson et al., 2012; Tanumihardjo et al., 2009).

New research shows that diets rich in vegetables boosts the intake of anti-inflammatory compounds like polyphenols and phytochemicals that can offset harmful compounds from pollution (Hoffman et al., 2017).

Therefore, eating high quantities of vegetables can lower your risk of developing diseases linked to pollutants in the environment (Hennig et al., 2018; Petriello et al., 2014).

Besides, a high intake of vegetables positively impacts mental health (Minich, 2019).

A recent Australian study found that high intakes of fruits and vegetables increased happiness, life satisfaction and wellbeing (Mujcic and Oswald, 2016).

Another New Zealand study found that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have higher levels of well-being and creativity compared with adults who ate fewer fruits and vegetables (Conner et al., 2015)

Vegetables, as I’ve alluded to already, are rich in a plethora of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients including potassium, magnesium, iron, beta carotene, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K (Slavin and Lloyd, 2013).

The vitamin C found in vegetables helps to heal wounds and promote iron absorption (Chambial et al., 2013).

Vitamin A is important for immunity and it keeps your eyes and skin healthy (Gilbert, 2013).

Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, while folate keeps your red blood cells healthy and protects against birth defects (Traber, 2012; Chan, 2013).

Potassium regulates blood pressure and lowers your risk of kidney stones and bone loss (Weaver, 2013).

Vegetables are also a rich source of fibre, which maintains digestive health and normal cholesterol levels Slavin and Lloyd, 2012).

And if you need more reasons to eat a variety of vegetables, it’s worth knowing that different colours of vegetables have positive effects on different organ systems in your body (Minich, 2019). For example:

  • Red vegetables are associated with inflammation and immunity: They are high in antioxidants and red-food carotenoids, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that regulate the immune system.
  • Orange vegetables are associated with reproductive health: They are abundant in carotenoids with endocrine-regulating activities and have a role in fertility through the support of processes like ovulation.
  • Yellow vegetables are associated with digestion: They are rich in fibre to support the gut microbiome and assist in maintaining gut health by promoting regular bowel movements and producing sufficient quantities of digestive enzyme.
  • Green foods are associated with cardiovascular health: They are rich in a variety of nutrients like vitamin K, folate, magnesium potassium, and dietary nitrates. These nutrients regulate blood pressure, support red cell and clotting-factor production.
  • Blue and purple foods are associated with cognition: They are rich in polyphenols such as flavonoids, procyanidins, phenolic acids and flavonols that assist with learning, memory, and mood.

How many vegetables do you need daily?

The number of vegetables you need daily depends on your age, weight, activity levels and lifestyle. But the average adult should aim to get at least 2.5 cups or five (80g) portions of vegetables daily.

Include different colours as often as you can, and aim to add one new vegetable per week to your regulars if you can manage it.

5 Simple ways to add more vegetables to your diet

Increasing your vegetable intake is much simpler than you imagine. You don’t need huge salads at every meal if you don’t want to. You can ‘sneak’ them into recipes or use them as toppings for sandwiches or pasta dishes.

Here are five ways to increase your vegetable intake:

1 | Top pizza or toss pasta with chopped or sliced vegetables such as courgettes (or zucchini for my American audience), carrots, broccoli and bell peppers. Add spinach, baby leaf salad or slices of tomatoes and cucumbers to your sandwiches or top baked potatoes with vegetable salsa, beans or stir-fried veggies.

2 | Snack on raw veggies like carrots, cucumber, bell peppers or celery. You can enjoy them with a vegetable dip like hummus or baba ghanoush for a double dose of vegetables.

3 | Make smoothies with kale, shredded carrots, avocado, spinach, tomatoes, beetroot or any vegetables you like. Add fruits to your vegetable smoothies to make them tastier if you desire.

4 | Puree vegetables and use them as a thickener in stews, soups and gravies or use them as a sauce for pasta. E.g., make a cauliflower cheese sauce for macaroni cheese.

5 | Make dips, sandwich spreads and toppings with vegetables e.g.

  • Baba ghanoush (made with aubergines)
  • Caponata (made with aubergines and tomatoes)
  • Hummus (made with chickpeas)
  • Salsa (made with tomatoes, sweet peppers, onion and coriander)
  • Guacamole (made with avocado)

And there you have it

You’ve learned the five groups that vegetables belong to, the nutrients they are rich in and five ways you can increase your vegetable intake.

Now you have these tips, nothing should stop you from adding more vegetables to your diet. Remember you don’t have to incorporate all these tips at once. Start with what you’re most comfortable with and work your way up.

If you wish to learn how to eat a healthy balanced diet that’s personalised to your unique needs and food preferences and helps you achieve your health goals, you can schedule a 15-minute discovery call via the grey button on the right-hand corner of this page.

You can also check out my healthy eating guides.

Until my next post,

Eat whole, move your body and surround yourself with people and things that matter.

Be blessed!

-SOMI-

 

References

  1. Woodside, J.V., Young, I.S., McKinley, M.C. (2013) Fruits and vegetables: measuring intake and encouraging increased consumption. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 72: 236-245.
  2. Slavin, J.L. and Lloyd, B (2012) Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Advances in Nutrition, 3, 506-516.
  3. Minich, D.M (2019) A review of the science of colourful, plant-based food and practical strategies for ‘eating the rainbow.’ Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2125070
  4. Lee-Kwan, S.H., Moore, L.V., Blanck, H.M., Harris, D.M., Galuska, D (2015) Disparities in state-specific adult fruit and vegetable consumption – United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 66(45), 1241-1247.
  5. Rodriguez-Casado, A (2016) The health potential of fruits and vegetables phytochemicals: Notable examples, critical reviews in food science and nutrition. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 56, 1097-1107
  6. Liu, R.H. (2013) Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Advances in Nutrition, 4(3), 384S-392S
  7. Hoffman, J.B., Petriello, M.C., and Henning, B. (2017) Impact of nutrition on pollutant toxicity: an update with new insights into epigenetic regulation. Reviews on Environmental Health, 32(1-2), 65-72
  8. Henning, B., Petriello, C., Gamble, M.V. et al., (2018) The role of nutrition in influencing mechanisms involved in environmentally mediated diseases. Reviews on Environmental Health, 33(1), 87-97.
  9. Health Survey England (2018) Fruits and vegetables. Available: http://healthsurvey.hscic.gov.uk/data-visualisation/data-visualisation/explore-the-trends/fruit-vegetables.aspx. Accessed: 28 May 2021
  10. Fulton, S.L., McKinley, M.C., Young, I.S., Cardwell, C.R., Woodside, J.V. (2016) The effect of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption on overall diet: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,56(5), 802-16.
  11. Conner, T.S>, Brookie, K.L., Carr, A.C., Mainvil, L.A., and Vissers, M.C.M. (2017) Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on psychological wellbeing in young adults: A randomised controlled trial. PLoS One, 12(2), e0171206.
  12. Appleton, K.M., Hemingway, A., Saulais, L., Dinnella, C., Monteleone, E., Depezay, L., Morizet, D., Perez-Cueto, F.J.A., Bevan, A., and Hartwell, H (2016) Increasing vegetable intakes: rationale and systematic review of published interventions. European Journal of Nutrition, 55, 869-896.
  13. Yeon, J.Y., Kim, H.S., Sung, M.K. (2012) Diets rich in fruits and vegetables suppress blood biomarkers of metabolic stress in overweight women. Preventive Medicine, 54, S109-S115.
  14. Gibson, A., Edgar, J.D., Neville, C.E. (2012) Effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on immune function in older people: a randomised controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96: 1429-1436.
  15. Tanumihardjo, S.A., Valentine, A.R., Zhang, Z., Whigham, L.D., Lai, H.J., Atkinson, R.L. (2009) Strategies to increase vegetable or reduce energy and fat intake induce weight loss in adults. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 234, 542-552.
  16. Mujcic, R., and Oswald, A.J. (2016) Evolution of wellbeing and happiness after increases in consumption of fruit and vegetables. American Journal of Public Health, 106(8), 1504-1510.
  17. Conner, T.S., Brookie, K.L., Richardson, A.C., and Polak, M.A. (2015) On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life. British Journal of Health Psychology, 20(2), 413-427.
  18. Hoffman, J.B., Petriello, C., Henning, B. (2017) Impact of nutrition on pollutant toxicity: an update with new insights into epigenetic regulation. Reviews on Environmental Health, 32(1-2), 65-72.
  19. Henning, B., Petriellow, C., Gamble, M.V. et al (2018) The role of nutrition in influencing mechanisms involved in environmentally mediated diseases. Reviews on Environmental Health, 33(1), 87-97.
  20. Petriello, M.C., Newsome, B.J., Dziubla, T.D., Hilt, J.Z., Bhattacharyya, D., and Hennig, B. (2014) Modulation of persistent organic pollutant toxicity through nutritional intervention: emerging opportunities in biomedicine and environmental remediation. Science of The Total Environment, 491-492, 11-16.
  21. Chambial, S., Dwivedi, S., Shukla, K.K., John, P.J., Sharma, P (2013) Vitamin C in disease prevention and cure: An overview. Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry, 28(4), 314-328.
  22. Gilbert, C. (2013) What is vitamin A and why do we need it? Community Eye Health, 26(84), 65.
  23. Traber, M.G. (2012) Vitamin E. Advances in Nutrition, 3(3), 330-331.
  24. Chan, Y-M. (2013) Folate. Advances in Nutrition, 4(1), 123-125.
  25. Weaver, C.M. (2013) Potassium and health. Advances in Nutrition, 4(3), 368S-77S.

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