How to Introduce More Vegetables into Your Diet
By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N., JM Nutrition
You don’t like the taste of vegetables, but everyone from your mother to your nutritionist is telling you to eat more.
As a nutritionist, I cannot gloss over the fact that most of us should eat more vegetables. Regular consumption of vegetables brings with it a number of benefits which cannot be overlooked if you want your body to feel better and lead a generally healthier life.
I understand that the taste of some vegetables on their own, without sauces, dressings and condiments, can leave a good deal to be desired in the taste department.
But there are ways in which you can incorporate more vegetables into your daily consumption, without having to bite into a bland-tasting cauliflower piece on the one hand, and drenching it with some processed and fattening sauce on the other. And no, you don’t have to be a master in the kitchen to do so either. Quick and simple ways exist. I assure you.
Here’s how you can introduce nutrient- and vitamin-rich vegetables into your diet, without having to uproot the way you cook:
Hummus: A Must
Hummus—the Middle-Eastern dip made from chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic and olive oil—can be spread on bread, eaten with chips (healthy ones, of course) or simply eaten with a variety of vegetables to improve their taste.
And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
For those who discriminate against eating vegetables on their own, or those who feel like most vegetables are just missing something, hummus is a healthy way to add some flavour.
It’s healthy and tasty—both good reasons on their own. Being high in protein, it helps you feel full for longer as protein takes longer to digest. Amongst its many benefits, you will find that hummus contains manganese, iron, fibre and Vitamin C.
Beware to not overindulge in this healthy and delicious dip as it is rather high in carbohydrates and fat. So use it sparingly with those vegetables of yours if you’re watching your carb intake or when trying to lose a few pounds.
Just because it teems with health benefits, don’t double-dip every broccoli piece in it or use the carrot stick as a hummus shovel.
It’s important to remember that even healthy foods may have some drawbacks. One thing is certain though: it will improve the taste of those dull-tasting vegetables.
The Steam Scheme
I’m sure many of you steam vegetables, so the next step should be seamless. While eating steamed vegetables on their own is always a good idea, largely because steaming cooks the vegetables while retaining much of the nutrient content, some people just find them plain-tasting. And to be honest, I feel like that too, sometimes.
Here’s what I do to improve their taste.
Instead of having these steamed vegetables as a side, I add them to my rice or *quinoa dishes, along with a healthy teriyaki sauce as the icing on the proverbial cake.
Doing so can serve a dual function. Not only will you tend to eat more of those bland vegetables if their taste is enhanced by teriyaki rice, you will likely eat less of the carbohydrate-heavy rice because adding all those vegetables will make the portion appear larger, tricking your brain into thinking you’ve had more to eat than you actually had.
*Quinoa, in and of itself, is brimming with health benefits: great for those with allergies, gluten-free, rich in amino acids, high in protein, while having a low glycemic index.
So go ahead and trick that brain of yours, and add those steamed vegetables to rice and quinoa.
Next on ‘let’s-introduce-more-vegetables-to-your-diet’ menu is a remedy for those who just don’t like salads, without all those delicious and un-nutritious dressings and additions.
Here’s what I suggest to jump the leafy greens hump.
Start with leafy greens as your base. Bear with me for a moment. Then, add a freshly-cooked, sliced chicken breast, along with some sliced sweet potatoes to the mix. Use a bowl of generous size and proportion these right: say, 50% of the bowl comprises greens, 20% sweet potatoes and the rest, that’s 30%, chicken. As dressing, add a dash of extra-virgin olive oil, and apple-cider or balsamic vinegar.
Now why these ingredients in these proportions you ask?
If you don’t like the taste of greens such as lettuce, spinach or kale, you are more likely to eat them if mixed with the sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the meaty texture of the chicken. The potatoes and the chicken should mask the less-than-interesting taste of the leafy greens for you.
At the same time, you are less likely to eat more carbs, in this case sweet potatoes, and more vegetables, if they’re mixed with the other mentioned ingredients. Again, tricking your body a little can go a long way.
Chicken, in and of itself, is a healthy, high-protein, lean meat–something that anyone who’s health-conscious should strive to eat. Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than many other carbs, including regular white potatoes, making them a perfect addition to the salad-hater’s salad.
Basta di Pasta
Many of my clients who come in for nutritional counseling looking to lose weight consume carbohydrates such as pasta in too large portions. That’s one of the first things we usually focus on.
An effective way of reducing pasta portions while increasing vegetable intake is to cook or steam your favourite vegetables, chopping them up into bite-sized pieces, then adding them to your pasta.
I would even go as far as placing the cooked or steamed vegetables on the plate first, then adding pasta. If a good part of the plate is filled with vegetables, then it’s likely that less pasta will be added, effectively leading to the consumption of a smaller portion of pasta. The plate will still appear full of food, once again tricking your brain into thinking your portion size has remained unchanged.
Give this method a shot because it often works wonders.
Zoodles can also act as pasta, without all those carbs, of course. To make zoodles, spiralize green and yellow zucchini to mimic pasta. You can add tomato sauce, olive oil and other vegetables to give the zoodles more flavour. Twirl with a fork and eat it like regular pasta.
If you’re not ready to completely give up your beloved pasta, mix zoodles with the regular pasta. I recommend more of the former and less of the latter.
Spaghetti squash can work in a similar way.
Rice ‘n Easy
A good way to cut the carbs and add vegetables can be accomplished with simulated rice—cauliflower rice. Essentially, all you have to do is grate the florets by hand or use a food processor, and you have your bed of simulated rice.
To add flavour to your cauli-rice, saute the cauliflower in olive oil with some garlic and onions. The cauliflower rice can also be used in various stir-fry recipes.
To up your intake of vegetables, you can also turn to bean sprouts. According to Chatelaine.com, bean sprouts are high in Vitamin K, fibre and choline, while being low in calories—which is naturally conducive to weight maintenance and weight loss.
Bean sprouts can be added to your stir fry or, as suggested with cauliflower rice, act as a bed of rice. You can simply place the cooked chicken and vegetables right over the sprouts for a healthy, low-carbohydrate meal.
Yes, lettuce-sandwich, a.k.a. lettwich.
In essence, this entails wrapping your desired protein source (lean turkey or chicken, preferably) and other sandwich contents with a larger lettuce leaf instead of bread. While adding more greens to your daily consumption, you are also reducing your bread intake.
If you’re not too fond of lettuce, try using a cabbage leaf instead, making it a cabbwich. Again, if you’re not ready to do away with bread altogether, use a slice of bread as the bottom of the sandwich while adding a lettuce or cabbage leaf to the top.
Ome-let the Vegetables In
Another great way to introduce more vegetables into your meals can be achieved by adding mushrooms, zucchini, spinach or peppers to an omelet. Not only will doing so add texture and flavour to your eggs, it will provide valuable nutrients and vitamins via the greens. It’s quick and easy.
Smooth It Out
The beauty of a smoothie rests with its versatility. It can be downed for breakfast, as a snack or as a pre- or post-workout fuelling drink. Adding vegetables such as spinach or baby kale to a smoothie is simple without altering the taste of the smoothie itself too much. In order to speed up the process, buy the mentioned greens pre-washed.
It’s Easy Being Green
A scoop of a green supplement mixed with a glass of water can swiftly add about 5-6 servings of vegetables to your daily consumption. In addition, many of these greens carry numerous nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed by our bodies. Here’s a sample.
There you go, vegetable-hater, these simple ways can swiftly introduce more vegetables, and in turn, more nutrients and vitamins into your daily consumption without having to overhaul the way you eat.
Give it a try and feel free to share feedback. If you know how to introduce more vegetables into your diet in other ways, leave me a comment.
Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic Toronto nutritionist who has been counseling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
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