The question I am most often asked is: “If you could give people one piece of advice to begin to make the change to healthier eating, what would it be?” Here you go . . . wait for it . . .
It’s that simple really. Eat vegetables. They change everything about your health.
Seriously, you can do a web search of “health benefits of eating vegetables” and come up with 1,240,000 results with articles. None of them are bad news. None of them tell you to eat less veggies.
So whether you like it or not, eating your veggies is the key . . . and the good news is they will change your life.
Eating vegetables is the easiest way to change a poor diet into a healthier one. Adding freshly prepared veggies to your current diet of fast food will improve even that diet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, very few of us eat the vegetables and fruit we need to live healthy lives. In fact, only 27% of Americans are eating vegetables more than twice a day, with the obese among us eating the least, with fewer than 10% eating what we really need for health (5 to 9 servings a day or about 4 ½ cups). 25% of Americans eat only 1 serving of vegetables each day and of them 40%eat only potatoes. Ay, ay, ay . . .
Vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can help protect you from chronic disease. The CDC goes on to say that people who eat sufficient amounts of vegetables and fruit in their days are more likely to have a reduced risk of the lifestyle diseases that plague us.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, it’s impossible to argue with a diet rich in veggies and fruit . . . lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. They also have a mellowing effect on blood sugar and can keep us sated longer.
It’s old news, but we need to start listening . . . seriously.
Going for 9 servings a day isn’t as hard as it sounds. It’s less than 5 cups and there are so many veggies to choose from, you will find yourself meeting the goal easily and deliciously without breaking a sweat (although you should get to the gym as some point in the day to break an actual sweat).
Just try these simple tips to get you going. Before you know it, you’ll be making healthy choices, munching away on delicious veggies and fruits without thinking much about it.
1. Keep fruit out where you can see it. Keeping a bowl of fresh fruit where you can see it will increase the chances of your making it a choice when you are looking for a snack. Keep the Snickers Bars out of sight, please . . . out of reach, too, in my view.
2. Make vegetables part of every meal, every day. Fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal. Fresh, crisp salads, stir-fried vegetables, roasted vegetables, vegetable stews and soups: a plate half-filled with brightly colored antioxidant- rich fare will make it so easy to reach this goal . . . deliciously.
3. Be adventurous. Variety is the key to getting all the nutrients you need from your veggies. Each one has its own unique balance of essential nutrients. So each week, explore the produce section and try something new. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You won’t like something, but it’s more likely, you will open your palate to a new world of tastes and textures.
4. Bag potatoes. Seriously. There are so many veggies to choose from, and while I know you love your spuds, but they are among the least nutrient-dense of all the choices you have available to you. And while I am not saying to give up potatoes entirely, I am saying that there’s more to life, if you get my drift.
5. Make a meal out of your veggies. As you make the transition to healthier eating, try creating one meal a week where fresh veggies take center stage. And then pay attention to how you feel the next day. Soon, you’ll be wondering why it took you so long to give up meat, dairy, poultry, and junk food. You will love all the delicious ways to prepare vegetables . . . and your body will love you for eating them.
Once you’re on the bandwagon of veggies and have re-vamped your pantry, you’re well on your way to never hitting the drive-through window in desperation again…and with the recipes here, you’ll be in veggie heaven!
Israeli Chickpea Soup
I learned to make this soup when I was in Israel teaching cooking. I love how the vegetables work with the double whammy of protein that comes from red lentils and chickpeas, resulting in a nutrient-dense first course.
Makes 4–5 servings
- 2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine
- 2 red onions, diced
- Sea salt
- 4 small sweet potatoes, unpeeled, diced
- 3 beets, peeled, diced
- ⅔ cup red lentils, rinsed well
- 1 (14-ounce) can organic chickpeas, rinsed well
- 4 cups spring or filtered water
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Juice of ½ fresh lemon
- 3–4 fresh chives, minced, for garnish
- Place oil, wine, and onions in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2–3 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes and beets. Add lentils and chickpeas. Stir in water and cumin, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beets are soft. Season the soup with salt to your taste.
- Transfer soup to a food processor and puree until smooth. Return to the soup pot and keep soup on low heat until ready to serve. You may also use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Stir in lemon juice just before serving garnished with chives.
Polenta with Ciambotta con Carcioffi
(Polenta with Artichoke Stew)
More than just an Italian tradition, this stew is loaded with complex B vitamins in the corn, and the stew contains artichokes, one of the most antioxidant-rich veggies we know. Along with the rest of the nutrient-dense veggies, this dish is more than just comfort food.
Makes 4–5 servings
- 1 cup fine corn grits
- 5 cups spring or filtered water
- Pinch sea salt
- Extra- virgin olive oil
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Ciambotta con Carcioffi
- ½ poundlb. eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 5 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
- a Llarge handful of fresh basil, stems removed, chopped
- 1 (14- ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 3/4 poundlb. new potatoes, or any waxy potato, scrubbed and cut into 1 x 2-inch pieces
- ½ poundlb canned artichoke hearts (in water, not oil)
- 1 large or 2 small sweet red or yellow peppers, seeded and cut into 1 x 2-inch strips
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Make the polenta: Place all ingredients except oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until it boils. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking frequently until the center of the polenta bubbles or heaves, about 25 minutes. Stir in a drizzle of oil and almond milk and spoon into a bowl. Keep warm so the polenta stays softServe immediately for a soft polenta. Makes 5–6 servings .
- Toss the eggplant cubes in a colander with 2 teaspoons salt. Let it sit in the sink until it starts to sweat out the bitter juices. Rinse them, drain, them and pat the eggplant dry, squeezing a little.
- In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic, and celery. Add a pinch of salt and sauté over high heat for about 5 minutes, adding a little water as necessary to prevent sticking and burning.
- Add the basil and sautée for 2 minutes; then add the tomatoes. When it comes to a simmer, add the eggplant, potatoes, and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Add the artichoke azucchini and peppers and simmer 15 minutes more, or until all of the vegetables are tender. Taste for salt and pepper, transfer to a warm serving bowl, and allow to stand 15 minutes before serving.
- To serve, spoon polenta into individual bowls with stew mounded on top. Makes 4–5 servings .
Note: You can make this spicy by adding crushed red chili flakes when sautéing the onions and garlic.
Crunchy Tuscan Kale Salad
Seriously, I never thought I could like raw kale, but in this salad, the textures and flavors shine. This is no ordinary salad, and . is aA great source of fiber, vitamin C, A, K, and folic acid. Because the kale is raw, , no enzymes are lost because the kale is raw.
Makes 3–4 servings
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur, but regular kale will work)
- 1 teaspoon extra- virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup coarse bread crumbs
- 1 clove fresh garlic, mashed
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
- Juice from ½ fresh lemon
- Rinse the kale leaves and towel dry. Shred the kale leaves, removing the stems if they are thick.
- Place a teaspoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the bread crumbs until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
- Mix together garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper, oil, and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to your taste and mix well.
- Toss kale with bread crumbs and dressing to coat. Allow to marinate for about 5 minutes before serving.