What is the most important thing you can do to improve your health? It’s an interesting question, and one I expect to get a wide range of answers to when I interview potential clients. I don’t get much variety, though. What most people say is “eat more vegetables.” And, they’re right. I mean, other things count, too–the quality of your food, getting better quality sleep, drinking more clean water, and reducing stress–but eating more vegetables is right up there with the most important thing you can do to improve health. Most vegetables have a low glycemic index compared to fruit and starches. They contain micronutrients important for cellular function, and fiber important for healthy gut microbes. Vegetables also have a low calorie to volume ratio. Which means you can eat a lot of them and still not meet your calorie quota for the day. And, not many people eat nearly enough of them.
Let’s make something clear from the beginning. When I refer to vegetables in this post, I am talking about leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables. Those on the greener side or of the cruciferous family–broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage–can be consumed with abandon. You can eat as much as you want as often as you want. Root vegetables tend towards starch (they’re pretty high in carbohydrate), so go easy on them. Many root vegetables are very good for you and can be included in moderation. Beets and Sweet Potatoes are highly nutritious and a great source of fiber. Both are on my “good, but not every day” list. White potatoes and corn are almost totally starch. Both are highly inflammatory and I avoid them whenever possible. Beans are not vegetables. For a simple break down on an easy to read chart see the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap. By-the-way, I am not associated with Bulletproof or David Asprey in any way, I just find the resources valuable and think you might as well.
I am starting to believe that I live a sheltered dietary life. I mostly cook at home and have complete control over what I put into my mouth. When you do this, it’s very easy to eat healthy all of the time. It doesn’t seem restrictive or difficult. It becomes normal. Then I go out for a meal or hang out with people who eat a standard diet and I start to realize that I’m a bit of a weirdo. For example, I went out to dinner with my husband’s work group this weekend. While there was a good selection of meat dishes and six different ways to have potatoes, there was not one single vegetable on the menu. Unless you count the deep fried jalapeno poppers as a vegetable. Folks, a potato is not a vegetable. It is a starch. And when you fry a vegetable it becomes junk food. Even the salad bar had nothing but iceberg lettuce and macaroni salad. No cucumbers, no pickled beets, not even olives! It was a small place in a small town, so I wasn’t super surprised at the limited selection, but normally the salad bar has something edible. The point is, many people, while probably still disappointed in the poor salad bar selection, probably wouldn’t even notice the lack of vegetables on the menu. So, if increasing vegetables is something everyone agrees will increase their health, why doesn’t everyone do it?
I find that the major obstacles between where people are now and where they want to be are time, effort, and money. I would add awareness to this list, because if you don’t know there is a problem you can’t fix it. So let’s break these obstacles down and see if they are really the problem. By-the-way, I am open to discussion on this topic, so if you have another perspective I would be happy to hear it. Comment here or on the accompanying Facebook post on @donyourwings.
The first issue is time. Do low-glycemic vegetables take longer to prepare than potatoes? Potatoes are well known for taking a very long time to cook, and since vegetables should not be cooked very long in order to preserve their nutrient value, vegetables do not take longer to prepare than potatoes. Even if you overcooked them, vegetables (see definition above) would still take less time to cook than potatoes. You can even enjoy most of them raw. Depending on the recipe, the preparation may involve chopping, but that only holds water if you don’t dice, shred or mash the potatoes. You can find pre-cut vegetables pretty easily as well but remember quality counts. Baked potatoes actually take longer to prepare than roasted vegetables.
Pro Tip: When roasting vegetables, use fresh not frozen. Frozen vegetables turn to mush when cooked in the oven.
Hashbrowns cooked in a pan with oil take longer than stir-frying mixed vegetables. Steamed or parboiled vegetables are super quick, and also take less time than potatoes cooked the same way. So, no I don’t think that time is the problem. The problem, I think is that packaged, processed food takes less time than either vegetables or potatoes. The solution? Take baby steps. Yes, fresh, local, organic vegetables are the gold standard, but quality frozen vegetables are not far behind. In fact, frozen vegetables might be better than non-local varieties in some cases because they are (in theory) flash frozen at their peak ripeness rather than picked early and shipped across the country to sit on shelves. Frozen vegetables can be steamed, parboiled, or microwaved for a quick veggie fix.
Do healthy vegetables take more effort to prepare than potatoes? If we take the effort of chopping and cooking out, since we have already found this argument to be untrue, I would actually say, “no.” Vegetables do not take more effort to prepare than potatoes. Having said that, I would put taste and texture in this category simply to have somewhere to put food preference. Sometimes it is hard to get family members–or yourself–to try green vegetables, especially if they are new and you’re not sure how to prepare them. Getting people to eat food that is good for them, but maybe new and therefore weird, is definitely an effort. I get that. Again, baby steps. That is why one of the pillars of my approach to health coaching is “keep it simple.” Start with veggies you already like and learn several different ways to prepare them. Try frozen varieties and fresh varieties and see which taste better to you. Bonus if you can hit a local farmer’s market because those are going to taste the best and be the most nutritious.
Experiment with different ways of making the same thing. I have a friend who loves steamed Brussels sprouts and chooses them over roasted. I think steamed Brussels sprouts taste like soap, but I love roasted Brussels sprouts. Start to work in something new here and there, and find what your family can at least tolerate. It may take some time for everyone to come around to this new idea but keep at it. You will get better at the preparation, and your family will adjust. Just remind them that intermittent fasting is good for them and if they don’t like dinner it’s ok to skip it. Odds are they will eat breakfast. For tips and tricks on preparing vegetables, subscribe to my newsletter or like my Facebook page. I have something new every week.
Finances get mentioned quite often when I talk to people about healthy eating. This is a crisis in our culture. Boxed, canned, frozen, and other pre-prepared, nutritionally deficient foods are cheap. Organic, fresh produce can be expensive, but it is getting better since the demand for healthy food is going up. Since college, the price of food has never been a selling point for me. I would rather spend more on quality food even if it means I have to buy less. That frequently means I have to make financial sacrifices in other areas. For example, I drive an older car, have had the same winter coat for 5 years, and have worn the same jewelry for 12 years (literally, the same set of earrings and the same necklace). These things aren’t important to me. Food is important. It literally makes up the very fibers of who and what we are. You might prioritize home improvement, but you have to live in this body for the rest of your life, isn’t it worth upgrading or at least taking care of?
Fun Fact: Food has a frequency. That’s right, you can measure the frequency of living things and use this information to either raise your vibration or lower it. Hold on, before you think I’m getting into woo-woo territory consider how you feel when you’re happy versus when you are sad. You can feel the high vibrations when you’re happy or low vibes when you’re sad. This effect is measurable. According to Robyn Openshaw, author of the new book Vibe: Unlock the energetic frequencies of health, love, and success, a healthy person is operating at a higher frequency than a sick person. Someone operating at a higher frequency can access more creativity and potential than a person operating at a lower frequency. Exposure to high-frequency people, or even food, can raise our frequency. You know the person who exudes positive vibes wherever she goes? On the other hand, exposure to negative people, or highly processed food, can lower our frequency. That would be the Debbie Downer types. Guess what types of food have the highest frequency? The foods with the highest vibration also happen to be the ones with the highest density of micronutrients: raw fruits and vegetables. The more processed a food is, the lower the frequency. Makes sense, right? Do the experiment on yourself. See how you feel when you eat local, fresh produce and minimally processed, humanely raised grass-fed meat versus how you feel when you indulge in pre-made boxed dinners and fast food. Try each for a week and see what happens. Listen to David Asprey’s interview with Robyn Openshaw on Bulletproof Radio to learn more about this intriguing topic.
I cringe whenever people talk about getting a giant package of steaks on special for $6.99. But I get it. So how do you save money and still eat healthily? Folks, vegetables are cheap. If you are on a super tight budget, shop the frozen aisle. Yes, local and fresh is best, but it is more important to consume the vegetable than it is to agonize over where it came from. Try to avoid the corn and anything with sauce or other additives. Look for things like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Even the medleys like zucchini, yellow squash, snow peas, and red peppers or fajita mix can be good if they don’t add extra stuff to them. If you try one brand and find them foul, try another. The more expensive brands are not necessarily better, but they might be. For example, I have found the smaller, more expensive packages of broccoli contain more florets and fewer stems.
If you are shopping for fresh vegetables, the pre-cut varieties will be more expensive than buying the whole vegetable. A package of whole carrots with the skin intact is cheaper than a package of baby carrots. Fun fact: There’s nutrition in the skin, so we eat the whole carrot without peeling it. My five-year-old has never had it any other way, so she doesn’t think the skin is odd. Many grown-ups don’t even seem to notice. Again, I think frozen, steamed Brussels sprouts taste like soap, but fresh roasted Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite foods. And, if you buy them in bulk they are pretty cheap. So take things like that into account. Remember that an uneaten vegetable is an expensive vegetable. Buy things you will actually eat, and learn how to judge the quality before buying.
Last on my list is awareness. While we have debunked the above obstacles, awareness is likely the biggest problem. This is something I strive to communicate every day. You can’t change what you are not aware of. The point of this article, and much of what I do as a health coach, is to make people aware of small steps they can take to make their lives a little healthier. You don’t have to make big, cumbersome changes to make a big difference in your life. For example, it is much more important to get the vegetables into your diet than to worry about if they are organic. It is also more important to find something your family likes and will eat than worry about variety at the beginning. Once you have established the vegetable on your table, then you can take the next step to improve quality and variety. It comes in stages. I’ve been on my health journey for a long time. I’ve been many places on my journey, and I am still learning. Understand that you may be on the first leg of your journey and may take several different paths before finding your way. That is why a roadmap and a guide are helpful. I am here if you need assistance!
My colleague and I are co-hosting a special women-only group starting November 1st that is designed to bring awareness and offer solutions to many of our most pressing issues over the holiday season and beyond. We will be talking about mindset, stress reduction, nutrition, fitness, and so much more. If you think this group might be something you would be interested in, or if you just would like more information, go to I’ll Have What She’s Having on Facebook. Do it before 9pm eastern time (that’s 7pm mountain time) on October 31st however, because will be shutting down registration at that time and it won’t reopen until the end of November. You don’t want to miss out on this fantastic FREE opportunity.
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