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.