Eat more vegetables.

Make this your first and top priority if you want to eat and feel better.

The absolute first recommendation I make for everyone is to eat more vegetables. even though we all grew up hearing we need 5 servings a day, according to the CDC, only 1 in 10 adults in the US is getting that amount.   In my home state of Indiana, estimates are that Hoosiers eat less than 1.5 servings a day.  That’s bad news, but it gets worse.  5 servings has long been the recommendation, but only because science had only tested up to five.  Turns out, the greatest risk reduction of all-cause mortality happens at 8 plus servings. There is a great explanation of the science on this from Dr. Sarah Ballantyne.  We can also see the impact of very high produce consumption in the ground-breaking work of Dr. Terry Wahls who is helping people reverse autoimmune symptoms.  The centerpiece of her food and lifestyle protocol is the inclusion of 9 cups of vegetables and fruits daily.

Are you eating 8+ servings of produce?

How about 9 cups?

That probably seems extreme or even unattainable to you.  Don’t start there, but do start.  1 additional serving in your day decreases all-cause mortality by 5%.  That’s a dramatic effect for a small change.

In Episode 6 (Eat More Veggies!!) of Food Smarts, Amie and I talk about the motivation for eating more vegetables and some tips on how to get started.  We also talk about how to do this on a budget–even a very limited one.  For the access and budget tips, listen to Episode 6.

Adding fruit to your day is pretty easy for most people once they set that intention.  For most, vegetables are a bigger challenge.  Here are some tips on getting more vegetables into your life:

  • Try new vegetables and make current favorites in new ways. In my practice, I often see that people are eating the same few veggies on repeat.  If you are going to up your intake, you really need to add diversity to what you are eating,  Take a risk and try new flavors.  To have the best experience, shop seasonally with a local farmer.  Fresh just tastes better.

Here are some fall flavors in season now in the Midwest. Apples, Beans, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Cranberries, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Green Beans, Leeks, Onions, Pears, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Quince, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Winter Squash 

  • Google and apps like Pinterest are your secret weapon. Try going online and just searching recipes for a veggie that is in season.  You will no doubt find creative and delicious ways to go outside your comfort zone.
  • Smoothies (for breakfast or any other time).  Make it a meal by making sure it contains protein, fat, and carbs.  I challenge you to make sure there are vegetables in every smoothie (I consider it a milkshake otherwise.)  Greens, especially spinach, are a great add with minimal change to the flavor.
  • Frozen vegetables—a great option that is convenient and budget-friendly.  Make them as a side but also add them to soups, casseroles, rice, pasta, skillet dinners, omelets, and more.
  • Roast big batches of seasonal veggies to have on hand for quick sides.  Roasting also uncovers the natural sweetness of vegetables.
  • Enjoy fermented vegetables like sauerkraut with your morning eggs.
  • Use a food processor to slice and shred veggies for easy and quick cooking.  It takes just a few minutes to saute shaved brussel sprouts compared to the time of roasting them whole.  Shredding a butternut squash and then cooking it in a skillet with some bulk sausage and spinach makes a great and quick hash.
  • Replace refined carbohydrates with vegetables.  Are you participating in the cauliflower revolution?  Cauliflower is a great alternative for everything from rice to pizza crust.  Mashed cauliflower is also a more nutrient dense side than mashed potatoes.  Use those online recipe searching skills to find more ways to creatively replace nutrient-deficient processed foods with nutrient dense veggies.
  • Wash and prep veggies in advance.  A meal comes together easily when you have items ready to go.  Spend some time each week prepping your produce and stocking your fridge.
  • Get leafy greens every day–and mix them up.  That can mean a salad, but also greens added to smoothies, soups, casseroles, pasta sauce, etc.
  • When you are cooking things like soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, meatloaf, meatballs, etc—add as many veggies as you can.  Some ideas:
    • grate a carrot to add to dishes like meatloaf
    • add fresh or frozen vegetables to pasta dishes
    • add sea vegetable flakes to boost nutrition without changing the flavor at all
    • add riced cauliflower to soups and casseroles
    • add chopped onions and fresh garlic whenever possible
    • add frozen greens like kale and spinach to soups, skillet dinners, casseroles, etc.
    • bagged broccoli slaw is an easy addition to casseroles and skillet dinners

If you feel overwhelmed, just start slow and be persistent.  Know that every serving of vegetables you add to your day will make you and those you love healthier, more energized, and focused.  This is about enjoying your life to the max by harnessing the power of food.

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