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.
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.
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.
See the next page to view more serving recommendations for vegetables.
Vegetable Serving Recommendations
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
|| 3 cups/week
Benefits of Vegetables
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.
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.
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.
Incorporating Vegetables Into Your Diet
Making Salads and Tasty Vegetable Combonations
Bagged lettuces, cabbage, and other vegetables make it easy to build a salad. Read the bag to see whether the contents are "ready-to-eat" or if you need to wash them. Ready-to-eat, prewashed bagged produce can be used without further washing as long as you keep it refrigerated and use it by the "Use by" date on the package. You may be tempted to buy alfalfa or bean sprouts along with other salad veggies. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend against eating raw sprouts of any kind because of the routine presence of potentially harmful bacteria.
To help you eat fewer calories, replace fat-based toppings with fresh or
dried herbs and spices. Experiment to find combinations you like. Here
are a few traditional favorites to get you started.
Since most vegetables are low in calories, they are great choices for weight loss. But it's up to you to preserve their low-calorie nature by preparing them wisely. The Food Guide eating patterns assume vegetables are eaten without added fats or sugars. If you add fat or sugar, you begin using up your discretionary calorie allowance. Use low- or nonfat cooking methods, such as steaming and microwaving, to avoid using up some of your discretionary calories. In fact, steaming preserves the most nutrients. Since starchy vegetables have the most calories in the veggie world, do not eat more than the recommended amounts.
Microwaving is best for frozen vegetables or the varieties that take a long time to cook. Place in a glass dish with a little bit of water in the bottom and cover with a glass lid (if you use plastic wrap, do not allow it to touch the food while microwaving). Use light margarine sparingly on corn, or skip it entirely and lightly sprinkle corn with chili powder for a punch of flavor. For flavor, top your smartly-cooked veggies with herbs or spices, a sprinkle of no-sodium herb/spice blend, or a squeeze of lemon. Or make a simple sauce. Try mixing nonfat plain yogurt with minced garlic and chopped mint or cilantro leaves (not both) and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. A sauce with southwestern flare can easily be made by mixing together a little lime juice, vinegar, minced garlic, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper along with a touch of olive oil. A small amount of oil helps hold the spicy mixture on the veggies.
Putting Vegetables on the Menu
Vegetables never need to be overcooked and boring -- quite the opposite: They can be the tasty centerpiece of your meals. Use any vegetable that is convenient for you -- fresh, frozen, or canned. Enjoy a variety within each subgroup so that you get many different flavors as well as nutrients.
Finding delicious ways to prepare vegetables is key to eating more of these low-calorie foods -- and you don't have to be a master chef to do it. Creativity will take you a long way. For instance, instead of eating plain carrot sticks, slice them into rounds and lightly coat with a low-fat marinade or bottled salad dressing.
Or steam carrots, then toss with a splash of orange juice and ground ginger. Or oven roast the carrots: Cut into pieces, toss with a light coating of cooking spray and your favorite herb or two, and bake in a hot oven until tender. Three delicious, low-calorie ways to enjoy carrots and none of them took a recipe. You can do the same with other vegetables.
To make salad preparation easier, either buy bagged romaine lettuce and spinach or buy a salad spinner. You can easily cut up a head of romaine, toss it in the basket of your salad spinner, wash thoroughly, then spin dry. Store in a plastic, recloseable bag in the refrigerator. Cut up other veggies that you like in your salads and keep them in containers in the refrigerator. They'll be quick to add to your greens so you'll be more likely to include them -- and that will boost your intake. Prepare small bags of a colorful variety of washed and cut veggies. Store them in the refrigerator. Now they're easy to toss into a lunch sack or munch on for a snack at home or in the car.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines also urge you to eat more legumes, but you may not know how to do that. Even if you don't like beans by themselves, you'll probably like them when you mix them with other flavors. There are quick and easy ways you can add them to your eating routine. Keep a variety of canned beans in the cupboard. Then rinse, drain, and store a can at a time in the refrigerator.
Here are a few other ideas for bean preparations:
- Add beans to sauteeing garlic as in the description above for fixing greens. Then add the greens and you have a filling side dish with few calories and a great flavor combination.
- Top your salad with a few white beans.
- Add black beans to cheese quesadillas.
- Use the blender to "hide" beans in spaghetti sauce -- blend your sauce and beans together, then serve over pasta.
- Use beans instead of meat in Mexican tostadas, enchiladas, tacos, and chili.
- Stir-frying in a wok or skillet is another delicious low-calorie cooking method. Add a small amount of fat-free broth, nonstick cooking spray, or oil to a pan and, over medium heat, toss vegetables until crisp-tender. Start with the vegetables that take the most time to cook, and add the more delicate ones toward the end of stir-frying to avoid overcooking them. Squash or pumpkin puree makes a great nonfat thickener in soups and stews. Use "other vegetables" liberally. Top a pizza with them; add to a casserole, pasta, or rice dish, or include in a tortilla wrap. Become vegetable conscious. Get creative and add them wherever you can even if a recipe doesn't call for them. Soon you'll be filling up on fewer calories than ever before.
Now that you know how to include more veggies in your diet, take a moment to set an effective goal or two. They might be as easy as this:
- Starting tomorrow, I will take a baggie of veggies to have with my sandwich at least three days this week. I'll eat them instead of chips on those days.
- I will eat a salad AND a steamed vegetable with dinner four nights this week.
Vegetables are an important part of healthy diet. Implementing them into your daily routine is just a matter of planning and preparation. The end result can be delicious!
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.