Face it: you’re probably not getting enough vegetables in your diet. Less than 9 percent of Americans report eating the recommended daily intake of vegetables (2-3 cups a day), and only about 13 percent get the recommended daily amount of fruits (1.5-2 cups per day). Plus, Tennessee actually is among the lowest in the nation in when it comes to fruit and vegetable consumption. Whatever your reason for not eating the recommended amount of vegetables every day, the benefits of doing so can’t be stressed enough. Eating a good amount of colorful fruits and vegetables has been linked to lower risks for such issues as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Higher vegetable and fruit intake also is linked to better overall nutritional status, better blood sugar control and better weight management. So, why don’t we eat them as often as we should?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says there’s no one answer. “When I talk to patients about their vegetable intake, I often hear three main complaints,” Tillman said. “First, they say they simply don’t like the taste, either because they’ve had vegetables that weren’t prepared properly in the past, or maybe they had some bad experience with them when they were children. So many patients share bad childhood memories of veggies that were lifeless, overcooked and slimy, either at home or at school. Second, people don’t think they have time to prepare vegetables. They’re relying on convenience foods or fast foods to get by. Third, lots of people seem to feel that vegetables are too expensive,” she explained. “In fact, there are some good ways to get around that, particularly by relying on frozen vegetables or by preparing your vegetable dishes in bulk and then parsing them out over a few nights in a given week,” she added.
That takes care of the “whys,” but what now? “I find that, for many people, simply trying vegetables prepared a new way can go a long way towards improving their acceptance of veggies,” Tillman said. “Often, if someone dislikes steamed vegetables, roasting is a great way to change the flavor. Roasting gives vegetables a caramelized, crispy texture that many people find more appealing. And don't be scared to play around with some flavors such as bacon, olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic and herbs. For many people, adding new veggies to salad is a good way to increase acceptance,” she explained. “Ultimately, in order for someone to regularly eat more veggies, he or she will need to find a way to really enjoy them, not just eat them out of obligation. Also, don't repeatedly force yourself to eat the vegetables you know you hate, and try to take more advantage of the ones you like. At the same time, if you think you don't like broccoli and haven't tasted it in 20 years, it might be worth trying it out again a few different ways. It’s very possible your taste buds have evolved,” she added.
Even if you’re not a veggie fan, it’s tough to deny that the benefits of vegetables are worth exploring new ways to eat them. “Eating more vegetables has been linked to lower obesity rates, heart disease rates and lower rates of multiple types of cancer,” Tillman said. “Eating more vegetables also ‘crowds out’ less healthy foods, meaning that if you fill up your meals with more vegetables, you have less room for higher sugar, higher fat convenience foods and snacks. Vegetables also are one of the most-important sources of fiber, something most adults get far too little of. They’re also one of the best sources of multiple vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A and C, just to name a few. Many Americans tend to turn to pills and supplements for vitamins, which can be beneficial at times, but getting those same vitamins and minerals from whole-food sources like vegetables, gives you the most-usable components of the nutrients. More vegetables in the diet also can help control weight and blood sugar thanks to their high fiber content, which makes them digest more slowly and keeps blood sugar levels from rising and falling quickly and dramatically. They’ll also keep you feeling full longer, which, again, helps keep you away from some of the less-healthy foods,” she explained. “For example, rather than focusing on avoiding sugar, focus on filling up on more veggies, and you’ll likely find yourself naturally less hungry for sugary foods,” she added.