There still remains a lot of debate in the nutrition world. Paleo or vegan? What ratio of macronutrients is optimal? Couple this with the powerful lobby influence the food and agricultural industries have on government regulatory bodies like the USDA, and it’s no wonder we live in a society of confused eaters. Yet, there is one indisputable recommendation that ALL nutrition experts agree on, and that is the power of increasing vegetable intake. Despite this being the most unequivocal piece of nutrition advice out there, most of us consistently fail to meet the recommended daily dose.
There are many compelling reasons to eat your vegetables. For example, the gut microbiome (the microbial population that lives in our GI tract) and its impact on human health is THE hot topic in the scientific and medical community. Every day there seems to be a new study linking the health of your microbiome to everything from mood disorders to obesity to cardiovascular disease. And what is the key to a healthy microbiome? Eating a diversity of plants. Plants provide the indigestible fiber which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your lower intestine, which leads to a healthy intestinal lining and encourages beneficial strains of bacteria. Additionally, plants offer a variety of polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants which have innumerable disease fighting properties.
While we all know we should be eating more vegetables, getting the recommended 6-10 servings a day often remains an elusive target. I’ve tried many different techniques to inspire myself and my clients to turn this recommendation into a daily habit and the following are the best methods I’ve encountered.
MY TOP SECRETS TO FINALLY EATING ENOUGH VEGGIES.
- Batch cook your vegetables. My vegetable guru and solver of veggie angst is the food writer, Tamar Adler. My favorite thing about Tamar Adler is that she is not motivated by health. Her writing rarely, if ever, talks about health benefits. Her eating and cooking philosophy is motivated by flavor, pleasure, frugality, and food traditions. A bi-product of this is that she cooks primarily with local, whole foods and lots of plants. She shows us that there are much more elegant ways to “eat your veggies” than a sad-looking salad next to your grilled chicken, which can quickly make you feel like you’re on a 1980s-style deprivation diet. Instead, while you prep your veggies, you can feel like you are Alice Water’s in your Berkeley kitchen or at least a vibrant Sicilian grandmother. She recommends batch cooking your vegetables all at once and eating them throughout the week in various dishes. It’s common in other cultures to eat cooked, room temperature, leftover vegetables but Americans don’t have this food tradition. The result is good intentions and a plethora of limp, rotting vegetables in crisper drawers. For full instructions on the batch cooking ritual, watch this enviable video of Adler prepping her farmer’s market bounty. Written instructions here. The basic idea is to roast a few trays of veggies in your oven at once (try broccoli, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes, etc). While these cook, sautee some greens on the stove. Store everything in glass containers in your fridge and eat your way through the veggies throughout the week.
- Eat a super salad once a day. My brilliant nutritionist colleague, Jesse Haas, has a salad formula that takes care of most of your veggie requirements in one sitting. Try to eat this once a day and you’re golden. Here’s the basic recipe (customize to your liking and to what veggies are in season) : 2-3 cups greens + 1-2 cups cut veggies + 3 oz. protein + 2 Tbsp dressing (here’s a nice basic salad dressing recipe) + 1/2 c cooked whole grains (optional) = 4-7 servings of vegetables and limitless possibilities.
- Drink a Micronutrient Smoothie. This tip is from one of my favorite scientists, Dr. Rhonda Patrick. She is a cancer and aging researcher who has done extensive health studies on micronutrient deficiencies as one of the key factors in disease prevention. The secret to getting adequate micronutrients? Again, dietary plant quantity and diversity. Her health hack is a daily smoothie where you get your fiber + plant intake in one (slightly intense but worth it) veggie-smoothie. Here are two videos (smoothie recipe 1 and recipe 2) with the ingredients and overview of the benefits. If you’re not ready to go all-in you can start adding a handful of greens to your fruit smoothie and call it good!
- Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, especially at lunch and dinner. One Medical's blog offers a great infographic to demonstrate the distribution of a healthy plate.
Pick one new veggie habit to try and notice how it affects your energy and overall health. As always, I would love to hear how it goes!