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USDA Vegetable Guidelines

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.

  • Beets -- Cinnamon, cloves
  • Broccoli -- Lemon juice, dry mustard, toasted sesame seeds
  • Brussels sprouts -- Lemon juice, marjoram
  • Cabbage -- Cumin, sage
  • Carrots -- Dill, ginger, nutmeg
  • Cauliflower -- Parsley, paprika
  • Corn -- Garlic, chili powder, parsley, paprika
  • Greens (spinach, Kale, chard) -- Garlic, marjoram, cinnamon
  • Peas -- Oregano, tarragon
  • Pea pods or snow peas -- Lemon juice, garlic
  • Peppers --Garlic, tomato sauce
  • Potatoes -- Paprika, parsley, garlic, chives
  • Summer Squash (Zucchini, crookneck) -- Basil, garlic, oregano
  • Sweet Potatoes -- Cinnamon, cloves, ginger
  • Turnips or parsnips -- Orange juice, ginger, parsley,
  • Tomatoes -- Basil, marjoram, oregano
  • Winter squash (acorn, Hubbard, butternut) -- Allspice, cinnamon, oregano, toasted sage leaves

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.
Setting Vegetable Goals
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!

©Publications International, Ltd.

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.

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