By Elizabeth Harrison, Grace Cottage Health Coach
Eat your veggies! Where have you heard that before? Vegetables are a goldmine for adding vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your diet, and they can go a long way toward ensuring you a healthy life, important for preventing or lessening the impact of many chronic diseases.
The nutrition experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have created the perfect visual to help you get enough of these nutrient-rich foods. Picture a round dinner plate, and divide it into fourths. Ideally, one-half of that plate will be covered with equal amounts of fruits and vegetables. On the other half, you will have a mix of grains and protein, with grains taking up more space than the protein.
This illustration is a great starting point. Some nutritionists even suggest that half your plate be covered with vegetables.
Did you know that just by eating your vegetables, you can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, some kinds of cancers, bone loss, and diabetes?
Diabetes is an especially important health topic these days. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 30 million Americans have Type 2 Diabetes, the most prevalent kind, and another 84 million have prediabetes.
Diabetes affects more than 55,000 Vermonters, according to the Vermont Department of Health. As bad as diabetes is, when it’s not well managed, it commonly is accompanied by heart disease, high blood pressure, liver and kidney diseases, obesity, and more. Every year, it is the primary cause, or a contributing cause, in the deaths of hundreds of Vermonters.
Let’s talk about what types of vegetables are best, and the healthiest ways to prepare them.
Most vegetables are low in fat and calories and full of nutrients (especially vitamins A and C, potassium, and folic acid) and fiber.
Vegetables can generally be categorized as starchy and non-starchy. While starchy vegetables are full of nutrients, just like their non-starchy counterparts, they also contain a higher level of carbohydrates, which tend to raise blood sugar, so those with diabetes and prediabetes need to keep their consumption of starchy vegetables, particularly potatoes and sweet potatoes, to a minimum. Be aware that corn and lima beans are starchy, but they are also nutrient-rich, so enjoy them in moderate portions.
Adults generally need about two to three cups of vegetables each day, with a good mix of types. For dark-green leafy vegetables that lose volume as they cook, two cups raw will end up equaling about a cup. Two cups of uncooked green or lettuce will count as a one-cup serving.
Several simple diets that emphasize vegetables have been developed in recent years; others have been around for years, have been studied, and have proven beneficial. Two examples are the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. Maybe you have heard of these already? These are especially helpful in managing diabetes and hypertension.
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. This diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes (beans and peas). It recommends herbs instead of salt, olive and canola oils instead of butter, and limits the consumption of red meat to a few times a month, relying instead on fish and poultry.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (high blood pressure). It encourages limiting sodium in the diet. The DASH diet has been shown to be effective in reducing blood pressure. It emphasizes fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and vegetables (sound familiar?!).
Whatever the diet, it has to be easy, right? Most people don’t have the time or desire to prepare complicated recipes. That’s why we often reach for prepackaged meals or use the drive-thru. In order to consistently eat our veggies, we need a plan that’s easy to follow.
Here are some easy tips you can use, no matter what diet plan you follow:
- Add some shredded carrots or cabbage, chopped peppers and celery, onions or scallions, and spinach leaves to your pasta sauce.
- Add chopped vegetables to a take-out or homemade pizza.
- Make a veggie omelette for breakfast or dinner.
- Use carrot sticks, peppers and celery for dips, instead of chips.
- Roast them, grill them, or stir fry them (all of these choices are better than boiling, which leaches out vitamins).
- Frozen vegetables are a great choice when fresh is not available or when you’re in a rush, because they are frozen at the peak of ripeness and are already washed and chopped.
March is National Nutrition Month and March 26 is American Diabetes Alert Day. It’s a good time to call a Grace Cottage Health Coach to discuss the DASH and Mediterranean diets and to consider healthy changes to your eating habits. The services of the Grace Cottage Community Health Team are free. Call 802-365-3715.
And use your next shopping trip to make healthy changes. Stock up on vegetables and make March the month to experiment with new ways to eat your veggies!
Bio: Elizabeth Harrison is a board certified clinical nutritionist through the International & American Association of Clinical Nutritionists. As a member of the Grace Cottage Community Health Team, Harrison provides resources and skills to develop healthy habits.