Invest in your health: Eat vegetables

How we feel hinges in part on what we eat, and vegetables can make a difference.
Posted on Jan. 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

With the new year many of you are thinking about and working at eating healthier, and I know it is not easy. It is easy, however, to develop some unhealthy eating habits through the holidays and then to keep eating that way. I know that some of you have decided not to work at getting back to healthier eating till after the Super Bowl. Well, it has been quite some time since you started splurging in the fall so you might want to get started now and then just have one day of being out of control.

One fact that most of us don’t think about is how we physically feel is really determined by what we eat and drink, what we do physically and what we do mentally. When we make changes to our eating we need to make small changes over time so these habits become a way of life. Before you eat, think about what and how much food goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. Over the day, include foods from all food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy products and lean protein.

A huge difference you can make toward healthier eating for yourself as well as your family members is to prepare, and most of all, to eat more vegetables. When eating more vegetables, plan to eat more red, orange and dark green vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli and tomatoes. I hope by this point you are asking, “How many vegetables should I plan into my healthy eating?” MyPlate suggests that you eat at least 2 1/2 cups every day. I know that I have to really plan and work at eating vegetables to even come close to having 2 1/2 cups in my healthy eating. So you need to know what counts as a cup: 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 2 cups of dark leafy greens. Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables all count. When selecting canned or frozen always select veggies with the least amount of salt.

Vegetables have traditionally been of less interest on the American dinner table. For some time now they have been receiving the attention they deserve. Nutritionally speaking, vegetables are VIFs — “very important foods” — that’s why one of the food groups has vegetables for a first name. Vegetables have to be planned into your meals and snacks at least five times a day so that you eat the recommended 2 1/2 cups. After all, they are one of the most important sources of minerals, fiber and vitamins such as vitamins A and C. The bonus to vegetables is that they are low in calories, which makes them great for meals and especially important for snacking.

Vegetables rich in Vitamin A are needed for good eyesight, growth, healthy skin, bones and teeth. These vegetables include dark green leafy greens such as spinach, Spring mix salad, collards, kale and escarole. The deep yellow vegetables that contain lots of vitamin A are sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and carrots. Tomatoes, tomato products and tomato juice are also high in vitamin A. Vegetables rich in Vitamin C are tomatoes, tomato juice, broccoli, raw green vegetables, cabbage and potatoes.

One of vegetables’ claim to fame is variety. From asparagus to zucchini there is so much to choose from. Have you ever thought about the vegetable parts you eat? From spinach, lettuce and cabbage you eat the leaves. From cauliflower and broccoli you eat the flowers. The seeds of beans, peas and corn are what you eat. The stems of celery, asparagus and rhubarb are the part you eat. The tomato, cucumber and squash are the fruits of their respective plant that you eat. You eat the roots of carrots, beets and sweet potatoes, but white, red or golden potatoes are tubers. When you eat onions and garlic you are eating the bulb. Eating vegetables is an investment in your health. Invest often and enjoy vegetables.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email lienhart@purdue.edu.


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