I’m sure many people expect me to say that I love vegetables because I’m a holistic nutritionist, but that would only be partially true. Sure, I love them for their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and phytonutrients, but it’s somewhat rare for me to crave a red pepper over an apple. While I certainly don’t dislike vegetables, they aren’t something I particularly feel compelled to eat either.
However, the benefits of vegetable are undeniable. And as much as I love fruit more than I can express, it's easy for the whole “getting-five-servings-of-fruits-and-vegetables-a-day” thing to turn into getting five servings of fruit and zero vegetables.
But fear not! Here are some tips and tricks on how to get more veggies into your daily routine—and why it’s so important.
First Thing’s First: There’s a Reason Your Parents Told You To 'Eat Your Vegetables'
For starters, vegetables are extremely nutrient-dense, meaning you get a lot of benefits from them for very few calories. (This is the complete opposite of a bag of Skittles where you get zero nutrition but a ton of calories.) They also contain practically no fat or cholesterol, yet are packed with fibre and water.
Vegetables also have an alkalizing effect on the body due to their high vitamin and mineral content. Translation: consuming lots of vegetables encourages your body to reach a slightly more alkaline pH level, which deters it from leeching much-needed minerals from your bones and teeth to maintain homeostasis. Simply put, vegetables help your body function optimally.
Okay, So Do I Get the Same Benefits From All Vegetables?
No, you don’t. Vegetables can be divided into two groups: starchy versus non-starchy vegetables.
Starchy vegetables include things like potatoes, turnips, peas, squash, corn, and sweet potatoes (pretty much all the delicious ones). They’re mostly made up of high-quality carbohydrates and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre. However, starch is a long chain of sugar molecules linked together, meaning vegetables in this category lead to more significant spikes to your blood sugar levels than the non-starchy options. This also means that they’re higher in calories, so it’s better to eat them in moderation if weight loss is your goal.
Non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and celery (among many others). They’re high in water and fibre but have a lower amount of carbohydrate content. When it comes to these guys, you certainly get bang for your buck given how nutrient dense they are.
Typically, it’s the non-starchy vegetables that can be harder to fit into our day. However, according to a 2016 study with the American Heart Association, replacing just one serving of starchy vegetables with non-starchy ones is associated with a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease. Think about that for a minute!
How to Eat More Non-Starchy Vegetables
For every fruit you eat, have some non-starchy vegetables.
Many of us find it’s easy to get enough fruit in a day, so training yourself to also eat a non-starchy vegetable every time you grab a fruit means you’ll significantly eat more veggies. For example, have three big carrots every time you eat an apple.
2. Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies!
A lot of people make their smoothies with a ton of fruit, which can equal a lot of sugar. While these sugars are natural, throwing three cups of fruit into your smoothie and munching on a couple of oranges and apples throughout the day means you're consuming a lot of sugar, period. Using vegetables as the base of your smoothie is a way healthier option, and adding a delicious-tasting protein powder to it is a great way to mask any of that bitter taste you might not want first thing in the morning.
MY PICK: Throw 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almonds milk, 1 cup of frozen peaches, 1/2 a frozen banana, 2 cups of kale (packed), 1 scoop of yummy-flavoured protein powder (like Vega’s coconut almond flavour), and 1/2 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds into a blender and mix until smooth. Add 1 - 2 cups of water and ice for your desired consistency.
3. Pair veggies with a delicious dip.
You might not like eating raw vegetables on their own, but what about if you had them with a scrumptious bowl of homemade guacamole or a tasty Greek yogurt dip?
TO MAKE GUACAMOLE: mix together some ripe avocados, fresh lime juice, fresh cilantro, tiny jalapeño pepper slices, and sea salt until you’ve reached the desired ratio of ingredients for your palette.
TO MAKE THE GREEK YOGURT DIP: mix together 3/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt with 1 garlic clove (minced), 2 tablespoons of chopped chives, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of dried dill, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
Remember that vegetables can be used in dips, too! Add some red peppers to your guacamole or make a homemade Greek yogurt tzatziki sauce with small cucumber cubes!
4. Soups can be sneaky… in a good way.
Soups are a great way to add vegetables like onions, peppers, green peas, or even kale and spinach. I’ve added thinly-sliced kale to a soup before and it was divine! The key is to use lots of delicious spices to make the veggies nice and flavourful.
TO MAKE VEGGIE SOUP: Throw a tablespoon of olive oil into a large pot over medium heat. Toss in a medium yellow onion (diced), a carrot (peeled and chopped), a couple celery stalks (chopped), and cook for about 5 minutes. Add one red/green/orange pepper (chopped), 1 cup of green beans (trimmed and chopped), and 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and cook for 2 minutes. Add one 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, 4 cups of vegetable stalk, and 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, dried basil, and sea salt. Add 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil and let simmer over low-medium heat for about 25 minutes, tossing in some thinly-sliced kale slices for the last five minutes (which will wilt).
5. Swap mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower.
Though lower in carbs and calories than a potato, mashed cauliflower does a good job of satisfying that “comfort food craving” in my opinion.
TO MAKE MASHED CAULIFLOWER: Cut a medium head of cauliflower into small florets. Steam or cook in a pot of water until very tender. Meanwhile, brown 1 clove of garlic (minced) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over low-medium heat. Throw the cooked cauliflower, olive oil/garlic, and 1/4 cup of milk or milk alternative into a blender and blend until smooth. Add some freshly ground pepper and sea salt to taste.
6. Make your non-starchy veggies taste good.
My preference is to fill up half of my plate with non-starchy vegetables at dinner time, but in order to eat that many I need to make sure they taste good. Sometimes this means changing up the preparation method of your veggies, like roasting them in the oven rather than just steaming them. Or it can mean adding flavourful toppings like a bt of butter or ghee, garlic, onion, and spices.
MY PICK: I love adding 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil, 1/2 tablespoon of real maple syrup, sea salt, and paper to a few cups of halved Brussels sprouts and grilling them up in the oven. Delicious!
7. Have a yummy salad.
Salads are a great way to get more vegetables into your diet since the base of them is made up of, well, vegetables! Turn your salad up a notch by throwing in some shredded carrots, cabbage, celery, and peppers to get as many vegetables as possible. Just don’t forget to add protein and a complex carbohydrate like quinoa or pearl barley to ensure that your salad holds you over until your next meal.
8. Juice them.
Like smoothies, it’s easy for juices to be made up of a fruit only, but I personally love the taste of a refreshing green juice.
MAKE A GREEN JUICE: Juice a couple of celery stalks, one lemon (peeled), a green apple, a cucumber, and some kale together. Don’t have a juicer? Use a blender and strain with cheesecloth or a nut milk bag.
9. Add veggies to your everyday meals.
Throw some spinach, red pepper slices, and onions into an omelette first thing in the morning. Or if you’re having a wrap or sandwich, toss in some arugula or shredded cabbage. Just ask yourself: How can I add more vegetables to this meal? Oftentimes it’s actually a lot easier than you’d think!
10. Use zucchini noodles.
Use a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles and use them in place of some of your regular pasta dish! That favourite pesto recipe you love can be used on zucchini noodles too! Top with some chicken and you’ve got a high protein, low carb meal.
The Bottom Line
I totally agree that eating a bowl of raw carrots doesn’t sound very fun or appetizing, but the good news is that vegetables are extremely versatile. You can make noodles out of them, throw them into soups, dip them in stuff, juice them, blend them, you name it! With all of these options available to us, there’s no excuse for why we shouldn’t be eating enough of these incredibly healthy foods!