So it turns out that the phrase “eat your greens” isn’t just for the reluctant children among us.
According to Australia’s 2018 Health Report, more than 99 per cent of children and 96 per cent of adults aren’t getting the recommended five serves – or half a cup – of vegetables daily.
“Vegetables are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals and are high in dietary fibre,” University of Sydney sports dietitian and senior lecturer in nutrition, Dr Helen O’Connor explained.
“They’re also a great source of nutrients called phytonutrients, which have been associated with better immune function and protection from some cancers.”
Moreover, communities around the world that eat more vegetables are healthier and live longer. “The traditional Okinawa diet – from the Ryuku islands in Japan – yields many more centenarians,” Dr O’Connor told The New Daily.
“They’re 100 or so years old and they have fantastic health.”
Which is something that we can learn from, given that the report also revealed more than two-thirds of Australian adults and one-quarter of Australian children are overweight.
“No meal is complete without vegetables. It’s important to choose a wide variety, because they have different antioxidants and are really important for microbiome in the gut,” said Melbourne-based naturopath Olga Bowers-Taylor.
“Plus, they’re low in calories and filling, which helps to keep weight in check.”
So how can we sneak more vegetables on to our plates without it feeling like a burden?
1. Add salad to your sandwiches
Putting lettuce, beetroot, grated carrots, celery, cucumber, silverbeet, kale, spinach or cabbage on our salad sandwiches can go a long way. Pre-made salad mixes can also prove to be very versatile. “We can add a whole salad to our lunch, or put a pre-made one on our sandwiches,” Dr O’Connor said.
2. Cook more curries, stews and soups
Not only are these meals cost effective and time efficient, they can be made chock-a-block full of vegetables. Anything from pumpkins, lentils, chickpeas, beans and potatoes through to green peas, mushrooms and parsnips can be easily included. “Even adding veggies into sauces is a great way to include more of them into our diets,” Ms Bowers-Taylor said.
3. Never fear the frozen vegetable section
Sometimes it can be easier to stock the freezer with spinach, broccoli, carrots and peas than it is to buy them fresh or pick them from the garden.
Yet there can be a fear that the level of nutrients isn’t as high.
“Getting some fresh veggies into our diet is important if we’re only having frozen,” Ms Taylor said. “However, in my view, frozen can be as good as fresh.”
4. Add vegetable powders to smoothies and brekkie bowls
Health food shops and supermarkets stock plenty of mixed greens and vegetable powders, and as long as they’re not full of added sugars and preservatives, they can help us get our daily vegetable fix.
“Some powders can be good, depending on the brands. Some inferior products use sugars and fillers,” Ms Bowers-Taylor said.
“Always check labels.”
5. Bake vegetable breads and cakes
There are a plethora of recipes online exploring the ways zucchini can be added to breakfast loaves. Carrot cakes can be made healthier, and beetroot can moisten chocolate brownies.
Switching eggs for aquafaba – also known as chickpea water – takes us another step closer to our ideal daily vegetable fill.
6. Give pasta dishes a makeover
Peeling or spiralising vegetables such as zucchinis, carrots and sweet potatoes – rather than using pasta – is another way to pack vegetables into our lunch and dinner recipes. And they take less time to soften than traditional pasta does.