According to surveys, less than 27 percent of Americans eat the three servings of veggies recommended daily by the CDC, and the vegetables we do eat tend to be lower in nutrients (iceberg lettuce) or part of unhealthy dishes (French fries and pizza).
It shouldn’t be this way! Not only are vegetables delicious, eating them can reduce obesity and disease rates and help solve most of our health and lifestyle problems. This article will give you the motivation you need to include vegetables at every meal.
#1: Reduce Body Fat
Most people think of vegetables as “healthy” but they don’t necessarily make the connection that eating more of them is one of the best things they can do to get lean.
First, vegetables are extremely low in calories. A cup of vegetables averages about 50 calories, with many vegetables like leafy greens and celery being even lower. In contrast, a cup of nuts or seeds can average 750 calories, whereas a cup of rice or pasta is going to be closer to 200 calories.
In addition, the body uses most of the energy provided to chew and digest vegetables. And because veggies are high in fiber and undigestible carbohydrates, they are more filling than refined carbs that spike blood sugar due to a fast digestion pattern.
Eat These: Spinach, kale, chard, collards, celery, green peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower, asparagus, onion, and garlic.
#2: They’re A Free For All Food
Being mindful of portions is key if you want to be lean and healthy. But sometimes we just want to be able to eat until we feel full instead of having to worry about calories.
Green vegetables are great for this because they contain a very small caloric load and are packed with nutrients that improve energy metabolism in the body. In addition, veggies require a lot of chewing, which is known to increase the release of hormones that make you satisfied.
Moderate These: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other starches aren’t free for all foods (think of them in the same way you would grains) and should be eaten in moderation.
#3: Raise Energy Levels
Vegetables are packed with antioxidants that will support mitochondrial health, which is important for anyone on a high-protein diet. You may recall from elementary biology that mitochondria turn energy from food into ATP to fuel cellular activity.
The byproduct of this process is free radicals, which bounce around, damaging everything in sight and accelerating aging. The antioxidants in veggies and fruit help the body to eradicate free radicals that damage cells, DNA, and hamper energy production.
Eat These: Leafy greens, avocados, olives, asparagus, artichoke, and broccoli.
#4: Fight Inflammation
A related benefit of nutrient-rich plants is that they will fight oxidative stress that builds up and causes inflammation. Where does this oxidative stress come from?
Everything from hard training, to lack of sleep, to processed food diets, to foods rich in protein. For example, a 2013 study from Tufts University found that although people who ate more high-protein foods had more lean muscle mass, they also had more oxidative stress than people who had less muscle and a higher body fat percentage.
Scientists were concerned with this association and suggest that people who eat diets rich in protein should increase fruits and vegetables because this will raise blood antioxidant capacity and reduce inflammation.
Eat These: Kale, chard, collards, beets, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, olives, garlic, onions, and colored peppers.
#5: A Healthier Gut
Veggies provide a host of benefits for easy digestion and a healthy gut:
- They’re more than 75 percent water, which is key for optimal bowel function.
- They are packed with fiber, which helps to flush out waste and gastric irritants.
- They contain prebiotics, which are indigestible carbs that feed the healthy bacteria in the gut.
- They encourage better chewing, which is critical because when large particles of protein foods reach the gut, they feed harmful gut bacteria that produce inflammation.
Eat These: Green peas, Jerusalem artichoke, cooked and cooled potatoes, and green bananas.
#6: Improve Estrogen Metabolism
A simple way to get protection from excess estrogen is to eat cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli every day. Too much estrogen, either due to hormonal imbalances or from exposure to chemicals that mimic estrogen, increases cancer risk and causes a number of side effects, including difficulty losing bod fat.
The cruciferous veggies contain protective compounds called DIM and sulforophane that improve the metabolism of estrogen from the body, thereby lower cancer risk.
Eat These: Broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts.
#7: Stronger Bones
Most people think of dairy as the best bone protecting food, but vegetables are actually far superior due to their high nutrient and antioxidant load and the fact that they are very alkalizing.
For bone health, you need a number of different nutrients, but what most people are lacking isn’t calcium. It’s vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium all of which are provided in colorful vegetables. Vitamin D is also necessary, and this is best gotten from sun exposure or a supplement.
In addition, vegetables help to improve the body’s pH and alkalize the body, which is key because when the diet is more acidic due to grains, dairy, and animal products, bone health is compromised.
Eat These: Tomatoes, leafy greens—especially spinach, broccoli, and green peas.
#8: Reduce Stress
Vegetables provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals that the body can’t synthesize, and many of these nutrients can help shield you from stress.
This is a game-changer if you want to lose body fat, because stress alters hormones that make you more likely to overeat. Stress also increases disease risk by raising inflammation in the body that leads to cell damage, plaque buildup in the arteries, and insulin resistance.
For example, magnesium and vitamin C are two nutrients that are quickly depleted during stressful times. Magnesium will calm the central nervous system, conveying a calming effect that makes you more resilient and improves sleep. Vitamin C supports immunity and aids the body in metabolizing the stress hormone cortisol.
Eat These: Mushrooms, leafy greens, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cruciferous veggies, green beans, and bell peppers.
#9: “Detox” Daily
Most readers know that detoxification isn’t a once a year thing if you want to be healthy. It’s something that should be occurring every day as the body metabolizes and eliminates waste products. Vegetables are key player in making this happen.
Besides all the good stuff vegetables do for your gut, they also provide nutrients that stimulate liver function and help the body to eliminate both foreign compounds like pesticides and excess hormones.
Root vegetables are especially beneficial because they contain elements that help to “clean” out the gut and support the body’s lymphatic system.
Eat These: Turnips, beets, carrots, ginger, radishes, onion, garlic, and dandelion.
#10: Convenient & Natural
Forget the “natural,” “healthy,” and “high-fiber” claims on packaged food. Vegetables bring back value to these meaningless terms.
Not only does eating veggies take you back to nature, vegetables are always available and nutritious—frozen, fresh, dried, preserved, or even canned, veggies can be a quick snack and your go-to meal staple.
Do This: Whether you sauté rainbow chard to eat along with your daily cereal, or toss mushrooms and spinach into your omelet, your first meal of the day is the perfect time to get more veggies into your diet.
#11: Kickstart Other Healthy Habits
Eating vegetables at every meal is the perfect way to kickstart other healthy behaviors. For example, one study found that people who eat more fruits and veggies and less high-fat foods had better executive function that can promote skill development and growth. In particular, better executive function was thought to be pivotal in promoting long-term weight loss in subjects.
Do This: Make sure every meal contains a lower carb vegetable (leafy greens, mushrooms, peppers, cruciferous veggies), high-quality animal protein, and healthy fat.
#12: Stabilize Blood Sugar
Being low in sugar and high in fiber, vegetables are the perfect food for balancing blood sugar. It takes time to break down the cellulose fibers in vegetables, leading to a very slow release of sugar into the blood stream for steady energy.
In addition, the antioxidants vegetables contain have been found to reduce the effect of refined carbs on blood sugar and insulin response. Simply adding a side of leafy greens topped with vinegar or sautéed in coconut oil will reduce the insulin response of bread or pasta.
Eat These: Rainbow and Swiss chard contain anti-diabetic properties and are used in Turkey to stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.