Bitesize Health Hack #8

You are invited to…

VEG OUT

A lot of health advice out there is all about what to eliminate from your diet and lifestyle.  But at Eat Sleep Play Repeat, we’re all about nourishing yourself with MORE of the good stuff.  And today’s hack is ALL about that.

It also promises to slow down aging1, improve bowel movements, boost immunity²  and increase satiety, which leads to that all-time favourite... weight loss!3  In addition, this hack lowers your risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes4 and improves eyesight11.  How’s that for a sweet bunch of benefits!

homemade vegetables in the hands of men. harvest. selective focus. summer.

THE HACK

EAT 5 cups

of veggies

a day

Spring appetizer with raw vegetables and green pea hummus

The Challenges

"How can I get in 5 cups a day?!?" would be the first challenge for most of us.  But start off slow… nobody is asking you to hit 5 cups today… build up to that over time.  Notice where you are now, so that you can purposefully build on that.

The next challenge is that veggies just don't seem that appealing for those of us raised on grayish, boiled veggies and “eat your greens”.  But you can open up a whole new world of nourishing deliciousness, by making more positive associations around these little nuggets of nutrients.  Try out new recipes, get creative (roast sweet potato, lime and chilli anyone?) and use lots of herbs and spices.  Don’t just boil the same old same old – you can lightly steam, saute or fry, eat raw, or throw into a one-pot dish, where you’ll still get any goodness that steeps out of the veggies.

If you are super busy, then preparing and cooking lots of fresh food might feel like hard work, but you can either use a veggie-packed healthy meal delivery service or brush up your planning skills with a menu and shopping list for the week (including health snacks for those times you need a kickstart).  When you know what you’re going to eat, it’s a LOT easier to stick to healthy food.  Research has shown that we often reach for junk food simply because it’s readily available at that moment7, so planning can help us avoid those “what shall I have tonight that’s easy?” moments that lead you to a super-nourishing, freshly cooked meal for quick cheese on toast or pasta instead.

Mindful eating (see Hack #5 for more) can help you to gravitate effortlessly towards more nourishing food.  Simply start by really noticing your food when you eat.  As you chew, think about how much that food is nourishing your body, fueling your energy pathways and building a strong, healthy body and mind.  When you apply this approach to processed junk, you might find it becomes a little less appealing and you start to feel like opting for a nice nourishing veggie dish instead!

Here are a few other creative ways to get you eating more veg:

  • Add veggies to everything, be it a casserole, bolognaise, soup, roast, barbie or tea party - be on the lookout for any opportunities to veggie up!  Not only will it spice up your table, but it will also beautify your plate by adding pomp and colour.  I always add celery, carrots, courgettes/zucchini and lots of herbs to a bolognaise mince – it’s also a great way to sneak veggies into little tummies.
  • And talking about spices… experiment with lots of herbs and spices to add flavour and variety to your veggies.
  • Add a big cup of mixed salad greens to any plate that looks a little veggie scarce.  Even a bacon and egg breakfast can become café style brunch with some avocado, lightly sautéed spinach and gently stewed cherry tomatoes, and all in just 2-3 extra minutes.
  • Make veggies the hero of the dish!  Have a full plate of veggies at each meal… with just a small amount of high-quality protein (such as grass-fed meat, pastured chicken or fish).  Instead of meat taking the starring role and veggies being the sides, think of a curry, stir-fry or even roast dinner where meat is just one of the ingredients, or perhaps even the ‘side.’
  • When you're low on your veggie quota for the day (and short of time), throw in a cup of frozen veggies to bump up the cup count.
  • When you eat out (like the good old days!), replace half your starch portion with veggies (yes please to that side salad instead of chips).
  • Pop veggies into your smoothies… carrots and celery are great to start with and you can get more adventurous as you need less fruit.  Ideally work up to 2.5 veggie servings to 1 fruit.
  • Go on and have a weekly veggie night - or two - or three! It may be hard at first, but it’ll also encourage you to be more adventurous with your versatile vegetables, especially if you have little tummies at the table.

Just eating more veggies is a great start, but if you’re looking to improve your health and happiness even more, make sure your veggies are as close as possible to their whole, natural form8, consider sourcing in-season veggies from organic or pesticide-free local farmers and avoid GMO or conventional pesticide laden vegetables, particularly those with edible skins.

African girl feeding dad in kitchen, giving him cherry tomato while cooking salad, copy space

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CAUTIONS

Some people are sensitive to some veggies, so if you’re experiencing bloating, heartburn, irregular bowel habits, autoimmune issues or any other digestive issues, while otherwise eating a clean diet, then you may like to experiment with eliminating some of the common suspects to see if you feel better.  These include cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), nightshades (e.g. tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chillis), fodmaps (e.g. garlic, onion and some fruits) and legumes (e.g. beans).

If you are trying to lose weight, then go easy on fruit.  While fruit is packed with antioxidants and other nutrients, it is also high in fructose, which is a little more easily converted to fat than other sugars.  Certain starchy vegetables also have a higher glycemic value that makes them a great post-workout choice, but if you're currently trying to lose excess body fat, consume cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, pumpkins and squashes (eg. butternut) in moderation.

My take on the

SCIENCEY SHIZZLE

(if you’re all about “But why…?”)

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Portrait of a cheerful senior couple with salad and healthy food on the kitchen at home. Concept of healthy nutrition in older age

The benefit of eating more vegetables is the one area of nutrition that is completely undisputed. No complexities here.  The entire health fraternity is in consensus that vegetables offer outstanding nutrient values and help to reduce systemic inflammation, decelerate aging, and protect against free radical damage.   In short, veggies are POWER!

But where does 5 cups come from?  Based on Australian Dietary Guidelines, we should all be having at least 6-7 serves of vegetable per day and 2 of fruit5.  A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g or ½ cup cooked vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots, corn or pumpkin), 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables, half a medium sweet potato or 1 medium tomato, while for fruit, a standard serve is 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear or 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums5.

Vegetables are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients that fight inflammation and oxidative stress.  In fact, fruit and veg are the two most antioxidant-rich components of all the food groups. Antioxidants are those beautiful little things whose work is to fight oxidation (free radicals) in the body. Oxidative stress contributes significantly to many chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, obesity and neuro-degenerative diseases4. The antioxidant phytochemicals found in plants and vegetables provide a significant protective effect from oxidative stress,10 while giving your immune health a hearty boost.  Eat a rainbow of colours to provide yourself with the variety you need to incorporate the widest range of nutrients and antioxidants into your diet.

Fibre is another important benefit of veggies.  Dietary fibre is found only in plant foods. it is also called roughage or bulk and it is that thing that pushes things along in the digestive tract. There are two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre gets absorbed in the blood stream and helps lower blood glucose levels, while insoluble fibre pushes things along in the digestive tract and bulks up faecal matter. So, the more fibre you ingest, the more regularly and easily you will poop. Fibre is also great at making us feel satiated.   If you load up on your veg first, you are likely to eat less overall3. Research has even proven that higher fibre intakes increase longevity9.

So, watcha waiting for?  This the one place where less isn’t more, so go pimp the produce and have fun while you’re at it!

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References
  1. Effects of polyphenols on aging https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30597847/
  2. The research and benefits of fruit and veg consumption are well detailed in this study as well as a breakdown of the 'eat by colour' approach. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2019/2125070/
  3. Replacing junk foods with fruit/veg and the effects of this on weight loss. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/eating-more-to-weigh-less/
  4. This article breaks down the benefits of fruit and veg consumption on specific disease risks. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
  5. These Australian Dietary Guidelines will help you establish how much a serving of fruit/veg is. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/serve-sizes
  6. Check out these 2 apps for grocery shopping and meal planning made easy https://www.mealime.com/ or https://www.anylist.com/
  7. For some more information on the benefits of eating more plant based while avoiding junk. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200318104449.htm
  8. For answers to common questions around fruit and vegetables https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/common-questions-fruits-vegetables/
  9. A study on dietary fibre intake and total mortality https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25143474/
  10. All about antioxidants https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331972/
  11. Impact of vegetables on macular degeneration https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6331972/