Summer is a great time to enjoy vegetables

Many people do not eat the recommended amounts of vegetables as part of their diet.

Why are vegetables important?

Vegetables offer exciting flavors, texture, and they taste good. They also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber and can actually help you control your weight and provide protection against many chronic diseases.

Being overweight is a risk factor for chronic disease. Many weight-loss diets tell you to cut out certain foods or eat less of them. This makes people following these diets feel deprived and cranky.

A more positive approach is to encourage eating more vegetables. Vegetables also contain nutrients which may help reduce chronic disease.

Fiber can help you feel full. Some fiber in foods absorbs water, and this contributes to your feeling full.

Only plant-based foods contain fiber. Plant-based foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

Other fiber absorbs dietary cholesterol and carcinogens which may reduce the risk of chronic disease. This encourages a healthy gut and bowel.

What are the recommendations for eating vegetables?

Based on their nutrient content, vegetables are organized into five subgroups: dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.

The amount of vegetables you need to eat depends on your age, sex and level of activity.

For instance, a woman age 31 to 50 needs two and a-half cups of vegetables a day, or 17 and a-half cups each week.

Over the course of a week, it is recommended to eat a variety of vegetables, dark green, orange and red, dry beans and peas, starchy and other types of vegetables.

Dark green vegetables include: bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, dark green leafy lettuce, kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, watercress.

Vegetables in the orange and red group include: acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots, Hubbard squash, pumpkin, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and tomato juice.

The deep orange vegetables are great sources of Vitamin C and carotenoids, especially of beta-carotene, the carotenoid that is converted most efficiently to Vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is needed for healthy skin, healthy tissues lining the openings in your body and healthy eyes.

Next group is the beans and peas group. Some examples of dried beans and peas are black beans, black-eyed peas (mature, dry), garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, pinto beans, soy beans, split peas, and white beans. Dried beans and peas are good sources of fiber, iron, folate, magnesium, zinc and protein. We need iron to keep our blood strong and prevent anemia. Folate is important to prevent spina bifida and heart disease.

The last subgroup of vegetables is “other vegetables.” This includes artichokes, asparagus, avocado, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green peppers, iceberg (head) lettuce, mushrooms, okra, onions, turnips, wax beans, and zucchini. The variety of color of these vegetables provides various phytonutrients which are credited with preventing various cancers and chronic diseases.

The reaction of family members to eating vegetables is important. If you want to introduce a new vegetable to your family, you might have to try a few things, such as how the vegetable is cooked, presented or seasoned. Asking which vegetable the family would like to try and having family members help in the shopping and preparation may increase the likelihood of trying a new vegetable, or re-trying a vegetable they did not like in the past.

Serving vegetables at meals allows your family to fill their plate with less calories and more variety.

Eating more vegetables lowers your risk for cancer, heart disease and obesity. Teamwork can help your family eat more vegetables.

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Laurie Welch is a nutrition and family issues educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, 570-726-0022.

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