Hate vegetables?

The nutritionist David Ludwig commented on our aversion to vegetables: “In my experience, hating vegetables is essentially an American trait.  I never saw anything close to it during my travels through Asia, Europe, and South America.”  It’s true, unless you count the American love for the unhealthiest vegetable concoction: French fries.  Hating what’s good, loving what’s bad—what gives?

In the vegetable wars we’ve each made our separate peace.  We listen to the food nannies carry on about five daily servings of vegetables and nod our heads in agreement.  Then we eat French fries.  (We eat less than two daily servings of vegetables, excluding French fries and ketchup.)  Is our vegetable avoidance due to lack of information?  Check this scientist’s summary:

One of the most remarkable surprises in nutrition studies in the last few years was the discovery of the remarkable dietary qualities possessed by the edible leaves of plants.  Among vegetable foods, only the leaf is rich in calcium, and is also rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as fiber.

Recent news?  No, this is from a 1925 book, Food, Nutrition and Health!  So three generations have passed and little has changed—except more discoveries about the merits of vegetables, like their rich supply of the antioxidants that slow down aging.  Vegetables are the opposite of today’s highly processed foods—veggies are rich in nutrients, sparse in calories, and healthy. 

Vegetables come in colors and three colors are of special value.  They also come in botanical families; two are extra healthy—cruciferous and allium:

Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, etc.) contain vitamins A, C, K, and folate.  Greens also contain minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, as well as lutein and fiber. 

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale) are potent cancer fighters, some studies suggest.

Orange vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, banana squash, pumpkin, etc.) are rich in carotenoids. 

Red vegetables (beets, red cabbage, red pepper, and tomato—borrowed from the fruit family) contain beneficial lycopenes, and anthrocyanins.

Allium (garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots) family by tradition is prized for healthiness.  Alliums are high in flavonoids, polyphenolic compounds that stimulate the production of potent antioxidants.  Alliums help produce the “natural killer” cells that fight infection and cancer too.

Want to look better?  There’s an additional benefit to eating yellow, orange and red vegetables.  Scientists in Great Britain found a salutary improvement on skin color among people who ate the orange and red vegetables.  They had better skin color, looked healthier, and were judged even more attractive than those whose skin color came from suntan induced melanin.  Drop those French fries and grab a sweet potato, or some carrots, to get that healthy glow.

You Do the Math
If vegetables aren’t in the house, you can’t eat them.  So the key is to get them on your weekly menu and shopping list.  How much to buy?  Five daily servings for the average adult add up to about five pounds of vegetables a week.  Allow for waste and round off to six pounds.  Adjust this for children in the family on the basis of their weight and appetite and write down your weekly target.  When writing your menu, divide the pounds between the groups mentioned above.  Be sure to include the veggies your kids like.  As I child I didn’t like cooked carrots, but I did like my Mom’s carrot-raisin salad.  And I didn’t mind the cooked carrots in her tasty stews. 

Start where you are, but each week move one step closer to consuming five daily servings.  Be creative and make it fun.  (Later this week we’ll post a great recipe for vegetarian enchiladas.)  We’ll keep returning to vegetables in our Healthy Changes (four more).  By the end of the year your family will be cruising through their five daily servings and not even know it... and friends will be wondering about your skin’s healthy glow.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (16)

Lovely. As parents of young children, we struggle with this but things are getting better. Soups with squash and apples seem to be the hit this winter. I cut up fruit and that seems more well received than just offering them a whole apple. Our meatloaf has kale and zucchini chopped up in it.

Thanks for the reminder about veggies.

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

so glad I love vegetables. I stumbled on your blog recently, and really enjoy it. I have really been getting serious about what we eat and trying to really truly live by the word of wisdom, and this feels like a simple, motivating companion. One thing I am wondering, because it's not something I've ever had to think about until now that I'm taking it more seriously (and maybe it's a silly question) but how do I know what fruits and vegetables are in season? And I'm trying to figure out what eating meat sparingly really means- how often is most healthy? What do you think?

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

Jodi, thanks for your comment. I think your question about seasons is more complex than it first appears. The seasons for fruits and vegetables are lengthening, thanks to new storage methods, and shipping across the equator. Some produce is available every month of the year. Eating locally makes sense, although it limits the choices. Perhaps the longer seasons are an offset to protect against problems like less minerals and vitamins in food due to depleted soils or faster growing methods.

How much meat to eat will be the subject of a future post. One thought: because of the differences between people and their needs, we can expect a variety of interpretation of "sparing".

February 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I think it's a great question about what fruits and veggies are "in season" and when. I heard/saw somewhere (maybe "Food, Inc.") that chlorine? is used on tomatoes to preserve their freshness for those long distances traveled. I can only grow a good crop of tomatoes in the summer, but eat them year round, you know? Is it safe to assume if I can't find an organic version of something, then it's out of season? Is it better to go ahead and eat that chlorine washed tomato than skip it because it's not "in season".

I'm not good about eating my veggies, though I had decided that I can't eat them if they aren't in the house. Also been making it a point to eat at or choose vegetarian dishes when I eat out, not because I'm a vegetarian (far from it) but because more and more the offerings are really tasty and I figure it's helping me get my servings in.

I've got a LOT of work to do in this department. Sigh.

Would love to hear if any reads have used Amazon Fresh and how they like it.

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Fisher

Haha! I was just having a break from work, browsing the web and chewing on some delicious celery stalks as I opened this page and saw this week's healthy change! I have always wondered wether the american aversion of vegetables has something to do with canned vegetables? Not many vegetables are tasty out of a can, although maize/corn, beans and tomatoes do quite well and I have noticed that americans seem to eat more canned wegetables than europeans. I know that this is a gross generalisation, but I have always wondered if that hasn't got something to do with the american aversion to veggies. I know that the brits at least have had an aversion to veggies as well, which I have always put down to a combination of overcooked vegetables and a widespread use of canned vegetables.

One thing to remember is that most vegetables taste differently depending on wether they are raw or cooked, on the method of cooking and on the method of preservation if they are not fresh. Many kids prefer their veggies raw, especially carrots, and will eat plenty of vegetables if they are served raw with a healthy dip (like yoghurt with herbs, hommous, tahina) because dipping is fun, as is eating with your hands.

To Jodi and Joy, I don't have a list of things that are in season, but I usually go on what's cheap and/or bountiful in the vegetable aisle or at my local (farmers) market. During the past year I have also partaken in a programme, where I get a box of organic vegetables delivered every other week, which has also given me an idea of what is in season (as well as forced me to try out new recepies in order to use the produce I get, like some kind of cabbage every other week since November). I know that there are programmes like that in the states as they figure in some of the blogs I follow. I can recommend that as a fun way of learning what's in season as well as tasting new things.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMims

I've always been a big vegetable eater, but the one thing that has helped the MOST was to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) several years ago. May though October all our veggies (and some of our fruits) come from a local, organic farm. Often I have more veggies than I know what to do with (or would normally eat), and it FORCES me to add more vegetables into our weekly menu. I can't always guarantee the kids will like it, but constant exposure has helped. I love that it takes some of the burden off of me. They fill the basket each week. I just have to use it up!

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I just have to briefly say that I adore your blog and the message of healthy eating that you promote. I ran across it around the time of your 1st or 2nd healthy change post (by way of like 2 other blogs; interesting the trails that develop through promotion!). I'm a vegan (one year and counting), and a lot of the information you provide I find very useful. It's especially refreshing to see information pulled from peer-reviewed sources.

Keep up the wonderful work; I can't wait to read more!

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJes

This is a wonderfully innovative way to break down vegetable intake! I'd never thought of it this way, but on my grocery trip tomorrow I plan on weighing what I put in my cart and making sure I come close to that number. As always, I love this blog!

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Thanks for the great information! I'm loving your blog!

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I noticed corn wasn't listed in the vegetable groups. Was that on purpose?

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Jen, there is no bias against corn. Pondering your question took me back to a scene from my youth. I am sitting in a grass hut in a remote corner of Guatemala. The floor is dirt; a hammock the bed. Along one wall of the small hut the corn (maiz) crop had been stacked—the family's food supply for the coming year. The wife, a young girl with her first child, made the corn into tortillas by first soaking it in a lime solution that made the nutrients available. The black beans (frijoles) eaten with the tortillas provided a complete protein. She gave us a warm drink cooked from the corn, watching us carefully as we drank. While we taught, she openly nursed her baby in a most innocent way. In my youthful ignorance, I saw her as woefully uneducated, not appreciating what could be learned from her native food wisdom that transcended generations. I think she would agree, corn is good.

February 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I'm glad that you didn't just lump in fruits with this like most people seem to. I've adopted a sort of modified paleo diet because I realized all of the sugar in fruit was still holding me back from the weight loss I need. Sure, I have some every now and then, but nowhere near as often. It's helped control my sweet tooth.

As for vegetables, the reduction of carbohydrates I'm shooting for means I either eat a ton of meat, or more veggies. Basically, reducing fruit and carbs has INCREASED the vegetables I eat. And, since I've become les worried about fat, I can make those veggies taste a LOT better with olive oil or butter and not feel guilty. Tracking my nutrients, it's been easy to see they're going through the roof.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGdub

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the benefits of a green smoothie. Really - liquify the spinach or kale or other leafy green in your blender add a carrot and some frozen fruit and water to sweeten it up. This alone gives me at least 5 or more servings of veggies per day and a one to two servings of fruit. Some people drink enough of these to get up to 15 servings a day. I'm not there yet but am working towards this. Think about sharing a green smoothie recipe.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCherilyn

To answer Joy's question about Amazon Fresh - I've used it a few times. It's fairly similar to any other grocery delivery service I assume. It is really convenient and the produce I received from them was good quality. Just remember, you'll pay a lot more for that produce than you would at the grocery store and sometimes more than at the farmer's market, depending on what's in season. You can, on occasion, find items that are comparably priced, so you'll just have to look at what they offer and how the prices compare to what you could get elsewhere.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I like the idea of 'drinking' your veggies -
I do not like many veggies (to my own surprise). I simply cannot eat a carrot. I don't know why. Ironically, it's one of the only veggies my girls will eat :) Preparation of vegetables intimidate me. How does one prepare kale? I know fresh, frozen and canned (in that order) is the most nutritious but is canned even worth it? Do they still have nutrients?
I agree that lack of knowledge is a huge disability in getting the required veggies. Also, Americans are so 'busy' all of the time - too busy, it seems, to steam some broccoli or bake a sweet potato or even to clean and chop peppers... I think our lifestyles are going to have to change to allow more time for quality cooking and enjoying our efforts (ie: sitting around the table as a family) ~
Interesting post!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusannah

PS: I posted a recipe several weeks ago for my favorite way to eat tomatoes & yellow is the link -

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusannah

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