There are lots of debates in the nutrition world: Is dairy bad for you? What if it’s raw milk? Which meats are good for you and how much? Is fat, sugar or carbs the culprit to the obesity epidemic, or is it a combination? One fact is never in dispute: Vegetables are good for you–really good for you. Almost all nutritional experts agree that we need to eat a large portion of a variety of vegetables every day.
Upon closer inspection, we find that green vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage contain powerful antioxidants that protect against breast and cervical cancer and help balance estrogen levels; artichokes and dandelion are good for liver health; fennel can be used for colic; and horseradish and garlic have powerful anti-bacterial properties, to name a few.1 All vegetables contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients, lots of fiber and phytochemicals. Supplements can’t replace vegetables. Eat vegetables. Period.
The only questions surrounding vegetables is how to eat them. Organic? Raw? Cooked or slightly cooked? In Step 1, we talked about adding cooked vegetables to dinner. In this step, we are focusing on the importance of raw vegetables. “Salad” can mean any assortment of raw vegetables. In raw vegetables, “phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals are in much higher concentrations.”2 This is true for most non-starchy vegetables. There are a few exceptions such as carrots and tomatoes whose key nutrients are better absorbed after cooking. Many experts recommend eating at least 1/2 of your vegetables RAW every day.2,3 Organic is also a good option, but it’s important to go into it with your eyes open. Read more about organic.
Dressing helps you absorb nutrients
This is a fun claim that many dressing companies are putting on their labels recently. It stems from the fact that some nutrients like caritenoids and vitamin A are fat soluble. If you eat fat with these vegetables, they will be better absorbed by your body. Yay for fat! But, don’t reach for the ranch yet! We have seen from Step 2, that there are many forms of healthy fats that are much better for our bodies and our waist. Instead of eating large portions of ranch, reach for nuts, seeds, avocados and occasionally olive oil. Many healthy dressings can be EASILY made using a blender.
One Caution is Processed Foods
For example, in America we eat lots of potatoes and corn, which are technically vegetables. They are mostly eaten as french fries, potato chips, corn chips and corn starch. It doesn’t take a nutritional genius to see that these super-processed forms do not contain the same nutrients or health benefits of the original plant. Although corn and potatoes are not top on the list of healthiest vegetables, they do contain beneficial nutrients and fiber. I’m not suggesting that you throw them out of your diet completely, but be mindful of how you eat them.
As with all of our steps, this one is meant to be a general guide. There is no perfect way of eating that fits everyone at every age in every season. Times change, we change and so do our needs. In this step, we are going to add a small salad for lunch OR eat a large salad as lunch. To illustrate my point about the need for adaptation, I’m going to share my general palette during the summer and winter months:
Lots of grains, squash and potatoes, homemade bread
mixed vegetables, cooked
Lots of soup
some fruit, mostly apples
about 1 head lettuce per week
small side of raw veggies at mealtime
Almost no grains
Lots of salads of all kinds, wraps, sandwiches (sometimes every meal of the day)
Lots of smoothies and fruit
some cooked greens
3-4 heads of lettuce per week (just me)
almost no meat
Not interested in soup or squash
I kind of go with what my body feels like eating. Experts recommend that you eat in season1, because the earth provides what we need in the season that we need it. Squash, soup and meat tend to raise body temperature–needed in the wintertime while raw vegetables contain lots of water and lower body temperature–needed in the summertime.
This is all to say, don’t feel bad about not eating a HUGE salad every day in the wintertime when you body doesn’t want or need that.
1. Eat a large (summer) or small (winter) portion of raw vegetables every day.
- Mixed green lettuce with cut vegetables, beans, seeds, etc. and healthy dressing
- Kale, spinach, bok choy, cabbage, and brussels sprouts salads. Generally these can be shredded and topped with red onion, shredded apple and shredded carrot and served with tasted pumpkin seeds and a balsamic dressing.
- Vegetable sticks with dips like hummus, babba ganouche, guacamole, etc.
- Wraps-diced or vegetables sticks and beans in a whole-grain wrap, rice wrap or lettuce wrap.
- Smoothies and blended salads. Smoothies usually contain lots of fruit and very little vegetables. This can be good, especially if you’re not a real veggie lover. If you do like vegetables, I recommend blending almost any salad and drinking it if you are on the go. I make one smoothie that’s practically like drinking salsa (minus the salt). I love it, but I realize it’s not everyone’s “thing”
- Whole-grain sandwiches or pitas, loaded with vegetables, including bean sprouts and others that you might not always eat.
2. Stay clear of highly-processed vegetables like potato chips, french fries, “vegetable” pancakes, etc. They are not going to give you the benefits you are looking for.
Every step needs a whole cookbook to go with it! I wish we had the space for that on each post. We’ll give you some recipes shortly. For now, keep it simple and branch out as you have time.
Eat healthy foods. Listen to your body. Be honest with yourself.
- Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why. Fair Winds Press; 2007: 10, 17-52.
- Dee McCaffrey, CDC. The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding your Body’s Chemistry–and Stop Dieting Forever. Da Capo Press; 2012: 224.
- Fuhrman, Joel, M.D. Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition. Little, Brown and Company; 2011:50.