We could all use a few tips from time to time on how to eat more veggies every day. Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, but I’d like to shake it up a tiny bit. I think we should tweak this advice to emphasize the veggies more than the fruit. I’d rather say “eat your veggies and fruit” and recommend aiming for minimum of 4 servings of colorful veggies every day and 1-2 servings of fruit. And going over this minimum is absolutely awesome if you can swing it.
Much like everything in the health world, there’s conflicting advice on this topic — just to illustrate my point, here are two articles published back to back from the same publication that completely conflict:
- Healthy diet means 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, not five
- Keep the ‘five-a-day’ message for better health – it works
Interestingly, the first one is posted in the science section while the second is posted in the health section. I’m not really sure what to make of that, but I thought it was an interesting sidebar to include in our discussion.
What’s undisputed though, is that swapping out fried, starchy, processed foods for nutrient-dense, plant-based foods is an immense win for your health. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Eat More Veggies
A detail that isn’t emphasized enough (in my not-so-humble opinion) is that variety is a critical component of a healthy diet. And I don’t mean a variety of fast-food chains.
Whether we learned it in health class, from a nutritionist, from a fad diet, or on an infomercial, we’ve all been trained to strive for that iconic image of “the healthy meal.” You know what I’m talking about: a poached chicken breast, a pile of steamed broccoli, and a nice rice pilaf on the side. Swap out the chicken breast for a piece of salmon, and now it’s “heart healthy.” I’m here to tell you that if you aspire to enjoy that boring plate of food day after day, you will never, ever stick to a healthy diet OR get adequate nutrition from the food you’re eating.
It’s BORING. It’s totally unrealistic. It’s BLAND. But most importantly, its INADEQUATE.
If you eat steamed broccoli every single night, you’re getting plenty of vitamins K and C, a good dose of vitamin A, and a modest array of minerals. As healthy as broccoli is, no single plant can provide everything you need, nor can a single source of meat or a single type of starch. I know I’m being extreme to think that someone would want to eat the same thing every single day, but stop and think for a second about your grocery shopping list every week (or your restaurant habits). Do you find that you’re buying/ordering the same few things over and over? Making the same few dishes over and over? Packing the same few lunches?
To put veggie variety into perspective, some health experts recommend eating at least 20 different types of veggies and fruits every week! Raise your hand if you’re already doing this …
I’m typing so I can’t use my hands (that’s my excuse!)
To bolster the “more variety is better” claim, here’s one more post from The Guardian supporting the 10-servings-a-day idea. I really like that one, so give it a quick look after you’re done reading here.
Veggies over Fruit
In my experience with coaching clients and talking with friends and family, most people find it much more challenging to up the veggie count than the fruit count. Nearly every person I’ve worked with, when given the choice, has opted to eat more fruit rather than more veggies.
Personally, I prefer veggies to fruit, but I must admit that even I have trouble hitting my veggie goals from time to time, so I hope that this info is helpful even to the veggiest of veggie eaters.
When I ask clients why they prefer to start with fruit rather than veggies, I get similar answers over and over. Here are a few examples:
- I don’t have time to cook veggies, and I can just grab a piece of fruit whenever I want
- I don’t like to cook, so fruit is easier to start with because there’s no prep
- I don’t like raw vegetables, and I hate cooking
- When I cook veggies, I never like the way they taste
- I don’t cook, and the restaurants I go to don’t serve a lot of veggies
- When I buy veggies, they just go bad because I never eat them in time
Do you see a theme here? Do any of these statements resonate with you? If I had to summarize my findings in just a few words, I’d say most people don’t know how to make delicious veggies quickly. So the problem is two-fold:
- a lack of time
- a lack of skill
Another issue I’ve noticed when looking at client food logs is that most folks don’t think about veggies until dinner time. They’ll have eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and then a sad iceberg lettuce salad for with whatever they’re having for dinner (if they even do that!). Starting the day with veggies is a small change that can yield big results, so that’s what we’ll focus on today.
Next week, I’m going to dive into some simple kitchen hacks for making veggies delicious quickly at home, and also give you a few pointers for making sure you get enough veggies when you’re out to dinner too. Here’s a hint from a previous post, in case you’re the type that likes to skip ahead. For now, it’s smoothie time.
Building Skills to Eat More Veggies: Green Smoothies
Sometimes, even for adults, the easiest way to ensure that we’re eating enough veggies is to hide them, and hiding them in a smoothie is a great way to start. Granted, I’m talking about green smoothies, which really doesn’t visually hide anything, but cramming some veggies into a blender first thing in the morning can kick-start your day like you wouldn’t believe — and if you do it right, it can be delicious too.
And by the way, a healthy smoothie doesn’t have to be green. We’ve talked about eating the rainbow here at CWB quite a bit, so you know that consuming a variety of veggies and fruits is the best way to ensure that you’re getting a diverse set of micronutrients in your daily diet. Veggies of all colors, shapes, and sizes can be included in a delicious healthy smoothie. Getting creative is part of the fun! I’m just using the term “green smoothie” to differentiate these smoothies from the fruity sugar bombs they serve at certain chain smoothie establishments that shall remain nameless.
Veggies for Beginners:
If you’re new to blended veggies, I wouldn’t recommend throwing a head of broccoli into your blender. Start with mild greens that don’t alter the flavor of your smoothie too much. In my experience of making smoothies for diverse audiences, I’ve found that beginners enjoy:
- baby spinach
- mixed greens/spring mix
- baby super greens (usually a mix of baby kale, chard, and spinach)
- romaine lettuce (comes in red/purple and green. Try them both!)
- other non-iceberg varieties of mild lettuce
- canned plain pumpkin
Advanced Veggie Smoothies:
More experienced smoothie drinkers who’ve acclimated their palates to drinking something less sweet and more “earthy” can venture down the veggie path a bit further:
- spinach (adult greens are often a bit stronger and more fibrous than baby kale, which is why all the baby greens are in the beginner section)
- kale (use the leaves and take the ribs out unless you have a really great blender)
- collard greens (same advice on ribs)
- beets (steamed — raw are very hard to blend. You can find them pre-steamed in most produce sections these days)
- cabbage (red/purple is sweeter than green)
- bell peppers (red/orange/yellow are sweeter than green)
- summer squash (zucchini, yellow squash)
Choosing Fruit for Your Green Smoothie
Don’t get me wrong when I ask you to de-emphasize fruits in favor of veggies. There’s a lot to be gained from adding fruit into your diet, especially if you’re not eating much produce to begin with. I’d go as far as to say that most Americans likely don’t eat enough fruit. But eating fruit ad lib can introduce an unexpected amount of sugar into your life, which we want to avoid.
You might be surprised at how much sugar you’re consuming if you’re filling a blender with fruit exclusively. Granted, it’s not as much of a health hazard as drinking fruit juice regularly, but it’s certainly not ideal to have that much sugar all at once.
Brightly colored fruits rich in phytonutrients and high in fiber are really the way to go when you’re concocting a blended meal. This way, you get the most bang for your buck in terms of fiber and micronutrient count per gulp. Everything listed below can be fresh or frozen.
Here are my favorites:
- blackberries (without a really great blender like this one, raspberries and blackberries can leave seeds in your drink, so if you’re not into that, get a better blender!)
- grapefruit (same deal with the blender)
- stone fruit
- pomegranate seeds
- acai berry
Tropical Fruits are great too, but you want to use them in smaller quantities because of the high sugar content. This includes banana (use 1/3 to 1/2 at a time, especially if you’re using other fruits with it), mango, pineapple, and papaya.
I also use pears from time to time, but find that they’re kind of boring (just my opinion).
Note on organic produce: Using organic for certain veggies and fruit is super important. Some plants absorb pesticides and toxins at greater concentrations than others, so if you want to save by skipping organic, be an informed consumer. Find out which produce items in your cart should always be organic by consulting the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.
Green Smoothie Guidelines
Fruits and veggies aren’t the only ingredients that comprise a delicious green smoothie. There’s the liquid you choose, deciding whether or not you want to add in healthy fats, proteins, additional fiber, or superfood supplements like green powders, maca, cacao, or any number of others. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but for anyone to stick with it (including me!), it does have to be delicious. Lucky for you, I have a free eBook of smoothie recipes to get you started, and I have a few other ideas cooking (or blending, as it were), which I’m hoping to unveil in the next month or so. For now, here’s the eBook to get you going: