All of you gardeners out there are probably reaping the benefits of your harvest right about now. Even if you don’t have a garden, hopefully you’ve been taking advantage of all the wonderful vegetables from farm stands, farmer’s markets, and even the produce section of your grocery store. Nothing tastes quite like a homegrown tomato, that’s for sure.
Nonetheless, Americans are falling woefully short on vegetable consumption. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a nationwide study of fruit and vegetable intake. The findings are sad: Only 26% of Americans eat vegetables three or more times a day.
There are a lot of reasons why we don’t eat our veggies. Maybe part of it has to do with being told we HAD to eat our vegetables when we were children. Other reasons include the expense, the fact that they don’t stay fresh for long, and preparation time. Despite the bagged salads and packages of frozen vegetables that you simply pop into the microwave, we still don’t eat enough. Even the First Lady with her organic garden hasn’t been able to snap us out of our vegetable funk.
To be fair, some people do eat more vegetables than others: women, older adults, those with a higher income, and those who have more education, for example. But we all have a ways to go. Remember, too, that most vegetables (with the exception of starchy ones, such as peas and corn) are practically freebies in terms of your blood glucose. This is the one food group that is low in both carbs and calories, so it pays to make an effort to fit these into your eating plan. Dietitians are unlikely to stop urging people to eat more, either (hey, it’s what we do!).
Hopefully you’ve seen the USDA’s new MyPlate, which replaces the Food Pyramid. The “plate” tells us that adults need anywhere from 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Just so that you know, 1 cup of vegetables generally counts as 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of leafy greens. Surely this is doable. If you’re still doubtful about squeezing in veggies, maybe it would help to challenge your “veggie smarts” a bit, and perhaps by knowing WHY we insist on eating so many vegetables, you’ll be on board. It’s worth a try!
1. This spear-shaped vegetable contains inulin, a prebiotic that feeds helpful bacteria in our digestive tract and possibly lowers the risk for diseases such as cancer.
Correct answer: D, asparagus. Chop up steamed asparagus and add it to your omelet. Fresh asparagus not available? Frozen works just as well.
2. This vibrant vegetable contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that promote eye health and may prevent macular degeneration, a condition linked with diabetes.
A. Red pepper.
B. Summer squash.
Correct answer: C, beets. No, beets are not too high in sugar — one half-cup has just 8 grams of carbohydrate.
3. Getting enough potassium in your diet may help you to lower your blood pressure. You can meet almost a quarter of your daily potassium fix by eating this zesty leafy green.
B. Swiss chard.
D. Green leaf lettuce.
Correct answer: B, Swiss chard. One cup of boiled Swiss chard contains 961 milligrams of potassium. People without kidney disease need about 4700 milligrams of potassium each day. Try Swiss chard in place of spinach every now and then.
4. Fight certain types of cancers, including colon and lung cancers, by making this versatile veggie a mainstay of your eating plan.
C. Green beans.
Correct answer: A, broccoli. This cruciferous veggie is chock-full of cancer-fighting nutrients. Eating just half a cup of broccoli each day can do your body good.
5. Cousin to tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, this jewel-toned vegetable contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that may help the body better manage blood glucose levels.
B. Orange pepper.
C. Yellow pepper.
Correct answer: D, eggplant. Eggplants come in purple, white, and green. Try adding chopped eggplant to your next stir-fry dish.
6. Don’t shed a tear over this vegetable because it has a lot going for it, including helping to fight heart disease and promoting bone health.
A. Jalapeno pepper.
Correct answer: B, onion. A healthy, low-carb way to enjoy onions is to make your own salsa with your garden tomatoes (of course), onion, and jalapeno pepper. Add some chopped garlic, freshly squeezed lime, and some chopped cilantro for extra zest. Serve with raw, cut-up veggies or lower-carb tortilla chips.
So how did you do? Even if you didn’t score 100, hopefully you might be a little more inspired to make vegetables a prominent part of your eating plan.