Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Nine out of ten Americans are not consuming enough vegetables on a daily basis. This important food group affects our diet and provides import vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and more to our food intake and our overall health. Below are some reasons to increase your daily intake of vegetables.
- All vegetables not only give us important nutrients but they also fill us up and provide only minimal calories toward the total daily calorie intake. They provide much “bang for our buck” with high levels of vitamins and minerals that are different than those found in other food groups. All veggies have a different mix of important nutrients and phytochemicals whether they are green, white, yellow, orange, red, brown, or purple.
- Some vegetables stand out as “priority veggies.” Popeye knew what he was talking about by eating that green spinach every day. The green leafy vegetables like spinach, chard, kale, beet greens, dark lettuce greens are examples of “heavy hitters” because they are so loaded with important elements such as lutein which may be essential for eye health along with calcium, magnesium the B vitamins, vitamin K, the mineral iron and more. Foods that are on the top of the list include pumpkin, butternut squash along with other winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes. All these vegetables are high in vitamin A and beta-carotene among other nutrients which give these veggies their orange color.
- Vegetables that protect your heart and cardiovascular system are prominent in the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). That is why it is so important to eat at least 2 ½ cups of veggies and 3 cups of fruit daily. Eating plenty of produce daily will ensure you are getting enough potassium which will help to lower blood pressure. Research indicates adults that eat sufficient fruit and veggies daily have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who eat little or none. Studies also indicate the phytochemicals in veggies and vitamins in fruit can reduce the risk for certain cancers.
- Finding ways to prepare fresh veggies always creates new, interesting dishes that are flavorful and healthy. Try taking cauliflower or broccoli and steam them and then “rice” them and use in place of rice or other grain as a base for a casserole or pizza. Use a spiralizer and make noodles from zucchini or summer squash and use in place of pasta.
- Use stir-frying to cook your veggies quickly to retain the most nutrition possible. You can mix a number of veggies in one dish and then serve over whole grain pasta, rice or other grains such as kamut, quinoa, couscou, brown rice and others.
The time is now to take small steps to increase your vegetable intake daily. Improving your vegetable intake will reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer and related chronic disease.