Spring is here! After months of life lying dormant, we witness “newness” all around us. Every spring, I think about planting flowers, fresh herbs and all the vegetables that are coming in the months ahead. We use to plant a huge garden at our first home reaping the benefits all summer long. Now that we have moved on and downsized our yard, I anticipate the opening of the farmer’s markets and the plethora of produce the upcoming months will bring us. My point is that springtime means the fresh vegetables are coming! Today, let’s explore the benefit of vegetables and why we need to eat more of them.
Spring and summer are the perfect time to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals that our body needs. Eating more vegetables helps to improve health and even our waistline. Vegetables are naturally low in calories, full of appetite-suppressing fiber and an important source of vitamins. Many vitamins we need are water-soluble. This means they are dissolved in water and are carried to the tissues but it also means that they cannot be stored. Therefore, we need to replace them daily through the food we eat or in supplement form. Plants, or vegetables, are a major source of these types of vitamins.
Phytonutrients are compounds found in vegetables. While these are not necessary for life, they are beneficial in protecting us from disease and to keep our bodies functioning optimally. Phytonutrients act as antioxidants in the body. Just as the name implies, antioxidants combat the oxidative stress that naturally happens in our body daily. Oxidative stress is the damage that occurs to cells through the oxidative process.
Think of the rust on a car. From environmental exposure to rain, salt, and dust, rust begins to form unless steps are taken to prevent this damage. The same thing occurs at the cellular level in our body from the metabolism of food, environmental exposure to toxins and just everyday activities. Antioxidants help to keep this stress in balance and clean our internal environment. This helps to prevent the development of diseases like cancer or heart disease. They also help to slow down the aging process as well.
Phytochemicals also influence hormone production. Isoflavones found in soy mimic estrogen in our body. Indoles turn up an enzyme produced in our liver that make estrogen less effective in our body. Indoles are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and brussel sprouts. I eat broccoli everyday for this very reason.
Fiber can help us to lose or maintain weight, lower cholesterol, maintain gut health and control blood sugar. Vegetables are naturally high in fiber. Fiber comes in two forms insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber is what is found in many types of vegetables like dark, leafy greens, celery, and carrots. It cannot be completely digested by our body, therefore, it helps food to move more quickly through our digestive tract. It helps to slow how quickly starchy carbohydrates enter the blood stream helping to better control blood sugar. Lastly, diets high in fiber are more filling and satisfying. The FDA advises us to eat roughly 20-30 grams of fiber per day. Many of us don’t even eat half that much.
Here are a few quick tips on how you can start adding more vegetables to your meals right now!
Many of us can remember our mother’s saying “Eat your vegetables!”. They really had our best interest at heart but that made vegetables seem like a punishment. Forget the vegetables from your childhood. Take the opportunity over the next few months to give them a second chance. Try an old one in a new way. Visit farmer’s markets this summer to gather locally grown vegetables since that are more tasty and nutritious. Fresh will always be better than frozen or canned. I challenge you to try a new vegetable recipe each week over the next 4 months and increase your intake. Feel free to share your favorites with me.