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Q.What’s the one thing that every successful diet in the world has in common? They all contain vegetables, and for good reason too…
Why is eating vegetables so important?
Vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, digestive enzymes and microbes, fibre and other nutrients. Any and all of these reduce acidity in the body and chronic inflammation, aiding vital nutrient absorption, stabilising blood sugar levels, keeping bowel movement regular and removing toxic waste, decreasing bad/increasing good cholesterol, decreasing blood pressure, feeding your healthy gut bacteria/microbiome and so on. Vegetables are also important because 80% of Australians are suffering from dehydration on a daily basis. And a big reason why this is the case is because we are eating more processed foods and less veggies than ever before, which also equates to less water in the diet. Veggies help to keep you hydrated and functioning at your best.
Veggies are also the key to losing excess weight, which is something most of us need. Veggies are low in energy and some even contain negative calories. You could eat 40 zucchinis a day and still lose weight. If you’re not eating enough veggies, you’re not supporting your weight loss goals.
We are eating less vegetables than ever before:
Despite the importance of eating veggies, 93% of Australians are not reaching the recommended daily intake of vegetables. That’s virtually the whole of Australia!
The main reason for this is because most of us live very busy lives, and as such we often reach for foods which are quick to prepare, including processed foods, pre-prepared meals and meat – especially chicken. Also, vegetables have become increasingly expensive. Whatever the reasons, it is a real concern, and we should all be trying harder to eat more veggies.
How many vegetables should you be eating?
Australian guidelines recommend that we eat 2 to 3 cups (5 to 6 serves) of vegetables per day. If you’re already eating veggies that’s great, but if not, then it may take some time to increase your veggie intake. Just start with one cup and increase from there. At the end of the day, you can’t eat ‘too many’ veggies, as long as you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
What is the healthiest way to prepare veggies?
The three natural destroyers of vitamins in vegetables are heat, light, and oxygen. However, some cooking some methods can help retain nutrients. As a general rule, it’s best to keep cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid to a minimum. That’s why steaming is one of the best ways to cook most vegetables. Steam vegetables briefly until slightly tender. For example, asparagus and broccoli should retain their bright green colour. Click here for a full guide for optimum steaming times of veggies.
Boiling vegetables causes water soluble vitamins like vitamin C, B1 and folate to leach into the water, so unless you are planning on drinking the water, or using it in soups or stews like a stock, then avoid this method. Vegetables like peas, cauliflower and zucchini tend to be particularly susceptible to nutrient loss through boiling, losing more than 50% of their antioxidants.
Cooking veggies whole is often the best choice to preserve nutrients. When that’s not practical, be sure to cut them into large uniform pieces that will cook evenly. And only wash your vegetables just before you cut them as washing before storing may promote bacterial growth and speed up spoilage.
Sautéing in a bit of healthy cooking oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, is also a great way to cook many vegetables. Not only does it maximize flavour, but the addition of olive oil “appears to increase the absorption of phytonutrients like phenols and carotenes,” That’s because many of the vitamins and nutrients in vegetables are fat soluble, meaning your body absorbs them better in the presence of fat.
However with that said, eating raw instead of cooked vegetables, means you’ll get more of vitamins A and C. These vitamins are heat-sensitive, meaning high temperatures and longer cooking times degrade or destroy them.
So, as you can see, there are numerous ways to prepare veggies to maintain their nutrient content. Eat plenty of vegetables of every colour, and either cook them in different ways, or enjoy them raw.
How to store vegetables:
Nutrients in vegetables start to break down after harvest. Proper storage helps to minimize the loss of nutrients and increase shelf life. Here are some tips for storing your veggies:
*To reduce shrivelling or wilting due to water loss, keep leafy and root vegetables, such as silverbeet, broccoli, carrots and parsnips, in perforated plastic bags, preferably in the refrigerator.
*By removing leafy tops from carrots, parsnips, turnips and beetroot, their storage life can be extended many weeks or even several months in the refrigerator.
*Keep potatoes in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to avoid greening and sprouting. Remove from plastic bags and place in a strong paper bag, box or in a wire or plastic bin.
*Sweet potatoes should not be kept in the fridge as they are cold sensitive.
*To reduce mould growth on onions, whole pumpkin, marrows and squashes, store at room temperature under dry conditions, in a net or loose.
*Limit storage time. Fresh is best when it comes to taste and nutrition. If you want to store produce items for a longer time, consider freezing them.
*It is best not to wash vegetables until you are ready to consume them to reduce spoilage and mould growth.
*Don’t slice vegetables until you are ready to use them. When a vegetable is sliced, it exposes the cut surfaces to heat, light, and oxygen — the nutrient destroyers.
*If you grow your own, it’s best to pick veggies just before you need to use them.
Ways to eat more veggies:
*Add lots of veggies to pasta dishes – instead of serving just pasta, serve an equal portion of veggies with the pasta and then pour your sauce on top.
*Add veggies into your favourite pasta sauces or anything else. Often, adding just a few cups doesn’t change the flavour enough to notice. You can add things like wilted spinach or zucchini to almost anything.
*Try to make pasta out of veggies like zucchini, and pizza bases out of cauliflower.
*Roast off assorted veggies with your favourite spices like rosemary, thyme or anything else.
*Make frittata/omelettes – you can use precooked/leftover veggies.
*Make pasties, pies and sausage rolls – you can use leftovers/precooked veggies.
*Make a béchamel sauce, place on top of it some steamed broccoli or cauliflower and top with grated cheese. Bake in the oven for a delicious side dish.
*Add loads of veggies to your favourite stir-fry recipes.
*Chargrill veggies and add olive oil, garlic, and spices.
*Steam or boil veggies and add your favourite sauce. E.g. Steamed Bok Choy with Oyster sauce.
*Make different casseroles or stews and load them with veggies.
*Make smoothies packed with veggies and disguise the flavour with fruit if you don’t like the taste of just veggies. As a rule, use a ratio of 4 veggies to 1 fruit to avoid too much sugar. Juice vegetables whole to maximise the fibre and roughage content.
*Use supplements or powders like spirulina or wheatgrass which can be added to smoothies or meals to boost the nutrient content. These are also a great alternative when you do not have access to veggies/travelling/etc.
*Cut veggie sticks like celery, carrots, cucumber, capsicum, zucchini, mushroom and serve with your favourite vegetarian dips like hummus or tzatziki.
*Make soups – this is literally as simple as blending your favourite vegetable combinations.
*Make salads (especially in the warmer months). The key here is to get creative instead of just boring old iceberg lettuce.
*Ferment and Pickle Veggies – not only are they delicious, but also great for your gut health too.
Other tips regarding veggies:
*There are many different ways to prepare the same vegetable, depending upon what culture you are from. Try taking your favourite vegetables and preparing them in a completely different way. Even using different herbs and spices can completely change the flavour.
*Aim to consume vegetables as soon as possible to maximise nutrient content. This means that you should shop for veggies twice per week.
*Try to eat organic vegetables, local produce or grow your own. Avoid genetically modified vegetables where possible – it is unknown whether they are safe.
*Eat what veggies are in season as they are often fresher, cheaper and healthier.
*Whilst fresh vegetables are best, snap frozen vegetables are a great substitute if used occasionally.
*Think outside of the square – there are literally thousands of different types of vegetables available. Try something new instead of always eating the same vegetables.
*Whilst all vegetables are nutritious, the five ‘super veggies’ that I highly recommend are purple sweet potatoes, beetroot, kale, broccoli and onions.
*It is a good idea to consult your GP, nutritionist or dietician when modifying your diet.
Q.Are you eating enough veggies? If so, how do you prepare and eat them?
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