When a new year arrives, most resolutions we make tend to be broad-reaching such as “eating healthier” or “managing a healthy weight” or even “being better about our wellbeing.” While these are excellent and oftentimes necessary goals to help us move forward into the new year positively, they don’t really get down to the nitty-gritty.
What in the heck does “eat healthier” mean? How, specifically, are we going to manage a healthy weight? What activities are you going to integrate to check on your well being?
I can’t talk to every single one of these (well, maybe I can but that’s for a different post!), but I can speak on the subject of eating healthier. Instead of choosing a statement that can be flexed to your own human will, how about making a statement that’s easy to follow: eat more vegetables in 2020.
It’s something that almost everyone recognizes is part of a good diet, yet how many of us can list the reasons why eating more vegetables is a good thing? What are the health benefits? What type of veggies can we integrate? What’s out there for us to try? Where do you get it?
It’s much more of a complex organism of a question than you expected.
Why We Need Vegetables in Our Diet
Many tote the idea that humans practiced the paleo diet — a diet based upon the Paleolithic era human (approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago), in which humans consumed foods they could hunt or gather such as “lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds,” and restricts foods such as “dairy products, legumes, and grains.”
Sounds reasonable, but there’s a huge problem with this idea. It’s just one of many eras in which humans lived off the land.
Humans were nomadic by nature, dealing with the natural elements that pervaded their homes, forcing them to move from place to place. Human and other hominid skeletons have shown that our ancestors ate a wide variety of foods based upon what they could gather, what they could hunt, or basically, anything that would sustain them during incredibly scarce seasons.
Alright, so how do the vegetables come in?
Turns out that the early hominid consumption of vegetables can be deduced via studies of the gut — or more precisely when the gut began to be developed. In particular, via Scientific American, the large intestine is where the historical action is at. The large intestine is “where harder to break down carbohydrates (such as cellulose, the most common plant compound on Earth) are torn asunder” and it also “makes energy from the food we are lucky enough to find.”
Basically, at some point in human history, our bodies evolved to accommodate a vegetable-heavy diet, meaning at some point, we were, primarily, vegetarians and our guts developed to extract as many nutrients from these earth-derived products as possible. Our bodies are designed to utilize plant-based foods in an efficient way.
With the recent discoveries regarding the importance of gut health, this seems like a great place in history to reflect back upon when it comes to designing a modern diet that fits our bodies best. In an extensive article by Scientific American, this idea is somewhat elaborated upon:
“If you want to return to your ancestral diet, the one our ancestors ate when most of the features of our guts were evolving, you might reasonably eat what our ancestors spent the most time eating during the largest periods of the evolution of our guts, fruits, nuts, and vegetables—especially fungus-covered tropical leaves.”
Benefits of Eating More Vegetables
As for me, it’s always a good idea to start with the “what wonderful things are these foods going to do for me?” By beginning with this part of the resolution, you’ll get amped and inspired and by the end of answering it, you’ll want to get those veggies into your life! Here are the top health benefits for integrating veggies into your diet.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Per the Harvard School of Public Health, there is “compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
A large-scale study that followed the health and dietary habits of “almost 110,000 men and women” for 14 years founds that the “higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease.” The study revealed that those who “averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30% less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke.”
So, which veggies seemed to make the most impact on reducing cardiovascular health? Turns out that, while all fruits and veggies will make some type of impact, it was the green leafy vegetables, cruciferous veggies, and citrus fruits that showed the most drastic reduced rate of cardiovascular disease.
Better Blood Pressure
Turns out that consuming a diet rich in veggies (and, of course, fruit), has also been shown to help lower blood pressure.
In 2014, researchers performed a meta-analysis of clinical trials and observational studies, and found that “consumption of a vegetarian diet was associated with lower blood pressure.” Another randomized trial referred to as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) “showed that this fruit and vegetable-rich diet lowered blood pressure even more when some of the carbohydrate was replaced with healthy unsaturated fat or protein.”
Lower Risk of Diabetes
When it comes to the relationship between veggies and fruits and diabetes, the research is incredibly powerful!
For instance, a study that included the results of thousands of women and men from three individual studies, — Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study — found that “greater consumption of whole fruits — especially blueberries, grapes, and apples — was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.” Another study conducted on 70,000 female nurses found that “consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruit was associated with a lower risk of diabetes,” and a separate study on 2,300 Finnish men “showed that vegetables and fruits, especially berries, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Better Gut Health
2019 was truly the year for gut health discoveries! Not only were there multiple studies demystifying the link between the gut and mental health, but there were also multiple studies that found a link between digestive disorders and gut health.
Of course, this is just the beginning!
A diet heavy in fruits and veggies has been found to be beneficial overall gut and gastrointestinal health. Why you may ask? Lots of it comes down to fiber, which is both great for the bowels and happens to be one of your microbiome’s favorite food sources.
Per the Harvard School of Public Health, “fruits and vegetables contain indigestible fiber, which absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system,” which has been shown to “calm symptoms of an irritable bowel and, by triggering regular bowel movements, can relieve or prevent constipation.”
Healthy Weight Management
The important part of weight management and increased vegetable intake is the rule that your veggies should be replacing an unhealthy food product.
For instance, if you are simply adding a whole bunch of veggies, yet you’re still consuming processed, refined carbohydrates including white bread, white pasta, crackers, and sugar-heavy treats, you most likely won’t see any fluctuation or maintenance of healthy weight.
This was seen in data sourced from the Nurses’ Health Studies and the Health Professional’s Follow-up Study. While the data showed that “women and men who increased their intakes of fruits and vegetables over a 24-year period were more likely to have lost weight than those who ate the same amount or decreased their intake,” it was also found that “adding more produce into a diet won’t necessarily help with weight loss unless it replaces another food.”
Another note from the study was the type of vegetable or fruit you choose.
All fruits and veggies offer some sort of nutrient profile — fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins — yet the analysis of the data found that “berries apples, pears, soy, and cauliflower were associated with weight loss while starchier vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas were linked with weight gain.”
Depending on what your individual goal may be for the day, week, month, or the entire year, choose your veggies wisely!
Choosing Veggies for a Healthy 2020
Oh goodness, oh my, there are so many vegetables to choose from! In this modern age of cross-sea shipping via planes and boats, our options for vegetables have grown immensely. Plus, we are no longer subject to the seasons, which means you can get summer squash in the dead of winter, lovely ripe tomatoes in the spring, and hardy winter veggies during the hottest months of summer.
Of course, this can also make choosing your veggie menu way more complicated and overwhelming. Let’s break it down!
Whether you’re looking to increase cardiovascular health, manage diabetes, achieve a healthy weight, deal with blood pressure issues, or even decrease your risk of cancer, each reason will help you curate a vegetable menu that works for you.
Start With Your Goals
For instance, when it comes to managing diabetes or losing weight, you’ll want to avoid those high-fructose and starchy veggies and fruits. Choose lots of leafy greens, — spinach, mustard greens, kale, chard, collards — cruciferous veggies, — cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage — low starch veggies, — asparagus, meaty mushrooms, artichokes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini — and low-fructose fruits — blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, avocado, grapefruit, lemons, and limes.
If you’re looking to diversify your diet for better cardiovascular health, look to the big heart-healthy fruits and vegetables! These include dark leafy greens, — rich in vitamin K — berries, — “rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease” — avocados, — “excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease” — beans, — “contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut” — and nuts and seeds — specifically walnuts, almonds, chia, flax seeds, and hemp seeds.
Once you get your goals aligned with the proper veggies at the grocery store, now it’s time to figure out how the heck to start replacing. Because, well, that’s the goal. Replacing unhealthy foods — such as processed foods and hydrogenated oil-filled snacks — with more veggies and fruits.
Luckily, this part is actually SUPER easy!
To begin your journey, swap out all those greasy snacks, crackers, other processed snacks with vegetables, fruits, and seeds. Try making Spicy Kale Chips, Cinnamon Vanilla Apple Chips, Garlic and Onion Sunflower Seed Crackers, Sriracha Sweet Potato Chips, or these Flax and Chia Seed Crackers. Get a little more creative with your snacks like these Tofu Nachos, these Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Almonds, these Homemade Crackers, or these Zucchini Brown Rice Arancini.
Swap out all those dairy products for plant and nut-based alternatives such as Coconut Yogurt, Cashew Milk, Herb and Garlic Almond Cheese, Macadamia Cashew Butter, or this Coconut Butter ‘Cream Cheese’.
Need some pasta in your life? Try making your own veggie or legume noodles. One of the most popular new trends are zoodles or zucchini noodles such as this Raw Zucchini Marinara Pasta, Zucchini Noodle Japchae, Zucchini Pasta with Pesto Sauce, or this Creamy Mushrooms with Zucchini Noodles. Of course, you can pretty much spiralize any type of veggie or you can go with a protein-heavy legume option such as this Spicy Vegetables and Chickpea Pasta, this Spicy Moroccan Chickpeas with Beet Noodles, or this Sesame Sweet Potato Pasta.
Choose hardy lettuce or plant-based options over refined carbohydrate-rich tortillas! If you’re a lettuce wrap type, choose something hardy such as cabbage, chard, or green large-leaf lettuce. Not only will you get a healthy dose of leafy greens or cruciferous veggies, but you’ll also drastically decrease your refined sugar and carb intake. Try out this P.F. Chang’s Copycat Tofu Lettuce Wraps, these Buffalo Cauliflower Lettuce Wraps, these Mushroom Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps, or these Green Goddess Mexican Lettuce Wraps.
If lettuce just doesn’t fit the bill, go for a minimally-processed plant or nut-based vessel such as these Siete Almond Flour Grain-Free Tortillas or these Raw Wraps made from either kale and spinach.
When you think about adding vegetables and fruits to your diet, I bet your mind goes directly to lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks.
What about breakfast?
Turns out that mixing up your breakfast routine by adding at least one fruit or veggie is a great way to drastically increase your overall intake. This little tip is one of the best that I’ve come across!
Per EatingWell.com, you not only increase veggie and fruit intake but “eating produce in the morning can also help you maintain a healthy weight” by keeping you full longer from the get-go. A study by Cornell University discovered that 96 percent of the participants with naturally normal BMI (basically, they weren’t trying) “ate breakfast versus skipping it or merely sipping coffee.” Plus, the study looked at what these participants ate and their breakfasts included fruits and veggies.
Alright, but eating veggies in the morning just doesn’t sound appealing? This is where creativity comes into play!
Try a few of these delectable veggie-based breakfast recipes: Green Pina Colada Breakfast Bowl, Baked Smoky Carrot Bacon, Tomato and Parsley Quiche, Cheesy Tofu Breakfast Bagel, Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Porridge, Homemade Cashew Coconut Yogurt Parfait, or this Savory Citrus Arugula Steel Cut Oatmeal.
When it comes to incorporating veggies, it’s important to diversify! All varieties of vegetables and fruits offer different nutrient profiles, plus it’s super easy to get bored if you’re eating the same thing everyday.
This means, to achieve those 2020 veggie goals, look for a plate that reflects the rainbow.
The color of your vegetable says a lot about what it’s going to offer your body. In fact, per the American Heart Association, “the best way to get all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need is to eat a variety of colorful fruits and veggies.”
Look to the color spectrum: red and pink, — beets, cherries, red grapes, tomatoes, strawberries — blue and purple, — blackberries, black currants, eggplants, prunes — yellow and orange, — acorn squash, yellow bell pepper, corn, lemons, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, peaches — white, — bananas, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, shallots — and green, — asparagus, avocado, Brussels sprouts, kale, green grapes, snow peas, spinach.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home
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