Americans’ vegetable habits are in a rut. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 50 percent of the vegetables and legumes available in this country in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. Lettuce came in third, according to new data released in 2015, says Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating.
Further, 87 percent of U.S. adults did not meet basic vegetable serving recommendations from 2007 through 2010, a fact cited in the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. Yet urban supermarkets overflow with a wealth of common and exotic vegetables, often displayed side-by-side: broccoli and broccolini, green bell and Japanese shishito peppers, and iceberg lettuce and leafy mâche, or lamb’s lettuce.
Trying one new vegetable dish a week is a great way to increase our vegetable literacy, says functional medicine expert Terri Evans, a doctor of Oriental medicine in Naples, Florida. “Our diet should be 60 percent produce—40 percent vegetables and 20 percent fruit,” she says. “To keep this sustainable for the long term, we should eat what tastes good, not what we think is good for us. Some days, we crave the sweetness of carrots; other days, the bitterness of artichokes or the heat of hot peppers. Our bodies can tell us what we need.”
Keep Expanding Choices
Going Green. Dark green and slightly peppery arugula is good with a little olive oil and lemon juice. Finely shredded Brussels sprouts bulk up a mixed salad, while adding the benefits of a cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetable. Instead of mineral-rich baby spinach, try baby Swiss chard, says Matthew Kadey, a registered dietician in Waterloo, Ontario. He also suggests microgreens, the tiny shoots of radishes, cabbage, broccoli and kale, all rich in vitamins C and E.
Squash It. Varieties of summer and winter squash add color, body and flavor to one-dish meals, with the added benefits of B vitamins, magnesium and fiber. LeAnne Campbell, Ph.D., author of The China Study Cookbook, simmers a mix of fresh chopped vegetables including yellow summer squash or zucchini, and flavors with coconut and curry powder. Vegan Chef Douglas McNish, of Toronto, makes an okra and squash gumbo in the slow cooker.
Sneak in a Smoothie. Change up a smoothie routine by swapping out the usual baby spinach for a blend of cucumber, apple and fresh mint, or else sweet potato and carrot, suggests Sidney Fry, a registered dietitian and Cooking Light editor, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Snack Attack. An array of colorful vegetables served with dips and spreads can be an easy way to experiment with veggies. Carrots in deep red, vibrant yellow, purple and orange are delicious raw and supply beta-carotene, promoting eye health. Leaves from pale green Belgian endive spears are tender and crunchy. Orange or “cheddar” cauliflower has a more creamy and sweet flavor than its pale cousin.
“Colors equal health, and the more colors we eat, the better our overall health,” says Susan Bowerman, a registered dietitian, lecturer in food science and nutrition at California State Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo, and coauthor of What Color Is Your Diet? “We also have to be willing to try new foods or new varieties of foods, or maybe to prepare unfamiliar foods in a way that will make them taste good, so that we will be willing to add more plant foods to our diet.”
Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com from Overland Park, Kansas
A Rainbow of Benefits
by Judith Fertig
The colors found in fresh vegetables can indicate an abundance of necessary phytochemicals and nutrients. “Many people I see in my practice consume excess food, but have nutrient deficiency,” says Terri Evans, a functional medicine expert and doctor of Oriental medicine. Eating a variety of colorful vegetables can be part of the remedy.
“Each color in a vegetable represents 10,000 micronutrients,” says Evans. “The more colorful you make your diet, the happier your body will be.” She notes that supplements supply a lot of one nutrient, while vegetables gift us with tiny amounts of many requisite nutrients.
According to the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation, plant phytochemicals may act as antioxidants, protect and regenerate essential nutrients and work to deactivate cancer-causing substances. So, the more color on our plates, the better.
Yellow and orange—in squash and some tomatoes—point to higher levels of vitamins C and A. The beta-carotene behind these colors is renowned for supporting healthy eyesight.
Dark green—in leafy greens and cabbages—evidences higher levels of vitamins K, B and E. Chlorophyll creates the color and indicates its welldocumented detoxifying properties.
Red—in red bell peppers and tomatoes—indicates vitamin C. Lycopene, which provides the color, is widely associated with lowering the risk of prostate and breast cancers.
Purple and blue—in radicchio, red cabbage and eggplant—deliver vitamins C and K. Anthocyanins that create the color are powerful antioxidants geared to keep us heart-healthy.