As a life-long vegetable lover, I’m always a bit mystified when a patient says, “I hate vegetables.” First of all, hate is such a strong word that it hardly seems applicable to a humble vegetable. But apparently, some people feel very strongly about this issue.
What a pity! If, like me, you regularly read medical research, you would know that thousands of studies repeatedly confirm the health benefits of vegetables. I am not talking about vague or minor advantages but about major, life-changing improvements from consuming plant products. More specifically, people who eat the most vegetables enjoy the following benefits:
- Longer life
- Reduced risk of developing many common chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Fewer negative moods
- Significant reduction (50%) in the risk of developing pancreatic cancer as well as other types of cancer
- Lower probability of obesity
- Lower blood pressure and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
Please be aware of one thing: You do not have to eliminate meat from your diet entirely to enjoy these benefits. You simply need to eat 7 to 10 servings of vegetables daily. Many patients find that amount frightening. “How on earth am I ever going to do that?” is a response that comes up again and again.
But I’m here to tell you that 7 to 10 servings of veggies is an achievable goal. I’ve seen ordinary people do it, and they’re healthier and happier than those who ignore my advice. After all, I see the consequences of the meat-and-potatoes or processed/fast-food diets every single day. I see it in the form of obesity, diabetes and prediabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and quite a few other serious health issues. I’ve also seen these conditions respond quite favorably to lifestyle makeovers that include adding plenty of vegetables and fruits to the diet.
Why Vegetables Are Important
If you’re still dubious, think about the big picture. Humans evolved in a world without Twinkies, chili fries, and bacon cheeseburgers the size of a dinner plate, primarily by eating a plant-based diet. Of course, early humans hunted animals for meat, and they fished if they were near water. But not every hunting or fishing expedition was successful, so plants played a huge role in our ancestors’ diet. Only in the last few centuries have humans begun to indulge in high-sugar, high-fat foods, bringing us to the current epidemic of health disasters, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more.
For more than two decades, I’ve been on the front lines, dealing with patients who are unwitting victims of a food industry designed to sell us substances that are not in our best interests. Many of these products are developed in laboratories, where chemicals create flavor in a test tube and researchers manipulate ingredients to appeal to our innate preferences for sweetness and fat. When you see phrases like “pasteurized prepared cheese product” on food packaging or ingredients that you can’t pronounce, much less identify, you know we’re not talking about real food.
But real food is exactly what we should be talking about, especially vegetables. Yet for many people, these largely inexpensive, widely available, health-promoting foods are the last things they want on their plates. I’ve heard all the excuses, from “Vegetables take too much effort to prepare” to “I just hate the taste.”
How to Get More Veggies in Your Meals
Well, guess what — I refuse to give up. So I’ve gathered 11 tips to help you, someone in your family, or a friend overcome vegetable resistance.
- Go local. For best flavor, buy local, seasonal veggies. This is especially true for anyone who is tired of flavor-free supermarket produce. Who can blame you? Foods that spend days or weeks in cold storage lose flavor and nutrients, even though they may look wonderful. Try shopping at a local farmer’s market, where you should be able to find good prices on just-picked produce. And whenever possible, choose organic vegetables, especially potatoes, peppers, and leafy greens (the types of supermarket produce most likely to be loaded with dangerous pesticides).
- Buy smart. Many patients tell me they would like to eat more veggies, but produce goes bad too quickly, and they don’t like throwing away food. Here’s a simple solution: Buy more root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes, and the like. Our ancestors stored root vegetables in cool, underground cellars where they lasted for months, providing nutrition during the dark days of winter. Root veggies will last for months in your refrigerator, too, although I do hope you eat them before that.
- Cook simply. How? By roasting. All you need are vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and a few fresh or dried herbs. (By the way, I recommend going easy on the salt so that it won’t overwhelm the flavor of the vegetables.) My patient Arthur, who was not exactly skilled in the kitchen, found that roasting suited him perfectly. “I pop a pan of little potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots (and whatever other ‘roastables’ are in the fridge) into the oven. Then I set the timer so I know when to stir them up a little, and before I know it, they’re done,” he explained. “And the best part is, they taste great!”
- Make extra. If you don’t like vegetables because they take extra time to prepare, I suggest doubling recipes and saving the leftovers — in the fridge or freezer — so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Slow cookers provide another easy way to save time because you don’t even have to be there while the cooking is taking place. If you make an 8-serving recipe, you can put half in the fridge, half in the freezer, and you can eat well for days after.
- Mix it up. Here’s a sneaky way to serve more veggies. Make a pot of vegetable soup, and then purée it in the food processor with favorite seasonings. When my children were small, I found this was the best way to get them to eat veggies, without tears. Since then, I’ve suggested the same method to countless patients and have heard nothing but positive feedback. The flavors of puréed vegetables blend together beautifully, creating a nutritious, delicious way to begin a meal. Or add a slice of whole-grain bread and a small portion of chicken or fish for a light supper.
- Cook it right. Quite a few patients who tell me they “hate” vegetables have eaten only canned or boiled versions. If you don’t believe that cooking methods make a huge difference, here’s a simple experiment you can try at home: Set up a taste test with canned green beans and fresh green beans that have been lightly sautéed in olive oil with sliced mushrooms and chopped onions and/or garlic. After you taste both, I think you’ll agree that there’s no comparison. How vegetables are prepared can make all the difference.
- Get creative. Check your local bookstore, the television schedule, or the Internet for cooking ideas involving fresh veggies with herbs and spices. Local adult education services frequently offer cooking classes, too, where you can meet people with similar interests and share ideas while learning new ways to prepare veggies. Stir-frying, for example, is a quick, easy way to cook a variety of veggies at once, and you can learn how in just an hour or so.
- Go raw. Sometimes the best way to discover the true flavor of a vegetable is to eat it raw with a small amount of low-fat dip. Now that supermarkets stock fresh, cleaned, trimmed vegetables specifically to be eaten raw, why not try a few? It could change your mind. I like to have a platter of raw vegetables to snack on while I’m cooking dinner. They take the edge off my hunger without adding many calories.
- Hide it. Sneak veggies into favorite dishes, such as casseroles, burgers, or meat loaf. Simply grate a few different veggies — carrots, zucchini, and turnips, for example — or finely chop broccoli or cauliflower florets, and add them to your favorite dishes. The vegetable flavor is usually mild enough to blend into the other ingredients, and you still get the health benefits.
- Just juice it. Collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, peppers, carrots, Swiss chard, spinach, beets, ginger, celery, avocados, and cabbage are some of the top juicing choices. These vegetables are readily available and loaded with nutrition, and they can provide you with healthy servings of vitamins and minerals along with enzymes that initiate thousands of essential chemical reactions in the body.In addition, with juicing you can skip cooking and take advantage of the nutrients not compromised by heat. Furthermore, with the indigestible fiber removed, the nutrients are much more bioavailable, so your body actually gets more nutrition from juice than from the same vegetables if they were cooked. Another benefit: Juicing only non-starchy vegetables prevents blood sugar and insulin spikes.
- You will need to purchase a juicer (the best type is a centrifugal juicer like the Juice Master Pro), but it’s an investment that pays a big return in terms of health improvement. I start every day with a glass of juice made from kale or Swiss chard plus spinach, celery, lemon, apple (or a few drops of stevia or a couple teaspoons of organic honey), carrot, avocado, and alkaline water. Not only is it delicious, but I also get lots of veggies without much effort.
- Make it fun. Finally, here’s a trick I learned from a patient I’ll call Katie. She and her husband were both prediabetic when she decided to overhaul their meals to include more vegetables. Katie had been very resistant to improving her diet before the diagnosis of prediabetes, but now she was motivated. Instead of complaining about having to spend too much time in the kitchen to get a proper meal, Katie decided to make the kitchen more fun. She installed a small television in one corner and made meal preparation an event she and her husband Joe could share. “We listen to the news or a talk show while we wash and cut the veggies, or we turn on a music channel and have glass of wine while we’re cooking,” she explained. “It’s fun, almost like a little party! Now instead of dreading the ‘What are we having for dinner’ question, I look forward to evenings when we figure that out.”
For anyone who — for one reason or another — just can’t manage to work 7 to 10 daily servings of vegetables into the day, I’ve formulated a shortcut. My Ultimate Greens product is designed to provide you with the same amount of nutrients that are found in 30 servings of fruits and vegetables. Keep it on hand for days when there’s no time to cook or you just feel like skipping the stove time. If you combine the suggestions above with a little instant gratification in the form of Ultimate Greens, you’ll see how easy it is to put veggie power to work for you.