7. Buy and prepare at least one green vegetable every week.
Being “green” in the environmental sense is now in vogue — but there is yet another way to go green, and that is on your dinner plate. Most vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in calories, so any vegetable is better than none. However, there are some very powerful chemicals found in the pigments that color plants, and the green variety packs an especially powerful punch when it comes to health. Leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens) and members of the cruciferous family of vegetables (including broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts) have various phytochemicals as well as other important nutrients such as folate, vitamin K, beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium, and even omega-3 fatty acids. These vegetables have been found to reduce the risk of several chronic conditions, including Alzheimer disease, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer.
Eating your greens daily would be ideal, but if that’s not possible, start small and try to include one serving per week. Choosing a different vegetable each time will ensure that you get a variety of nutrients, since each has different amounts of vitamins and minerals. Varying your veggies will also make sure that you don’t get tired of eating the same thing week after week.
8. Buy and prepare a deep-orange vegetable every week.
You may know that beta-carotene is the phytochemical that gives carrots and other orange vegetables their color. Since beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A inside the body, orange vegetables are sometimes referred to as being high in vitamin A. Beta-carotene has long been known to boost eye health and immunity, but the nutrients in dark yellow and orange vegetables (including those in the family of beta-carotene, carotenoids) can do even more. Just as with green vegetables, benefits of eating orange plants include strong bones and a reduced cancer risk.
Be cautious about using supplements to get your carotenoids. Although some studies have shown that supplementation can slow the progression of some diseases (lutein supplements help prevent macular degeneration, which causes blindness), other research has shown that it may actually increase the risk of other diseases (beta-carotene supplements have been associated with lung cancer). Always check with your physician and/or consult a registered dietitian when considering supplements.
9. Prepare dishes based on dried beans or other legumes.
Beans and legumes (a legume is anything that grows in a pod) pack fiber, vitamins, minerals, and only trace amounts of fat. They are an excellent source of vegetarian protein; when paired with a grain or vegetable, beans form a complete protein, with all of the amino acids that humans need. Not only do beans provide all of these benefits, but by having beans instead of animal protein as your main course, you will be reducing the amount of saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol in your diet. Beans do contain a moderate amount of carbohydrate, but most varieties have a low glycemic index, which means they cause only a small, slow rise in blood glucose. Still, as with all food, beware of portion size (⅓ – ⅔ cup = one starch exchange, depending on variety; ½ cup = one lean meat exchange). Your wallet will also thank you for taking this step, because not only are beans healthy, they are also very inexpensive: A pound of dried beans can cost less than a dollar, and canned beans are only modestly more expensive.