We all know we need to eat more vegetables, but just how much more? This is essential for us to know as the average Australian is meeting only half of their recommended intake of vegetables. How can you determine if you’re meeting your needs or not? Eat Pray Workout’s dietitian, Melanie Sharpe is going to give us a simple run down to help you decide if you need to up your veg intake – welcome Mel!
Why do we need to eat more vegetables?
Because of the BIG health benefits that come from the nutrients contained in vegetables! Vegetables (which includes legumes and beans) provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, together with fibre and phytonutrients. Vegies also help to fill us up, without having a big impact on your daily calorie intake, which means they are great for weight management.
Eat a variety of different coloured vegetables
Different vegetables benefit the body in different ways, so it’s important to choose a wide variety. The easiest way to do this is to choose vegetables in different colours. Green (broccoli, spinach, celery), red (capsicum, beetroot, kidney beans) and yellow (carrot, squash, sweet potato). Go for the rainbow! Also choose different types, from root veg through to the leafy ends.
Like to eat? You can eat a LOT of vegetables (unlike other foods)
Here’s some more good news. You can eat MORE FOOD if you eat MORE VEG. The energy density of vegetables (that means how many calories they provide per gram of food) is far, far lower than the majority of processed foods. For example, you could eat a whole plate of steamed veg, or six hot chips. I know which one I will be choosing! If you’re interested in seeing some more portion size comparisons have a look at this post on this topic.
How many servings of vegetables should I actually be eating?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, which are written by the Dietitians and qualified health guru’s of the nation, for the nation, recommend that the average adult consumes 5-6 serves of vegetables each day (7 if you’re breastfeeding). That sounds great in theory, but how do you actually work out if you’re meeting that or not? The reality is you’re probably not. Over half us Aussies are only getting half our recommended servings of veg on a daily basis. So, it’s time to work out if that statistic includes you – hopefully not!
What is a serve of vegetables?
How can you measure how much veg you get into your day? What does ‘a serve’ actually mean? Put simply, a serve is:
· half a cup of cooked veg, or
· 1 cup of leafy salad or other raw vegetable,
· ½ cup of beans, peas, lentils or sweet corn or
· ½ a medium potato.
PS- deep fried vegetables, such a potato wedges/chips do not count as vegetables!
It equates to ~75g and provides 100-350kJ. Here’s what it looks like –
Is 5-6 serves a realistic recommendation?
If 5-6 serves of veg in a day still sounds like a high standard to meet, I’ve got an example of just how this can be met (note- only the serves of vegetables are counted, not all ingredients).
· Breakfast: Kale smoothie (1 cup kale = 1 serve)
· Lunch: Chickpea and feta salad (1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 cup baby spinach, 1 tomato, ½ cup cucumber = 3.5 serves)
· Dinner: Grilled salmon with quinoa and steamed veg (1 cup steamed snow peas, broccolini = 2 serves)
· Snacks: You can even get more in if you choose veg as a snack between meals! Have a think about what you’ve eaten today. How many serves of veg have you eaten? Where can you improve this?
Tips to increase your intake of vegetables
Try a couple of these practical ways to increase your daily intake of vegetables:
1- Incorporate veg from the start of your day – that means breakfast! Think savoury toast, homemade baked beans, kale smoothies and vegetarian omelettes.
2- Choose a salad for lunch or dinner. This is hands down the best way to increase your veg! Your entire meal is veg! Try some of the salads you can find here, and include legumes, rather than a grain, as your carbohydrate source in the salad because these count as a serving of vegetables too!
3- Choose vegetables as a snack. Vegetable sticks with homemade hommus is a double hit of veg.
4- Eat at home more often – it’s difficult to get your vegetable servings if you are eating out regularly, so aim to eat at home most nights of the week. If you are out try ordering an extra side of steamed veg, or choose take away options that make fresh salads (Sumo, ….).
5- Meat free Mondays – incorporate at least one meat free day into your week. This is great for your health and will help you to start thinking creatively with vegetables.
6- When you serve your meals, start by serving your veg first. Vegetables should fill at least half of your plate, then follow with the meat and carbohydrate portions (1/4 of the plate each).
So, which tips are you going to incorporate? I’d love to know how many serves of veg you think you are eating on an average day, are you meeting the recommendations or do you have some work to do? Let me know in the comments below!