What comes in all shapes, colors and sizes, can help prevent cancers of all kinds, heart disease and obesity? The answer is not some magic diet pill, but vegetables! Yet half of all Americans eat no vegetables other than potatoes, beans or salad. This variety is too limited. Here are some reasons why Americans should add more vegetables to their diet.
1. Vegetables are low in calories.
About one-third of the people in the United States are overweight. To lose weight, eat fewer calories and increase your level of activity. Using vegetables in main dishes and snacks can help you lose weight.
2. Vegetables are low in fat and have no cholesterol.
Americans eat too much fat. A high-fat diet raises your chance of getting heart disease and some kinds of cancer. Vegetables, on the other hand, are very low in the kind of fat linked to heart disease. Many foods from animals contain cholesterol. Eating these animal products may increase the cholesterol in your blood and raise your risk of heart disease. Since vegetables contain no cholesterol, eating them can help prevent this killer disease.
3. Vegetables are low in sodium.
Sodium is found in salt and many other foods. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure in some people. Fresh vegetables contain very little sodium. In general, frozen vegetables have more sodium than fresh vegetables do, and canned vegetables have even higher levels. Check food labels to find foods with the lowest amount of sodium.
4. Vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals.
Dark green and orange vegetables help protect against cancer of the throat and lungs. These vegetables contain beta-carotene, a pigment which is turned into vitamin A by the body. Foods high in beta-carotene can help prevent cancer. This group of vegetables includes carrots, winter squash, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes and kale.
Many vegetables are also high in vitamin C, and can help prevent cancer of the throat and stomach. Those rich in vitamin C include peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and collard greens.
Some vegetables are very good sources of the mineral iron. Iron is needed to build blood and provide energy. Too little iron in the diet can cause anemia. Iron is highest in spinach, peas, lima beans, black-eyed peas, beet greens and whole potatoes.
Dark green vegetables, such as spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, and cabbage, are high in calcium. Calcium is needed for healthy bones and teeth, and can help prevent the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
5. Vegetables in the cabbage and mustard family have extra health value.
This family of vegetables includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and mustard greens. These vegetables are called cruciferous because their flowers resemble a cross. These vegetables can help lower the risk of colon, stomach and lung cancer.
About one-third of the people in the United States are overweight. Using vegetables in main dishes and snacks can help you lose weight.
6. Vegetables are high in fiber.
Fiber is the part of plants that cannot be digested or absorbed by the body. A high-fiber diet may protect against colon cancer. All vegetables are sources of fiber. It is best to get fiber from food, rather than taking pills or other supplements. Too much fiber can make it harder for your body to absorb many nutrients, such as iron.
Tips to Add More Vegetables to Your Diet
- Vegetables can be fun for everyone. Use many different vegetables for a variety of colors, textures and flavors in meals.
- For a healthful snack, try cutting up raw vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and green peppers. Serve them alone or with low-fat dips.
- Add vegetables to familiar casseroles and dishes. Try broccoli in tuna casserole or spinach in lasagna.
- Children will be more likely to eat new vegetables if they help prepare them.
- Cook vegetables until tender for people who have difficulty chewing.
Tips to Maintain Vegetable Nutrients
- Cook vegetables with the least amount of water possible so that vitamins and minerals do not leak out of the vegetables into the water. Microwaving, stir frying and steaming are good methods to use.
- Avoid frying vegetables in large amounts of butter or oil. (Stir frying uses little oil.) When serving cooked vegetables, add only small amounts of high-fat
- foods such as hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, butter and margarine. Low-salt tomato sauce and low-salt soy sauce are delicious substitutes for high-fat sauces.