Eat More Vegetables…Now!

From an early age, we’ve been told by our parents to eat our vegetables. As we get older, we’re constantly bombarded by messages to not only eat our vegetables, but to eat more of them because of all the goodness they contain. It’s one thing to “know” that eating or doing more of something is good for us, yet it’s an entirely different thing to actually carry that action out. Many people struggle to eat enough vegetables (and fruits, too), and for various reasons. Let’s take a closer look at how you can overcome those barriers to making veggies a mainstay of your eating plan.

Why aren’t you eating your vegetables?
Chances are that you’re quite familiar with the benefits of eating vegetables. Studies show that people who eat sufficient amounts have less heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity; have improved digestion; have better bone and skin health; and even have less stress. Let’s not overlook the fact that vegetables are a key part of diabetes meal planning, too, as most vegetables are low in carbohydrate and calories and high in other nutrients that can help with blood sugar control and lessen the risk of complications.

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You might be surprised to learn that it’s not just kids who don’t eat vegetables. Adults often don’t either. According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year, only 9% of adults ate the daily recommended number of servings of vegetables, which is 2 to 3 cups. (And only 13% ate the recommended amount of fruit each day, as well). Clearly, most people are falling short. Reasons certainly can vary from person to person, but here are some common barriers to eating enough:

• Cost
• Convenience
• Not readily available
• Too much effort to prepare
• Dislike them
• Not sure how to prepare them

An interesting reason that men may not eat enough vegetables is that doing so is perceived as being “too girly.” Eating meat is linked with being manly, macho, and strong, whereas eating vegetables can give be perceived as “weak and wimpy,” according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

How to eat more
Fitting more vegetables into your eating plan can take some time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. As with any new habit that you’re forming, it just takes a bit of practice. The good news is that there are no “rules” when it comes to eating vegetables. For example, you can eat them at any time of day. And if you don’t like kale, that’s OK. There are plenty of other veggies to choose from. Try some of the tips below to get you started (and don’t worry that eating broccoli is going to make you any less masculine!).

Eat them at breakfast. It might never cross your mind to eat vegetables at breakfast, but why not? They go along nicely with scrambled eggs or an omelet. Try spreading some mashed avocado on your toast. And why not grab some carrot sticks or a few grape tomatoes to munch on along with your cereal or English muffin?

Dip them. Carrots, celery, peppers, jicama, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini are excellent for dipping into things. Dip them into hummus, bean dip, salsa, or a lower-calorie salad dressing for a healthy snack or mini-meal.

Blend them. If the thought of eating vegetables is less than appealing to you, try blending them up in a smoothie. Choose your favorite smoothie “base,” such as cow’s, almond, soy, or rice milk. Add whey powder, Greek yogurt, nut butter, or nuts for a protein boost. Then, throw in some fresh fruit and vegetables (any kind will do)! Blend away and enjoy.

Switch it out when eating out. Sometimes it’s easier to eat vegetables when someone else has prepared them. Take advantage of that when you’re eating out: choose a salad and a cooked vegetable, or bypass the starch at the meal and ask for an additional veggie, instead.

Go for convenience. If the veggie prep time is what’s bringing you down, spring for the prepped fresh vegetables in the supermarket. Sure, you’ll pay more for them, but the cost may well be worth it if it helps you to eat more produce.

Cut those carbs. Why not slash some carbs and eat more vegetables at the same time? Substitute cooked cauliflower for mashed potato or rice. Or, spring for a veggie spiralizer and spiral up some vegetable “noodles” that can replace some or all of the pasta that you eat. Give spaghetti squash a try, too. Serve it up just as you would pasta with sauce.

Add veggies to whatever, whenever. Think outside the (recipe) box a bit when it comes to eating more vegetables. It’s OK if the thought of a plate of wilted spinach seems less than appealing. The trick is to add vegetables to other dishes that you’re preparing (kind of like how mothers trick their kids into eating more veggies). Vegetables go great in or on just about any dish: soups, stews, stir-fries, spaghetti sauce, pizza, meatloaf, burgers, and even mac and cheese.

After three months as a blogger, registered dietitian Regina Shirley bids farewell for now. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read her final entry.