When I started my doctorate in clinical nutrition, I mounted a chalkboard on my bedroom wall and wrote, “Dr. Brooke Scheller.”
That was my motivation and a daily reminder of my goal. One day, my six-year-old niece picked up a piece of chalk and drew a carrot and an avocado on the board.
When asked why, her reply was simple: “Because you’re the doctor of vegetables.”
She’s right. I’m a veggie nerd. (No, but seriously, my favorite vegetables differ based on their nutritional value and taste!) And I just completed my degree so I’m also officially a doctor. My chalkboard dream has finally become a reality.
Normally, we think of food as something we eat when we’re hungry or in need of energy, but, to me, food is information. It’s true that what we put into our bodies can be tasty, satisfactory or filling — but food does so much more in our bodies at a cellular level. We either send good signals by consuming vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins, enabling our bodies to work effectively, or eat sugar and fried and processed foods that transmit negative signals, triggering a host of side effects.
So when people ask me for a suggestion to improve their health, my answer is simple: “Eat more vegetables.”
Why? Because I believe that they’re the most nutrient-dense food that we can consume.
Thinking back, there was no one instance when I fell in love with vegetables. I’ve always been a fan of eating and enjoying my meals, but I often think of a disturbing statistic reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
And I think for most people, even that isn’t sufficient.
Sometimes I recommend eating as many as eight to 10 cups of vegetables a day. That may seem like a lot, but it adds up if you’re incorporating greens, beets, carrots, sprouts, broccoli and other vegetables into every meal. We often think that a plate should feature the three core pillars of protein, vegetables and starch, but I suggest eating as many veggies as possible.
You may have heard of the sentiment “Eat the Rainbow,” but what does that really mean? It’s because vegetables of different colors offer a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that not only support your body’s numerous functions but also fight inflammation, oxidative stress and toxins from the environment. For example, beta carotene is a pigment found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and veggies, and is also a powerful antioxidant. Another antioxidant, anthocyanin, contributes to the red, purple and blue color in cabbage, grapes, and other foods. Both help fight free radicals in the body and fight disease.
Not sure where to start? My suggestion is to experiment (the Internet is a tremendous resource!) and to not knock something without trying it a few different times, prepared a few different ways. For example, if you can’t stand the mushy texture of veggies, try roasting them! Roasting them enhances the natural flavors and sweetness of veggies, making them a delicious, crispy treat. Another thing I like to do is to trick myself into eating more veggies — when I’m craving mashed potatoes, I mash cauliflower (or make a 50/50 blend with potatoes). If I’m making a grain-based dish or a soup, I always mix in fresh greens or spinach. Making meatballs? Finely chop kale or other greens, or add mushrooms to mix into your meat.
Keeping a few flexible staple veggies on hand makes it easier to incorporate them wherever they may fit. I’ve always got fresh spinach, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and fresh herbs on hand to toss into any of my dishes. I also love pre-packaged, pre-roasted beets as an add-on to a meal or atop a salad. Enjoy smoothies for breakfast or as a snack — I never use my blender without a hefty handful of fresh greens included!
And if you’re time-strapped and cooking sounds intimidating, try Freshly — I’m the Head of Nutrition here, and one of my jobs is to make sure there are lots of vegetables in our meals. Our mission is to make eating healthier, easier and delicious centered around our philosophy on going back to the basics of real, whole foods. We consciously make healthy swaps with ingredients, to make the meals more nutritious and ensure you’re getting that cup of vegetables. We swap carbohydrates like pasta and rice for zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash and cauliflower rice. We also use cauliflower purée in some of our sauces and add kale to our pesto sauce.
Today, the field of nutrition has become nuanced and, often, confusing. In a field rife with misinformation and complexities, one thing that experts aren’t going to argue about is that vegetables are a critical component of our health and need to be an essential part of every single meal we eat every single day. So take a photograph of yourself eating vegetables, tell me how you snuck more into your meals, and join my #makevegetablesateagain campaign on Instagram. Let’s make veggies cool again!
Originally published at https://medium.com on April 12, 2019.