Filed under: Vegetables
Aim to eat five servings—about 2½ cups—of vegetables every day to boost your health and performance. Don’t like vegetables? Here are some tips to help even die-hard “veggie haters” work a few vegetables into their meal plans.
- Grill your vegetables! Grilling adds those familiar tastes that most people enjoy. Baste vegetables with your favorite low-fat marinade for flavor. Tip: Roasting vegetables in the oven makes even bitter-tasting ones taste sweeter. Try asparagus, onions, and summer squash.
- Add vegetables to foods you already love! Add pureed butternut squash to macaroni and cheese, chopped onions and peppers to pizza, grated zucchini or carrots to pasta sauce, or black beans to canned soup. Omelets are great vehicles for a variety of veggies: spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and more.
- Drink up! There are lots of tasty vegetable juices in grocery stores nowadays. Look for low-sodium versions or vegetable-fruit juice blends. Try custom-blending your own by mixing bottled carrot juice with your favorite fruit juice. Or whip up a nutritious smoothie instead!
- Challenge your taste buds. Do you truly not like broccoli, or have you just never had it prepared in a way you like? Change your cooking technique and try again. Try baking, roasting, grilling, sautéing, steaming, or eating vegetables raw for a different flavor and texture.
- Flavor it up. A little flavor goes a long way with vegetables. Prepare veggies using a pinch of sea salt, fresh or dried herbs or spices, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or a swirl of balsamic vinegar to turn up the flavor.
- Get adventurous! Just because you hated something as a kid doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way about it as an adult. Visit More Matters for other ideas and recipes for vegetables.
Boost your meals with powerful veggies! The recommended intake of vegetables varies depending on your age, weight, and calorie needs. This chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will guide you.
Freezing your favorite summertime fruits and vegetables enables you to enjoy them all winter long. It’s a popular preservation method because it’s fast and ensures your foods taste flavorful while retaining nutrients. And you can cut food costs by buying your produce at roadside stands or farmers’ markets because their offerings are often cheaper.
Check out the National Center for Food Preservation’s page to learn more and/or try your hand at other preservation methods, including pickling, drying, and canning. HPRC offers some tips to help you start “putting food by” or preserving your favorites. Read more...
Many raw fruits and vegetables are tasty, low in calories and fat, and high in fiber. And eating them might help you feel fuller and consume less, which is especially helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. However, some cooked produce can be just as delicious—and even more nutritious.
Many cooked fruits and vegetables (such as tomatoes, corn, spinach, carrots, and asparagus) provide more antioxidants, which protect cells and help your body function properly. For example, cooked tomatoes and asparagus release vitamin-rich lycopene, which can help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. And cooked spinach provides greater amounts of calcium, iron, and fiber.
However, broccoli is best eaten raw because myrosinase, a valuable enzyme, is damaged during the cooking process. Vitamin C can be lost during cooking too. But you can find it in citrus and other foods. In the warmer months, eating raw produce can save time as well as keep your kitchen cooler since you won’t be cooking! Still, raw fruits and vegetables might be hard to find when you’re on a mission or in a smaller dining facility. So instead, choose from what’s offered—whether it’s dried, canned, frozen, or dehydrated.
Try to include a variety of produce in your meal plan, aiming for 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of veggies each day. Choose fruits and vegetables from the rainbow of colors (red, blue/purple, green, yellow, orange, and white) to maximize nutrient intake. Eat both cooked and raw varieties to make sure you’re getting nutrients, antioxidants, and more. For example, eat raw carrot sticks one day and cook them on a different day. And enjoy the benefit of obtaining all that nature intended to provide!
Want to eat healthy and perform as well as the rich and famous? Often an elite athlete or entertainer has a dietitian or chef to plan meals and even do their grocery shopping. But is following someone else’s eating plan a wise idea?
- Some superstars eat mostly organic vegetables and less fruit. A diet rich in vegetables is healthy, but can be taken to extremes. Eating entirely organic foods isn’t essential. Fruit contains numerous vitamins and minerals plus fiber. The current daily recommendation is 2–3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit. It’s also unnecessary to avoid nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and mushrooms), as it’s not proven that they cause inflammation.
- A lot of performers pick proteins. Their pattern might include only specialty proteins such as grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, free-range chicken, and duck. These are good sources of protein but duck and beef should be eaten a few times per week, as they can be very fatty. Other good protein sources include eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds. Nuts and seeds are higher in fat but contain healthy oils and other key nutrients.
- Many icons avoid sugar and white flour. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sugar and refined grains but it’s unnecessary to completely avoid these foods. It’s best to eat at least 3 whole grains each day: whole-wheat products, brown rice, oatmeal, or popcorn are good choices.
- Some celebrities only eat foods cooked with coconut oil. It’s better to include a variety of unsaturated fats in your nutrition plan.
- Several VIPs dodge dairy. This isn’t recommended unless you have an allergy or intolerance. Dairy contains valuable nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, protein, and potassium.
Want to be ready for the locker room or the red carpet? Follow a balanced plan and eat what works best for you.
Man up and eat your greens! (And your reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and whites). June is Men’s Health month and a good reminder that what you eat matters. What can eating more fruits and veggies do for you?
- Reduce your risk! Eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
- Fill you up. Fiber-filled fruits and vegetables fiber can help lower your risk of obesity.
- Provide phytochemicals. Vegetables and fruits pack a powerful punch of these chemicals, which may reduce the chance you will experience chronic disease.
- Pump up your performance. Fruits and veggies contain water, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, all essential nutrients for top performance in the gym or on the field.
What’s a great way to ensure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies? At meals, fill half your plate with fruit and/vegetables. Remember that raw, cooked, steamed, chopped, whole, sliced, and diced all count. Eat your way to health by making fruits and vegetables a colorful part of every meal. For more colorful tips, read HPRC’s articles on pink, orange, white, and purple produce.
Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, especially purple fruits and vegetables. But give these foods a second thought: Eating purple fruits and vegetables could improve your diet, lower your blood pressure, and give you a smaller waist.
Purple fruits and vegetables great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and many are also high in plant compounds such as anthocyanins, which give these foods their purplish colors. Anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and help protect against heart disease, cancer, and age-related memory loss.
Power your performance with foods high in anthocyanins such as açai berries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, black raspberries, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, eggplant, and red onions. Try making a parfait with your favorite berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and granola for a sweet treat. If you’re craving something more savory, how about an eggplant parmesan for dinner? (Bonus: You’ll get another antioxidant—lycopene—from the tomato sauce!)
Bright orange fruits and vegetables contain performance-boosting nutrients and should be included as part of your colorful plate. You may just imagine oranges and carrots when you think orange, but orange includes vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, orange peppers, and fruits such as mango (the most widely consumed fruit in the world), peaches, apricots, papayas, cantaloupe, and persimmon.
Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folic acid are just some of the powerful nutrients found in many orange fruits and vegetables. The bright orange color is due to the phytochemicals (plant compounds) carotenoids. Beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, gives yellow and orange vegetables their rich color and supports your immune function, promotes eye and heart health, and reduces the risk of cancer.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate more orange on your plate at any meal. For breakfast, add sliced orange, mango, peach, cantaloupe, or papaya to your cereal or in a homemade smoothie; for lunch, top your salad with chopped orange peppers or shredded carrots; and for a healthy version of fries at dinner slice sweet potatoes, sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake.
Do you think of white when you hear “make your plate a rainbow of colors?” Think again! White fruits—bananas, pears, white nectarines and peaches, and vegetables such as cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, onions, white corn, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, and jicama—are all full of nutrients and count towards your daily fruit and vegetable intake.
White fruits and vegetables contribute fiber, potassium, and magnesium, which most Americans don’t get enough of. Many white fruits and vegetables are also high in flavonoids, which give these plants their white color. Flavonoids are plant compounds shown to be anti-inflammatory and to help protect against heart disease and cancer. And allium, a component found in garlic and onion, has antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits.
Incorporating nutrient-dense white fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks is easy. Add sliced bananas or pear to your oatmeal in the morning, or roast hearty root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, and parsnips with olive oil, dried herbs, and spices for a delicious dish. Sauté onions and garlic to add flavor to pasta, rice, and stir-fry dishes.
For fruit- and vegetable-filled tips, resources, and recipes, visit Fruits & Veggies—More Matters.
Fruits and vegetables provide many essential nutrients that benefit health and reduce risk of disease. Juicing provides an easy, convenient way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. However, most countertop juicers extract the juices from fruits and vegetables but leave behind the skin and pulp—where most of the performance-enhancing nutrients and fiber are found. To get the most from your fruits and vegetables, add the leftover skin, pulp, and fiber to other foods such as muffins, breads, or pasta sauces so you don’t miss out on the benefits they provide.
Juices that are mostly fruit-based provide concentrated sources of carbohydrates (“carbs”)—great for when your carb needs are high, such as before or after working out. However, drinking high-carb juices at other times of day can cause your blood sugar to “spike,” setting you up for a “crash” later on. Vegetable-based juices offer an appealing, lower-carb alternative, especially for the veggie-hater. In particular, juices from vegetables such as beets, carrots, and celery that are high in nitrates can naturally increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure—real performance-enhancers. If the flavor of vegetable-based juices doesn’t appeal to you, try adding a small amount of fruit to provide a touch of sweetness without too many carbs. And you can add low-fat yogurt or tofu for a protein boost.
Juicing is a great way to use up fresh fruits and vegetables that are a bit past their prime, reducing waste and saving you money. That’s important because juicers can be expensive, ranging in price from $50 to over $1000! A good-quality blender probably costs less than many juicers, doesn’t remove beneficial fiber, and might offer more versatility.
Keep in mind that fresh, unpasteurized juices can be a food-safety hazard. Harmful bacteria on your hands and on the surfaces of fresh fruits and vegetables can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases severe dehydration or other health problems. Thoroughly wash your hands, fruits, and vegetables before making fresh juices, and clean juicer parts with hot, soapy water when finished. Drink fresh juices the same day you make them and freeze leftovers in ice-cube trays to add to smoothies or thaw and drink another day.
Whether you get your fruits and vegetables in a glass or on a plate, make sure you’re getting enough for optimal performance. Use this handy calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out how many you need each day.
Beets are often overlooked in the produce aisle, but they have been gaining popularity for their potential cardiovascular health and performance benefits. This is because beets contain a high amount of nitrate, which improves blood flow to your heart and muscles. While the performance-enhancing benefits of nitrates from beets have yet to be fully established, there are many other reasons to include beets in your lunch or dinner menu. Beets are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin C—all important nutrients to keep you at the top of your game.
If beets aren’t your favorite food, there are plenty of other nitrate-rich (and nutrient-rich) vegetables, including arugula, rhubarb, lettuce, celery, radishes, and spinach. Try eating roasted beets or a salad with dark-green, leafy vegetables two to three hours before your next workout. Keep in mind that eating a variety of high-quality foods is key to optimal performance, so for more information on proper fueling, see HPRC’s “An Athlete’s Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.”