Vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, but not all vegetables are created equal. Take a look at why you need these plant varieties, how much you should eat and how to make the right choices. You'll find that is isn't difficult to have enough vegetables in your diet.
Why Are Vegetables Important?
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people who eat fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet are less likely to develop conditions such as stroke, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, and cancers of the mouth, stomach, and colon. In addition, these foods may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
Vegetables provide many vitamins and minerals such as potassium, fiber, folate, and vitamins E, C, and A. They are nutrient dense, meaning you get a lot of nutrients for very few calories.
There are two types of vegetables: starchy and non-starchy. Both types are part of a proper diet, but whereas non-starchy varieties can be eaten in abundance, starchy selections contain more sugar; hence, portion sizes need to be kept in check.
Starchy vegetables include:
- Sweet potatoes
Non-starchy vegetables include:
- Salad greens
The best way to get all of the health benefits of these nutrient powerhouses is to eat a variety of colors. Yellow, orange, and red choices provide vitamin A, green provides folate, vitamins, and phytochemicals, which are compounds found only in plants that provide great health benefits, such as reducing the risk for cancer and heart disease.
Choose dark green and yellow vegetables most often, such as romaine lettuce, broccoli, spinach, peppers and chilies. When at the supermarket or produce stand, choose darker veggies over lighter ones. For example, choose romaine lettuce over iceberg, dark leafy greens, and deep yellow and red veggies over light yellow and orange. Color can vary from vegetable to vegetable, so look around before choosing the piece that you want.
How Much Should I Eat?
As mentioned above, non-starchy vegetables should be eaten in abundance. If you're looking for guides for serving sizes and food portions, as well as the minimum amount you should eat each day, the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends at least 2 ½ to 3 cups for men and women and at least 2 cups for women over age 51. That's about 21 cups of vegetables each week. Of these, women should eat 3 cups of the starchy form weekly, and men should strive for 6 cups of starchy choices weekly. Women over the age of 51 should have 2 ½ cups of starchy vegetables each week.
What is a serving? In general, one-half cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or one cup of raw leafy greens count as one serving.
Tips for Adding More to Your Diet
- To incorporate more veggies into your diet, add some to the foods you already eat, such as omelets, lasagna, casseroles, soup, and pasta dishes.
- Frozen and canned varieties can be just as healthy, if not healthier, than fresh because they are packaged at the peak of freshness and retain more of nutrients. Keep in mind, however, that canned vegetables may be loaded with sodium. If you choose to use these, rinse them under some cold water before use to rinse off some of the sodium.
- Invest in a salad spinner. Just wash and dry your lettuce and store it right inside your fridge. It acts as a crisper and keeps the lettuce fresher for a longer period of time. You will always have fresh lettuce on hand for salads and sandwiches. It can also be used to wash and dry almost any fruit or vegetable.
Vegetables are delicious, convenient, and versatile. Next time you're shopping for food or looking for a new recipe, try a new veggie you've never had before. You just may surprise yourself!