You have probably heard it many times that fruits and vegetables are healthy, and we should eat 5 portions per day. Many will think that vegetarians and vegans are easily meeting this recommendation. It does not always seem to be the case, during my workshops or nutritional consultations I came across some vegans which barely touch vegetables (I am not counting 1 leaf of salad or a slice of tomato on a burger as a sufficient vegetable intake). There is a lot of fuss about protein intake among vegans, but what about vegetables? Shall we rephrase ‘where do you take your protein from’ to ‘where are vegetables in your diet?’
There is a stereotype of a vegan, often portrayed as eating mostly salads – rabbit food. But with supermarkets shelfs full of processed vegan products many vegans/vegetarians are trying new alluring plant-based cheeses – faux meats or convenient ready meals, forgetting that vegetables should be the basis of a healthy, balanced plant based diet.
You can easily start your day with oatmeal and plant-based milk, nut butter, seeds and nuts. For lunch have a cheese sandwich and vegan burger for dinner. You can easily meet all your protein needs, but what about fresh vegetables?
Why do we need fresh vegetables?
Vegetables are a mandatory component of a balanced diet. Eat them as much as possible, choose different varieties, colors, seasonal and local products, and don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables. Eat them raw or cooked. Particular attention should be paid to green vegetables - kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, parsley, etc. Add vegetables to breakfast, lunch and dinner, and eat plenty of them ! Always remember about vegetables when planning your meals. A vegan diet will only be healthy when vegetables are its basis, not just an addition. Vegetables have many health properties and provide many nutrients. When eating them, we don't have to limit ourselves because their calorific value is low. It is recommended to add them to almost every meal to eat at least ½ kg of vegetables per day. Vegetables are one of the best sources of vitamins and minerals. Instead of stuffing yourself with dietary supplements, take a daily portion of fresh vegetables. Eating vegetables improves our immune system. Thanks to the high doses of vitamin C which we find in various raw products, making us less susceptible to colds. Vegetables are a rich source of fiber, which is especially good for those people fighting a few extra kilos. It is thanks to them that we feel full for longer and are not tempted to eat between meals. Thanks to vegetables, we can keep our beautiful appearance for a long time. Vitamins and minerals will improve the condition of our skin and hair, thanks to which we will enjoy our youthful appearance for longer. In vegetables, we find plenty of antioxidants that effectively slow down the aging process. They’re better than the best anti-wrinkle creams. The same antioxidants will protect us against many other diseases, especially cancer. They prevent acidification of the body helping you to maintain an acid-base balance Vegetable colors are particularly important because they are the best proof of the content of natural dyes, such as chlorophyll, carotenoids which can help in the fight against various diseases.
Eat the rainbow
If you are overwhelmed with choices just follow the rule to ‘eat the rainbow ‘: i.e. try to eat fruits and vegetables of many different colors every day – mix them up and keep them colorful. Vegetables are divided into different color groups, as each color plays a different function in our health.
• Red - lycopene – tomatoes, watermelon, bell pepper - have anti-cancer properties
• Orange – beta carotene – carrot, mango, sweet potatoes, pumpkin – supports immune system, anti-cancer properties
• Yellow – vitamin C and flavonoids - lemon, grapefruit , papaya, peach –– anti-inflammatory, support immune system, improves bioavailability of iron
• Green – folic acid, calcium - kale, lettuce, cabbage , broccoli , brussels sprouts –, potassium, lutein – supports bones and reduces the risk of heart disease
• White – Allyl - onion, garlic, cauliflower, potatoes –– prevent certain cancers and maintains a healthy cholesterol level
• Blue / Purple – blueberries, pomegranate, plums, eggplant – anthocyanins, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer
• Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts) have special properties as they contain a lot of phytonutrients-plant compounds which help lower inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer
How can I add more vegetables to my diet? Vegetables are simple. Their preparation does not require great culinary skills. Even an amateur will make an appetizing dish. Here are a few inspirations how to ‘smuggle’ more veggies into your diet:
1. Salads – the easiest way is to include different vegetables – a whole rainbow. Experiment with some new vegetables – endive, fennel or kohlrabi. The internet has tons of recipes, look for some new ideas. 2. Roast away. Try roasting vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, onions, carrots, tomatoes or eggplant. Long exposure to high heat will cause these foods to caramelize, which enhances their natural sweetness and reduces bitterness. 3. Enjoy veggie dippers – just blend some beetroot, eggplant or bell peppers with some creamy ingredient (chickpeas, cashews) and serve with carrot or celery sticks 4. Sip smoothies – add some spinach or kale for the extra antioxidants boost 5. Colourful sandwiches - another way to eat more vegetables, because I try not to limit myself to just a slice of cucumber and tomato. I always try to put as many vegetables onto the sandwich as possible, plus a few pieces of pepper or cucumber slices to put next to them and crunch them additionally. 6. Comforting soups – a perfect way to sneak extra veggies, especially in a creamy soup – broccoli soup, classic leek and potato or maybe bright pink beetroot soup. 7. Patties or pancakes can be also packed with vegetables – mushroom patties or spinach pancake could please even most fussy eaters. 8. Aromatic sauce – tomato sauce with veggies will go great with pasta, vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce will be a great addition to rice and French ratatouille (stew made from aubergine, courgette, tomatoes and onions) and can be served with bread. You can see that eating 5-7 servings of vegetables every day is not so difficult. The most important action, however, is to develop the habit of eating them and find ideas for them which suit you best. It is also worth making sure that you always have fresh vegetables on hand. Happy Cooking!