Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post. This week, Debra Schulze, RD, LDN, weighs in on vegetables.
Did you know there are more than 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables? While praised as a "good for you food," vegetables can be enjoyed in new and fun ways if you use a little imagination.
Vegetables come in many colors, shapes and forms.
•Fibrous vegetables: We tend to associate fiber with grains, but many vegetables are excellent sources of fiber. Examples include: turnip, mustard and collard greens, broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach, many varieties of lettuce, fennel, celery and eggplant.
•Starchy vegetables: These include root vegetables like potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, peas, carrots, beans, beets and turnips. They are generally a good source of Vitamins A, C, K and potassium.
Why eat vegetables? According to the USDA…
•Eating more vegetables as a part of an overall healthy diet reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
•Eating a diet rich in fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
•Eating vegetables rich in potassium may lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.
•Eating vegetables instead of higher-calorie foods may help with weight control and/or weight loss.
In addition, vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. Insoluble fibers absorb excess water in the colon, promoting movement of material through your digestive system. Good sources of insoluble fiber like brown rice, celery or green beans can offer benefits to those with hemorrhoids or chronic constipation. Soluble fibers, found in foods like oats, beans, apples and carrots can help lower blood cholesterol. By maintaining a balanced eating pattern that includes different forms and colors of vegetables, you will provide your body with a wide variety of all beneficial compounds, including antioxidants.
Here are some examples of the power of antioxidants.
•Beta-Carotene is in pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, winter squash, spinach, collard greens, kale and broccoli. Benefits include promoting skin and bone health, vision and building the immune system.
•Lycopene can be found in red peppers, tomatoes and tomato products. Cooking these foods before eating increases your body's absorption of lycopene. Benefits include heart health and preventing certain cancers such as prostate cancer.
•Lutein is in collard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuces and artichokes. It may promote eye health, heart health and cancer prevention.
•Anthocyanidins can be found in red onions, red potatoes and red radishes and they promote blood vessel health.
How many servings?
Your daily intake of vegetables depends on your age, sex and level of physical activity. However, strive for 1-3 cups per day or 5 to 7 servings. For example, 1 sweet potato or 1 large ear of corn counts as 1 cup and 6 baby carrots count as a half-cup serving. Refer to USDA's website choosemyplate.gov for specific recommendations or just fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, another quarter with grains, and the other quarter with protein. The CDC's website cdc.gov also provides recommendations for serving sizes.
Ways to enjoy a variety of vegetables.
•Add them to an omelet.
•Snack on carrots and celery dipped in peanut butter, hummus or bean dip.
•Be imaginative with salads and mix it up with a variety of colors and textures.
•Roast vegetables in a little olive oil with your favorite herbs. Eat them hot or cold.
•Add veggies to your pizza.
•Be creative with soups. Consider sweet potato, red pepper or quinoa in chili.
Get the kids involved.
Let the kids get an early start on good nutritional habits. Check the kids' website FoodChamps.org. Teach them the importance of eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables while being a role model.