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In my last blog post we covered protein, an area in which lots of us are missing the mark, and an area in which there’s much misunderstanding. This week, we’re going to talk about another area that – while maybe not as exciting as protein – is just as important in terms of eating to be lean, strong, and healthy.
We’re going to be talking about making a habit of eating your freaking greens. That is, eating a crap load of vegetables every day.
Eat Your Freaking Greens
Eating a crap load of vegetables every day doesn’t sound like much fun, I know. However, this is an important habit when it comes to pursuing a lean, strong, healthy body. The main point in doing this is to help ensure that we’re getting adequate fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (which we’ll cover shortly) that keep our digestion, immune systems, and countless other bodily functions running smoothly.
Not only does eating a vegetables help with these not-so-immediate (but still important) health benefits, but – like eating protein with every meal – eating a crap ton of vegetables will help keep your appetite at bay and reduce unnecessary cravings.
Along with protein, upping your veggies should lead to more easily eating the right amount.
Below we’ll talk about the following aspects of eating a crap load of vegetables:
- What Foods “Count” as Vegetables?
- Why Should I Eat Vegetables?
- What Are The Best Vegetables?
- How Much is “a Crap Load”?
- What to Do Next
What Foods “Count” as Vegetables?
The primary purpose of this habit is to ensure that we’ve got adequate micronutrient intake to stay healthy and to normalize hunger signals. This means we’re going to focus on nutrient-dense “non-starchy” vegetables. That is, we’re going to look for vegetables that are low in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) but high in beneficial and essential nutrients.
Don’t get me wrong, carbohydrates play a role in a healthy diet but for the purpose of this habit we’re focusing elsewhere.
Non-starchy vegetables are typically leafy, colorful, and crunchy (e.g.) broccoli, peppers, spinach). They are low in carbs (starches and sugars) and high in fiber, Starchy vegetables are those like peas, acorn squash, yams, parsnips, potatoes, butternut squash, and pumpkin.
For clarification, corn (a grain) and beans (legumes) are not vegetables. Again, these can play a role in a healthy diet, but we’ll be covering them in a later blog post.
Why Should I Eat Vegetables?
As mentioned above, we’re looking for fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
First of all, dietary fiber helps us feel full, which is always a big help when trying to naturally get and stay lean. Fiber’s also critical for gut health. While the “regularity” benefits attributed to high-fiber diets may be more the result of the exclusion of refined carbohydrates, fiber does act as “food” for the trillions of bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria affect our digestion, immune system, energy levels, and even mood and cognition.
I’m not going to be delve in detail into a bunch of benefits of various vitamins and minerals. That would be boring and I’d probably screw it up anyway. Instead I’ll provide a brief list of some of the nutrients we can get from vegetables, how they benefit us, and in which veggies they are found:
- Vitamin C – helps repair and regenerate tissue, boost the immune system (red peppers, kale)
- Folate (not folic acid) – important part of DNA and RNA creation (brussels sprouts, asparagus)
- Potassium – supports cardiovascular health and electrolyte balance (spinach)
- Carotenoids – orange, yellow, and red pigments (phytonutrients) that protect against cellular damage, aging, and some chronic diseases (carrots, tomatoes, other veggies of these colors)
- Isothiocyanates – antioxidants that protect cells from damage (broccoli, cauliflower, other cruciferous veggies)
But Can’t I Take a Multi-vitamin Instead?
Truthfully, I don’t know.
I’ve heard compelling arguments both ways but it’s my understanding that multi-vitamins do not provide the same health benefits as whole food vegetables. I think it has something to do with the fact that mutli-vitamins only contain a handful of nutrients we know about that represents only a small fraction of the thousands of nutrients, chemicals, and cofactors that are found in whole foods that interact with one another when we eat them.
That said, some people like the peace of mind that comes from taking a multi. If that floats your boat, go ahead. I really am not sure about this one. Sorry!
What Are The Best Vegetables?
When seeking to maximize nutrient density, think back to the guidelines of “leafy, colorful, and crunchy”, but the ultimate goal is to find veggies that you enjoy. Some examples to get you started are broccoli, peppers, spinach, carrots, kale, eggplant, cauliflower, mushrooms, arugula, romaine, cucumber, summer squash, zucchini, chard, watercress, celery, and collards.
If you’re having trouble finding vegetables that sound appealing to you, that’s totally cool. For many, vegetables are like wine, beer, or coffee (which all kick ass) in that they are an acquired taste. While figuring this out, you may experiment with different cooking methods also – raw, sautéed, steamed, roasted, grilled. For example, steaming usually creates a softer, sweeter veggies, whereas roasting or grilling creates a stronger, crunchier veggies. Complementing your greens up with salt, herbs, spices, or healthy fats (which we’ll also cover in a later blog post) can also really set off their flavor.
Again, the end goal here is to find a variety of vegetables that you enjoy and will eat consistently.
How Much is “a Crap Load”?
“Crap load” hasn’t yet been defined by the U.S. or SI systems, so I’ll help you out a bit here.
As you may already be aware, I’m a big fan of Precision Nutrition’s method of using our hands as a reference for serving sizes. For vegetables, a good rule-of-thumb to aim for at least 5 fist-sized servings of vegetables each day, preferably coming from vegetables of a variety of colors (e.g. green, red, yellow, orange, purple, white). The color variety should help ensure that we’re getting a wide variety of different nutrients.
As far as an upper limit is concerned, there really isn’t one. If you love veggies, go ahead and eat them to your little heart’s content. You can also choose to eat them at whatever frequency you prefer. Some people enjoy eating one huge serving of veggies with a single meal, whereas others prefer to eat a couple of fistfuls with every meal.
- Vegetables are nutrient dense, non-starchy, colorful, leafy plants that we eat.
- Eating veggies helps ensure adequate intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
- Focus on finding vegetables that you enjoy and don’t be afraid to experiment.
- Aim for at least 5 “fist-sized” servings of vegetables per day, preferably from a variety of colors.
What to Do Next
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