A couple of months ago, I found myself craving soup for lunch. Working from home, I regularly get to enjoy the remnants of last night’s dinner – a big bowl of spicy roasted pumpkin and chickpea soup being a typical example. On a cold, wet, winter’s day, its warmth, flavour and richness infused my body and lifted me up. It was exactly what I wanted. By contrast, at this time of year I’m enjoying the spring harvest – say, a crispy salad of asparagus, radish and snow peas, topped with a runny poached egg.
These two meals are quite different. However, at their core lie ingredients from the same diverse and versatile food group: vegetables. Of course vegies are immensely good for you. But even though we know so much about their benefits, a lot of people struggle to eat as many as they should. In fact, according to even the most generous estimates, fewer than 30% of Australians aged 19 to 54 are getting enough vegetables (more than four serves per day) in their diet.
SO WHY ARE VEGETABLES SO GOOD FOR YOU?
1. Filling your meals with vegetables has many benefits for your health. The major ones are lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and potentially lowered risk of some cancers, including those affecting the mouth, throat, larynx and stomach.
2. Eating plenty of vegetables also reduces your risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of visual impairment in Australia.
3. Plus, if you’re trying to lose weight, you can still pile your plate up with most vegetables. They will bulk out your meal and fill you up, while adding the bare minimum of kilojoules to your daily intake.
But it’s not just about the future and your long-term health. Eat more vegies and you’ll feel better now. They provide your body with vitamins and minerals, which encourage your body to run more efficiently. So if you eat plenty of vegies, right away you’ll feel better and have more energy.
ARE ALL VEGIES CREATED EQUAL?
Some vegetables do have a particularly high nutritional value and it’s a good idea to eat them regularly. Green vegetables such as spinach, rocket, fresh herbs, silverbeet, Asian greens and broccoli are particularly high in antioxidants. However, no single vegie provides all the nutrients you need to be healthy, so don’t concentrate on just one type. Instead, fill your days, weeks and months with a variety of vegetables. It’s the best nutritional strategy for ensuring good health, and the variety keeps things interesting.
Tomatoes taste nothing like broccoli, which in turn tastes nothing like eggplant. Add to this the multiple ways they can be prepared, and vegetables turn out to be a diverse group of foods, with wildly differing tastes and textures. Raw cauliflower is quite unlike cauliflower that has been tossed in spices, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven. Steamed vegetables sprinkled with a teaspoon of pesto or harissa taste nothing like having them raw in a salad.
HOW ABOUT VITAMIN PILLS AND JUICES?
Lots of commercial supplements and juices claim to be as good as eating actual vegetables, and they can seem like an attractive option for people who struggle to get their daily serves. But they simply can’t match real vegetables for fibre, nutrient balance and complexity. While the occasional vegetable juice will do you no harm, you’re generally better off saving your money and buying the real thing.
BUT FRESH VEGIES TAKE ME SO LONG TO PREPARE
If it’s prep-time that puts you off, why not use canned or frozen vegies? Don’t think of these as second-rate; vegies from the freezer are snap-frozen close to harvest, when they’re at their most nutritious. Tests performed by the Australian Consumers’ Association have shown that while there are some nutrients that don’t survive the freezing process, many others do. In fact, due to the time it takes to get fresh vegetables from farm to shop, nutrient levels can often be higher in frozen veg.
Some canned vegetables are also good. Tinned tomatoes, legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), beetroot, corn and carrots are all worth buying, as they retain good amounts of vitamins and antioxidants.
So don’t dismiss vegetables as a whole group, don’t put off eating them, and don’t think it’s all too hard. Make an effort to eat more of them and your health will benefit, both now and well into the future.