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USDA Nutrition Guidelines

Vegetable Basics

Evidence continues to mount on the value of vegetables. In studies around the world, the more vegetables people eat, the lower their risk of chronic diseases. Vegetables play this starring role because they are low in calories, full of fiber, and packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Non-starchy vegetables have only about 25 calories per 1/2 cup, so they're a great component of any weight-loss plan. This article will give you the nutritional information you need to know about vegetables, as well as some tips on how to work the proper amount of veggies into your diet. Let's get started with some advice on how to pick the right vegetables.

Publications International, Ltd.
In order to ensure a healthy diet, you should make sure to eat
the recommended daily servings of vegetables on a regular basis.

Color is Key

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
1.5 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
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.

Store Vegetables with Care
Unlike vitamins, the minerals in your vegetables are not destroyed by heat, air, and light. But you can lose them if you're not careful. If you cook vegetables in water, some of the minerals leach into the water and go down the drain when you throw out the cooking water. Instead, lightly steam vegetables, or cook in the microwave to retain the most minerals. If you boil veggies in water, save the water for your next batch of soup. Keep leftover cooking water in the refrigerator and use within several days.

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.

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.

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.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.