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In order to ensure a healthy diet, you should make sure to eat
the recommended daily servings of vegetables on a regular basis.
Choose colorful veggies to get the most health benefits. The substances that provide vegetables with their beautiful array of colors are disease-fighting phytochemicals. Make your plate pass the "rainbow test" at every meal, and you'll have a plate full of goodness. In addition to recommending an overall amount of vegetables, the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines go a step further. For the first time, the Guidelines recommend intake levels for each type of vegetable. These amounts are given per week, rather than per day, because it would be difficult to eat some of each kind of vegetable every day.
How Many Servings Per Day?
Weight-watchers will probably aim to eat two to three cups of vegetables each day. Think of eating the amounts listed in the subgroups, 1/2 cup or more at a time, several times a week. Instead of numbers on a chart, they suddenly become an achievable -- and delicious -- food plan. The most nutrient-dense vegetables -- those in the dark green subcategory -- unfortunately are also those that Americans are least likely to consume. They include broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, and collard, turnip, and mustard greens. Aim to get 1/2 cup four to six days a week.
Orange vegetables are commonly eaten thanks to carrots, but others in this group include sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, and pumpkin. Aim to get 1/2 cup three or four times a week.
Legumes include all cooked dry beans and peas, such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, chickpeas, split peas, lentils, and soybean products. Aim for two or three cups a week; that translates into 1/2 cup five or six days a week or 1 cup two to three times a week, in such foods as chili or soup.
Starchy vegetables include white potatoes, green peas, jicama, and corn. Aim to get 1/2 cup five or six days a week.
The "Other Vegetables" subgroup includes tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, onions, lettuces other than romaine, mushrooms, cauliflower, peppers, cabbage, eggplant, and more. The eating patterns recommend 51/2 to 7 cups per week, which breaks down to about 1 cup five to seven days a week.
If all that sounds like a lot of vegetables -- it is! The Dietary Guidelines recommend making vegetables a major component of your eating pattern. Why? Because veggies make it easy to eat fewer calories, manage your weight, and decrease your risk of chronic conditions. An easy way to think about it is to fill half of your lunch and dinner plates with vegetables. Heap them up partially with salad and partially with cooked veggies, and you'll be well on your way to filling up on nutrient-dense food. Round out your plates by dividing the remaining half into two quarters -- fill one with protein and the other with grain, such as a whole-grain roll, pasta, or rice.
Recommended Weekly Vegetable Servings
| Calorie Level ||1,200-1,400 ||1,600 ||1,800 ||2,200-2,400 |
|Vegetables ||1.5 cups (3 srv) ||2 cups (4 srv) ||2.5 cups (5 srv) ||3 cups (6 srv)|
|Dark green vegetables ||1.5 cups/week ||2 cups/week ||3 cups/week ||3 cups/week|
|Orange vegetables ||1 cup/week ||1.5 cups/week ||2 cups/week ||2 cups/week|
|Legumes ||1 cup/week ||2.5 cups/week ||3 cups/week ||3 cups/week|
|Starchy vegetables ||2.5 cups/week ||2.5 cups/week ||3 cups/week ||6 cups/week|
|Other vegetables ||4.5 cups/week ||5.5 cups/week ||6.5 cups/week ||7 cups/week|
What's In It For Me?
Vegetables are nutrient powerhouses that are low in calories and full of fiber, which expands in your digestive tract and sends the "I'm satisfied and full" signal to your brain. As a result, you get full on fewer calories, and the calorie-balance scale will tip toward weight loss. Dark green vegetables are the lowest in calories and among the highest in nutrients. They're brimming with vitamins C, E, and K; vitamin A as beta-carotene; several B vitamins including folate, which helps prevent certain birth defects; and magnesium. Some offer bone-building calcium as well.
Legumes are packed with fiber, particularly soluble fiber -- the kind that helps your body get rid of artery-clogging cholesterol. But it also contains insoluble fiber, the kind that swells and keeps you feeling fuller, longer. Legumes provide iron and magnesium, too -- minerals that are often in short supply. Wondering which lettuce gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck? Romaine contains the most nutrients. Dark-leaf varieties have more nutrients than those with lighter leaves. The ever-popular iceberg lettuce, for instance, offers little but water and a tiny bit of fiber. Orange vegetables are great sources of vitamin A as beta-carotene, a powerful cell-protecting antioxidant. The body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays a role in healthy eyes, skin, and bones. Legumes are fiber-rich and a good protein source. But when you eat legumes, count them only as vegetable or protein, not both. Double-counting will alter your total calorie intake, and if you double-count frequently, you could shortchange yourself on nutrients.
Wondering which lettuce gives you the most nutritional bang for your buck? Romaine contains the most nutrients. Dark-leaf varieties have more nutrients than those with lighter leaves. The ever-popular iceberg lettuce, for instance, offers little but water and a tiny bit of fiber. Orange vegetables are great sources of vitamin A as beta-carotene, a powerful cell-protecting antioxidant. The body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays a role in healthy eyes, skin, and bones. Legumes are fiber-rich and a good protein source. But when you eat legumes, count them only as vegetable or protein, not both. Double-counting will alter your total calorie intake, and if you double-count frequently, you could shortchange yourself on nutrients.
Starchy vegetables are just that -- good sources of starch, or carbohydrate, that your body needs to make energy. They tend to be a little higher in calories than most other veggies but still have relatively few calories compared to other foods. They contain good amounts of potassium and fiber, too.
All the other vegetables, which don't fit into one of the above subgroups, add a great variety of tastes, textures, and colors to our eating routine. Eat a wide variety of them to get an abundance of different nutrients as well as potassium and fiber, which are found in all vegetables. In the next section we will offer a look at better and different ways to ensure you're including a good number of vegetables in your diet.