A common question I get is, “How many fruits and vegetables do I need in a day?” A good rule of thumb for most adults is to aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is the optimal amount that scientists have found an association with lower risks of many health conditions.
In this blog, nutrition intern, Nicole Smolen*, discusses why it’s important to include vegetables in your diet and provides practical ideas on how to get them in your diet, if you have trouble meeting the daily goal.
Vegetables offer countless nutritional benefits. A plant-rich diet not only offers important nutrients for our body, but it has been long recognized to help lower blood pressure, manage diseases, promote better gut and digestive health and may even prevent certain cancers.
When it comes to incorporating vegetables into your diet, variety and quality are of equal importance. Eating a variety of vegetables will help provide a spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals. For example, spinach is a great source of vitamins A and K, calcium, iron, along with antioxidants. Broccoli contains twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Peas are also filled with vitamins A, C, and K. You may find potassium and folate in beets. The possibilities are seemingly endless! Additionally, eating quality vegetables that are not processed (think whole vegetables vs vegetable crackers) are best to optimize its nutritional profile.
Another important element of vegetables worth mentioning is: Fiber. In order to promote gut health, prebiotics or specialized plant fibers—ranging from onions and garlic to asparagus—are wonderful additions to your diet. These kitchen staples feed the “friendly” gut bacteria. In other words, they boost your immunity and aid digestion. Fun fact: About 70% of one’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract. So, we should be kind to our gut!
You can reap these rewards by incorporating more vegetables into your diet! But, what are the most simple and effective ways to turn this goal into a reality? Here is a brief list of ideas to help you out:
1. Design a meal plan
A solid plan requires preparation, but it definitely alleviates daily stress around meal times. You can start simply by buying fresh, seasonal produce. Clean, chop, and save vegetables in storage containers like these. Keep the healthy, refrigerated ingredients front and center. Instead of reaching for a handful of pretzels or chips, you can snack on baby carrots with beet hummus. Or you might gather a list of your favorite veggie-centric recipes.
2. Make loaded vegetable soups or stews
Soups or stews are one way to pack a nutritional punch! The “everything but the kitchen sink” philosophy certainly applies here. Minestrone, tortilla, gumbo, and beef stews are some crowd pleasers. Have you considered blending your vegetables into a creamy, luscious soup? Cauliflower, carrots, celery, squash, broccoli, and potatoes are common bases! This brings me to another point…
3. Blend vegetables in smoothies
Combine your crisp vegetables with fruits, yogurts, nut butters, grains, or seeds to round out the flavor. Spinach, kale, carrots, beets, and cucumbers are popular additions. They typically play supporting roles in smoothies. How does a berry mango kale smoothie sound? Or a super green smoothie with matcha tea? We love a boost of antioxidants!
4. Reinvent vegetables
It helps to think outside the box! From Sweet Potato Crust Pizza and Guilt-Free Garlic Parmesan Zucchini Noodles Pasta to Easy Grillable Veggie Burger and Vegetable Meatloaf with Balsamic Glaze, there are too many creative substitutes to count.
5. Hide vegetables in baked goods
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can hide greens in your sweet treats. Have you heard of cinnamon beet rolls, sweet potato pie, pumpkin bread, carrot cake, chocolate zucchini muffins, or avocado brownies? These recipes may seem outlandish, but the reviews rarely lie. Thankfully, a lot of adventurous chefs have explored new culinary frontiers and taken risks, so we can enjoy the delicious rewards!
As you can see, there is a lot of useful information here, but it is best to start small. Try not to let the list of ideas and facts overwhelm. Mark Twain once mused: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
List of Veggie-Centric Meals: https://www.thekitchn.com/10-dinners-that-are-mostly-vegetables-250208
*Nicole is a nutrition enthusiast as well as an avid recipe developer. She is a self described foodie who enjoys creating plant-based recipes with a cinematic twist (utilizing her background in cinema, she combines it with her passion in food and nutrition to create fun recipes).