Whether you’re omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan, eating plenty of vegetables is key to good health.
One of the most consistent findings in the entire field of nutrition is that people who eat the most vegetables and fruit tend to enjoy far better health than people who eat the least produce. They are generally leaner and less likely to die from cancer and heart disease. Accordingly, governments worldwide have long promoted the “5-a-day” concept to encourage people to eat more produce. But many health experts believe that even five servings of vegetables and fruits a day fall short of what’s optimal, and that we would be better off striving to eat at least seven servings a day.
Vegetables are the roots, the stalks, or the leaves of plants. In other words, vegetables are the edible non-fruit parts of any plant. They come in an incredible variety of textures, colors, and flavors.
Fruit, by contrast, is the seed-bearing food that forms from the flowers of plants and trees. Squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, and tomatoes are frequently thought of as vegetables when in reality they’re fruit, as evidenced by the fact that they all contain seeds. Regardless of their categorization, all these fruits are savory like vegetables and comparably nutritious. So for all practical purposes, you might as well think of these foods as vegetables unless you’re taking a botany exam.
Shopping for Vegetables
No matter how great your cooking skills, the only way to eat substantial amounts of vegetables is to buy (or grow!) substantial amounts of vegetables. So when you’re out shopping, make a point of surveying your grocery cart before you push it to the check-out lane. If you realize you’re light on veggies, just head back to the produce section and make amends.
A supermarket is rarely the best place to buy vegetables and fruits. If you’ve got a farmers’ market in your community, you’ll be able to find a far better quality of produce than what your supermarket is likely to carry. The prices are often better too, and you’ll be supporting your community’s local farmers rather than distant agribusiness.
Buying loads of vegetables won’t do you any good if you allow them to slowly rot in the refrigerator. The best way to ensure you’ll actually eat your vegetables is to cook a bunch immediately after getting home from the market. The chips and the frozen Mac & Cheez can wait until another day. Simply get into the habit of preparing your just-purchased veggies right away, and you’ll significantly reduce your food waste and boost your total vegetable consumption.
Are Organic Vegetables Worth the Extra Money?
Organic food has turned into a huge industry, and you should have no trouble finding organic produce for sale locally. At many natural foods stores, the produce section will be mainly or entirely organic. Unfortunately, organically-grown vegetables sometimes cost more than double their conventionally-grown counterparts. So it’s reasonable to ask: is it worth paying more for organic vegetables?
There’s no doubt that organic produce carries far less pesticide residues, so that alone may be sufficient reason for you to choose organic whenever possible. That said, not all organic foods are grown to uniformly high standards. And just like seafood and honey, some purportedly “organic” farmers commit fraud related to mislabeling. On top of all this, a great deal of organic food is grown in conventional-style monocultures, and is trucked long distances.
But don’t let any of this dissuade you from buying organic. If you know what you’re doing, you can buy high-quality organic food at very reasonable prices. Check out our guide to organic foods for a comprehensive overview of the topic.
Popular Vegetable-Based Meals
The best way to increase the amount of vegetables you eat is to learn to cook veggie-heavy meals. Ideally, you’ll get yourself to the point where you know at least one way to prepare any vegetable you encounter.
The ideal starting point for including more vegetables in your diet is to learn how to roast or grill vegetables. Nearly all vegetables are wonderful when prepared this way. You can master the techniques for roasting or grilling vegetables in an afternoon. One of the most delicious methods of vegetable preparation is to cook broccoli or cauliflower on a George Foreman Grill, then season it with a little Earth Balance margarine, or some coconut oil and salt. This method is much quicker than roasting since it traps steam and sears vegetables simultaneously from both sides.
Stir-Fries, Soups, and Salads
Stir-fries are another delicious veggie-heavy meal. They’re easy to make, and perfect for serving over rice, pasta, or any cooked grain. Plus, you can add further variety by seasoning them with any number of sauces including peanut sauce, teriyaki, garlic & tamari, or tahini dressing. To the learn the ins-and-outs of making a world-class stir-fry, check chapter 22 of the Ultimate Vegan Guide.
Soups are a terrific vehicle for adding massive amounts of vegetables to your diet. Just keep in mind that most soups deliver a far greater jolt of sodium than do foods that taste far saltier, like potato chips or tamari-roasted almonds. Perhaps the best way to make soup is in a slow-cooker, since with five minutes’ preparation you can go away for a few hours and return to a steaming pot of perfectly-cooked soup. There are several excellent vegan soup cookbooks and slow-cooker cookbooks on the market.
And finally, salads are the most obvious way to add heaps of veggies to your diet. Many people’s only exposure to salad involves uninspired offerings. Nobody has ever felt excitement eating a salad made of iceberg lettuce, Italian dressing, and two or three other vegetables. But a good salad made with an impressive selection of fresh vegetables and an inspired dressing is remarkably delicious. Grated root vegetables like carrots, beets, and parsnips provide plenty of color and crunch. Also try adding purple cabbage and finely-chopped leafy greens like kale. They’ll add color, nutrients, and new textures that take your salad to the next level.
Nothing will improve your salads as much as a salad spinner. They’ll enable you to quickly spin off a shockingly large amount of water—water that would otherwise dilute your salad dressing and keep it from clinging to your vegetables.
Other essentials for preparing vegetables are:
If you regular cook large meals for groups, a food processor can save enormous amounts of grating and slicing time.
No matter what vegetable-based dish you’re preparing, choose vegetables featuring as many different colors as possible. More colors mean a more visually appealing meal with a greater diversity of flavors, plus you’ll also be guaranteeing yourself a wider range of nutrients.