Nutrition 101: Eat More Vegetables
Most of us get told frequently as we're growing up to eat our veges. We know they're healthy. We know they're good for us. So why is it one of the things so many people struggle to do?
The benefits of veges
There are a lot of different vitamins and minerals - each serves a unique purpose in our body - and one of the best ways to get them is by eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables. If that's the case, could you just take a supplement? You could, however, supplements are supposed to be an addition to what we're already eating and not a replacement.
When you eat whole fruits and vegetables, you're not just getting vitamins and minerals. You're also getting phytochemicals - special chemical compounds that can only be found in plants which help the plant thrive and fight off pests and disease. They are also responsible for the colour, flavour and smell of the plant. It's thought that these phytochemicals provide the greatest benefits to us when we ingest them.
Additionally, we get dietary fibre from veges. This makes us feel full, while also acting as a 'scrubber' for our digestive tract which helps keep our insides healthy.
Why don't we like them?
Many vegetables have a bitter flavour profile - especially greens. In nature, bitterness is often linked with toxicity so we're hardwired to steer clear of these foods. Children have more sensitive tastebuds, so it's understandable that kids dislike eating veges because of this.
As we grow up, our tastebuds generally become more acclimatised to different flavours and in turn, vegetables become more appealing. Research indicates it takes approximately 10-15 exposures to a particular food before we're more willing to accept it.
If certain veges aren't your jam, still put them on your plate and give them a go with the goal of just trying them, even for just one bite. Eventually after a number of tries over time you might find it easier - or even enjoyable! - to eat.
How much veg do we really need to eat?
Going by standard portion sizes for an everything in moderation diet, a good starting point for women is a single fist-sized portion of vegetables 3-5 times a day. For men it's roughly double this, so two fist-sized amounts of vegetables per serve.
To do this, you would be eating at least once serve for each of your main meals plus potentially your snacks as well.
Tips to help you eat more veges
Eat the rainbow. Different colours in veges are caused by different phytochemicals, and we want as many of those as we can! Aim to eat a wide variety of vegetables in a range of colours each week.
For veges you don't like, just keep at it. Remember - 10-15 exposures/attempts before you're going to be more willing to accept a food. Keep putting it on your plate, have a small bite, try cooking it in different ways.
Pair your veges with something familiar. Ever found a food you don't like more palatable when it's with a sauce that you do like? Use this to your advantage. It could be having it with hummus or substituting a different vegetable in one of your regular meals until it begins to taste more normal.
Skip the bread and pasta, use veges as your main carbs. You can make oven baked chips out of carrots, kumara, pumpkin or potato. Ditto with using them to make a mash. Add variety using different sauces or dips.
Hide them in your meals. Some veges can be great for 'bumping up' regular recipes. Grated carrot and baby spinach go great in lasagnes, casseroles and chili con carne. Quiches can include just about anything. Pizzas can have extra vege toppings and burgers can include them in the patties.
Have a meat-free meal. Every now and then, have a vegetarian meal or aim to do it once each week.
Have vege side dishes often. Vegetables don't need to be mixed up in your main meal. Side salads and cooked veges as an added extra dish can be a great way of bumping up the veg content in your day.
Eat the veges you do like. We don't have to like every food out there! If there are vegetables that you like to eat, use them in your cooking.
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