The Importance of Eating “Mostly Plants”
In Michael Pollan’s great little book, Food Rules, he lays out a diet paradigm that any Functional Medicine practitioner or wellness coach would heartily endorse:
Not too much.
With these six words, he encapsulates so much of what we know about the benefits of eating a healthy diet. Today, however, I want to focus on the middle two words: “mostly plants.”
Reminding Ourselves of the Amazing Benefits of Vegetables
We all know that veggies are good for us, and most of us know we ought to eat more of them than we do. Vegetables are the ultimate low-calorie, high-nutrient foods. They are filled with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that we need to optimize our health. Moreover, they provide a myriad of health benefits like
- improving gut health. Veggies are a great source of dietary fiber, which helps food pass through your gut easier and may also improve the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals.
- lowering blood pressure. Vegetables like kale, chard, and spinach contain potassium, which helps your kidneys process and remove sodium from your body, which in turn can reduce blood pressure.
- controlling blood sugar levels. Vegetables have a low glycemic index, which means they help ensure your blood sugar doesn’t spike after eating a meal.
- lowering the risk of heart disease. Leafy greens contain vitamin K, which may help prevent calcium buildup in your arteries. And a 2009 study linked vitamin K consumption with a 9% reduction in heart disease.
Even with all of these health benefits, it can still be hard to get enough vegetables in our diets. After all, just how many salads can you eat in a day? And thanks to our hijacked processed food system, the temptation to grab a high-fat, high-sugar snack over a plate of steamed veggies can be difficult to resist.
The recommended daily intake of vegetables is 5-9 servings. That’s only about 2½ cups minimum. But if we truly want to take advantage of food to feel younger, longer, we need to up that range to 8-10 cups daily. That might sound like a lot, but thankfully there are lots of ways to introduce more vegetables into your diet—without feeling like you’re eating nothing but “rabbit food.”
That’s why in this week’s Longevity article, I want to share unique, creative, and delicious ways that you can increase the number of servings of vegetables in your daily diet. So let’s dive in!
How to Eat More Vegetables
What follows are various tips and tricks you can use to increase your vegetable intake. I encourage you to try one or more of these in the next week or use them to brainstorm your own techniques. Your mind and body will thank you!
Eat more soup. Soups are a great way to get more veggies in your diet. You can make a vegetable base by pureeing several types of greens and adding spices to it. Or you can simply cut up and add carrots, celery, or broccoli to a broth soup to quickly and easily add a touch of healthful flavor.
Make vegetable noodles. Did you know it’s super easy to make noodles out of veggies? It’s also a great low-carb substitute for regular pasta. Simply insert your vegetable of choice into a spiralizer, a kitchen gadget that processes them into noodle-like shapes. Good choices include zucchini, squash, and sweet potatoes. The “noodles” can take the place of pasta in most dishes.
Eat more frozen produce. In my opinion, fresh veggies taste the best and are the best for you, but it can be hard to eat all the vegetables in your fridge before they go bad. And sometimes it’s hard to find certain vegetables out of season. The good news, however, is that flash-frozen veggies still retain most of their nutrients, they are easier to store and keep longer, and they are typically available year-round. If you do supplement your vegetable consumption with frozen options, just be sure to choose products with low or no sodium or added sugars. (I recommend a variety of frozen vegetables from Cascadian Farm.)
Choose healthy snacks. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips, keep a stash of raw veggie sticks handy when you are looking to munch on something between meals. Bell peppers and carrots are great options for this. And on a hot summer day, you just might find that a bowl of frozen peas could hit the spot.
“Hide” veggies in smoothies. Smoothies are a great—and great-tasting—way to add a significant amount of greens to your diet. A typical smoothie involves combining milk, ice, and fruit in a blender, but you can add any number of different vegetables without compromising the fruity flavor of the drink. Leafy greens like kale and spinach are good options, as are cucumbers.
What to Do If You Don’t Like Vegetables
I know what some of you might be thinking at this point. What if I don’t like vegetables—I mean, what if I REALLY don’t like them?
My guess is that if you really don’t like vegetables, then you probably haven’t had them prepared in delicious ways. Overcooked and over-processed veggies taste horrible.
It is also likely that your palate has gotten so used to fats and sugars that you will crave those substances and shun whole, real food. But you will be surprised at how you can appreciate, enjoy, and savor the foods you never thought you would. Just try it!
Vegetables—the O.G. Superfood
It’s hard to overstate how amazing veggies are for your health and vitality. They are chock-full of essential nutrients, they have amazing health benefits, and when prepared well, they can taste great. They truly are the original superfood.
My encouragement for you this week is to make it a priority to increase the amount of vegetables in your diet. It’s my hope that one or more of the options above resonated with you or gave you an idea of how to eat more veggies in new and tasty ways.
-Mark Harmon, MD