Broccoli, celery, gotta be… VEGETABLES! While this isn’t an episode of VeggieTales, we hope that this post can help you learn more about vegetables, which are a fundamental part of a nutritious plate.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a vegetable and how is it different from a fruit?
From a botanist’s perspective, a vegetable grows from the roots, leaves, bulbs, and stems of plants, while fruits form from the flowering parts of a plant. Another difference is that fruits contain seeds (1).
Based on this definition, some foods that you might consider to be vegetables may actually be classified as fruits, like pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes. However, how you classify your vegetables doesn’t matter as much as including them in your diet.
Vegetables are packed with nutrients that are vital to your body’s wellbeing. For a refresher on nutrients refer back to Nutrition 101. Many vegetables are good sources of potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate (2).
· Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
· Dietary fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels and can promote a healthy heart. It also helps with bowel functions and can help you get full faster.
· Vitamin A helps the body fight off infection and keeps your skin healthy.
· Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron and also helps the body heal wounds. Vitamin C is also attributed to keeping teeth and gums healthy.
· Folate (or folic acid) helps the body produce red blood cells.
Of course, not all vegetables offer the same range of nutritional benefits. When it comes to picking veggies, remember that more vibrant and colorful vegetables tend to offer more nutrients than less vibrant ones. For example, when making a salad, reach for spinach or kale over iceberg lettuce.
When it comes to fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables, we recommend fresh vegetables because they have usually been processed less than their counterparts. However, we know that life happens and it’s convenient or cost-effective to have vegetables in the freezer or in the pantry. So, at the end of the day, any vegetables are better than no vegetables.
When determining your daily servings of vegetables, it’s important to consider the unique makeup of your body — age, gender, health conditions, etc. — and your level of physical activity.
Luckily, EatLove does the hard math for you and recommends vegetable serving sizes to help you achieve dietary balance. Our nutrition system calculates macronutrients based on your nutrition prescription, but it also takes serving sizes and portions of fruits and veggies into account to ensure that each plate is balanced.
Many Americans have a mindset of meat and potatoes instead of potatoes and meat. In reality, the foundation of your meal should not be meat but vegetables! We understand that this can be an adjustment, which is why we provide plenty of dishes so you can find meals that match your taste preferences. As you find veggie-packed meals that you love, it will be easier to make that shift in mindset.
One way you can get in more veggies is by designating a night (or 2) for vegetarian dinners. While that might seem strange at first, over time you and your family will get used to the idea and it can become a healthy habit. Plus, eating vegetarian for a night can cut down on the cost of your meal.
To Cook or Not to Cook
You should never get bored with your vegetables because there are so many different ways to prepare them. You can eat most veggies by themselves and raw, or you can throw them into a salad with dressing or seasoning. Many vegetables are also good candidates for steaming or boiling in hot water, like cauliflower or broccoli. You can also throw them in a pan and sauté them with a bit of oil. Or, throw them onto a pan and roast them in the oven.
If you find yourself getting bored with your vegetables, think of a different way to cook them. The EatLove platform lets you filter recipes by cooking method, so you can discover different ways to cook your veggies.
ASK YOURSELF THIS:
· What is the general composition of the meals you eat? How many servings of vegetables do you get each day?
· What are some of your favorite vegetables?
· When scheduling or preparing a meal on EatLove, review the nutritional information and identify how many servings of vegetables the meal makes.
· Find 1 dish on EatLove in which vegetables are the star! Schedule it in your meal plan and add your ingredients to the grocery list.
· If you are great about tracking your meals in the Daily Log, then review your meals for the past few days and analyze your servings of vegetables. (If you haven’t started using the Daily Log, this gives you a great reason to start.)