Based on the Simplified Eating Plan we laid out in our post on December 31st, the first critical step to improve your health is to:
Increase your vegetable intake, period!
Vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. They are nutritious and health giving, providing a great deal of vitamins and minerals that protect us from disease. They also add texture and variety to our diet. Vegetables may be eaten raw or cooked, in dishes or alone.
Most of us are not getting nearly enough vegetables each day, especially the dark leafy green ones! More than any other vegetables, dark leafy greens really deliver. The dark, vibrancy of the leaves is indicative of the high-quality nutrients within. Eating dark leafy greens helps with weight loss, detoxification, clear skin, pH balance, and blood nourishment (due to the chlorophyll, which is highest in dark leafy greens).
But let’s not focus on all the benefits of eating greens and other vegetables – we all know the proven health benefits. Let’s just add them to our personal health-regime! The bulk of one’s diet should consist of vegetables. This doesn’t mean you suddenly have to become a vegetarian. Simply start to design your meals to include more vegetables, preferably half of your (medium-sized) plate.
Make a commitment to start steadily increasing
your intake of dark leafy greens and vegetables!
Here are 4 simple ways to start increasing your intake:
1. If you’ve never eaten vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, aim to include them 2-3 times a week then work toward having them at least once a day. This is a perfectly realistic and achievable goal within 3 to 6 months. Ultimately your aim should be one vegetable source at each meal. Remember, vegetables are naturally low in calories. You can eat loads before feeling satiated and not worry about ‘getting too much.’ If you don’t like vegetables, you certainly ought to make an effort to learn.
Aim for ONE vegetable AT EVERY MEAL
2. Pick up a different green, or vegetable, from the market/grocery store every week and incorporate them into your favorite recipes. There are so many amazing and wonderful vegetables out there. Don’t let ‘not knowing how to cook them’ discourage you. Do a search online. Start with simple recipes. Delicious food does not have to be complicated. If you use fresh, quality ingredients, the natural richness will provide ample flavor, requiring very little tweaking. There are countless ways you can use greens (or any vegetable for that matter). Don’t try greens on their own, right off the bat. Let your taste buds adapt. Try them braised with onions, lemon and garlic; in an egg scramble or quiche; added to your favorite soup… Take note of the recipes you like and start a collection. Use these when you start creating your weekly meal plan.
Vary the type of vegetables you eat each day so that you don’t get sick of the same old stand-bys. All vegetables have some unique and healthy benefit. Variety will help to ensure that you are getting lots of fiber and all of the vitamins and minerals you need.
Recipe Link: Braised Collard Greens with Bacon
Stay tuned for our upcoming post on Trying New Vegetables
(How to Cook Obscure Vegetables).
3. While we emphasize the importance of breakfast, we also understand that due to personal life/career choices, many people either skip breakfast entirely or grab something quick that they can eat on the go. One smart way to ensure you eat breakfast and get your greens is to make a smoothie. This is not a ‘green juice’ – we want you getting all that beneficial fiber. A good blender is crucial to achieve a smooth and palatable texture. (Check out Vitamix or Ninja). There are many Green Smoothie recipes online. I suggest starting with a milder green such as spinach until your taste buds have adjusted to the flavor and textural quality of greens. I’ve often heard people say, “Oh, I don’t like kale,” but then I give them a smoothie with kale in it and they are shocked that they can’t even taste it.
Be Patient, Be Adventurous, and Be Open!
4. When eating greens raw, use the darker, high-quality lettuces, preferably organic. Get them in whole form (as a head), as these are better quality and actually cheaper than the packaged variety. You will have to do more thorough cleaning (though I recommend washing even those greens that come prepackaged. They are often dipped in a light-chlorine bath to kill microbes). A good salad-spinner is quite affordable and requires minimal clean-up. It’s worth the extra effort.
NOTE: While salads are a great addition to a meal, I encourage you to continue to strive for one dark leafy green a day as one of your daily vegetable servings.
Cooked Versus Raw
With all the differing opinions on cooked versus raw food, I suggest that you Listen To YOUR Body. Your body is the Authority. It knows All. We simply need to learn to understand its language and listen to it. More and more individuals are struggling with sensitive digestion and would do best to focus more on cooked vegetables as they are more easily broken down and utilized. As healing gets underway, one can slowly begin to introduce some raw vegetables as the body allows.
These days, there are many people that use the microwave oven for convenience and quick results. While quality research has yet to be done regarding the effects of microwaved foods on our health, we do know that microwaving does, in fact, diminish some of the important vitamins in our food, as well as damaging fragile polyunsaturated oils (prevalent in pre-made foods). It’s best to avoid using the microwave oven for your cooking and heating needs. Reheating with the stove-top, or oven, the old-fashioned way, takes more time but is well worth the health-saving benefits. Try instead to use some of these quick and easy techniques: toaster oven, water sauté, steam, quick boil, sauté, and stir fry with oil…
Make slow, steady changes. If you rely heavily on the microwave currently, aim to decrease your use to three times a week. Get a toaster oven. Work toward ending your reliance upon the microwave and find the joy of cooking once again.
For more in-depth research into the hazards of microwave cooking, check out these articles:
The Hidden Hazards of Microwave Cooking by Anthony Wayne and Lawrence Newell
The Dangers of Microwave Ovens Everyone Needs to Know The Body Ecology
Purchasing seasonal vegetables is an important step toward improving your diet. If you are still wondering why seasonal is better, go try a tomato (likely a beefsteak) from your local grocer today. Likely you will find it to be mealy and relatively lacking in flavor, as tomatoes are not a winter crop. (Write down your findings somewhere that you can refer back to at a later date). Come mid-summer, try a ripe tomato from the farmer’s market. Tell me you can’t immediately taste the difference.
Every season brings with it a richness of colors and flavors, enhancing our enjoyment of food. There is a dramatic difference in the nutritional quality of foods that are grown in-season and in soil that has not been depleted and chemically altered for years on end. This difference is obvious in the taste and will completely change the way you feel about vegetables and fruit.
Seasonal produce is more affordable than produce that is out of season and grown elsewhere around the world, requiring shipping and chemicals to encourage ‘proper’ ripening and color. There are many ways to shop seasonally, and locally for that matter. Check out local farmers markets and CSAs near you. If these are not available, check the local produce section at your local grocer. Consider writing to them to let them know that you are interested in getting more local produce available in your area. Recruit others to do the same. Grocers are more likely to support this change when they know that people are ready for it.
If you focus on nothing else from what was shared above, at least take this one message home with you:
When committing to your health,
the first step is to make sure fresh vegetables are part of every meal!