Part of being a nutritionist that I absolutely adore is that people love to tell me when they make a healthy change. I get tagged in photos of packed salad lunches, smoothies, almond milk, protein powder, shopping trolleys full of produce and grilled salmon, and have people saying things to me like,
“Miranda, you’ll be so proud, I’ve started eating fruit!”
– and you know what? I am so bloody proud, and chuffed and mostly flattered that you want to show me how healthy you eat. To be able to inspire you to make these small changes is part of my dream to make your lives happier and healthier, and the fact that I am the first person you think of when you bite into an apple, go for a walk or try quinoa for the first time is incredibly cool!
One thing I have noticed with these changes, as fantastic as they are, is that most of the time, people associate healthy eating with eating lots and lots of fruit (fruit is still good, don’t get me wrong) and it seems that the emphasis on vegetables is somehow not thought of as something as important to healthy eating as fruit. Of course, fruits are lovely, wholefood sources of nutrients, but the value of vegetables in a healthy diet, to me, far outweighs that of fruit.
Now, this might be a confusing concept to you, but to put it simply, think about the Australian dietary recommendations of the ratio of fruit to vegetables: 2 serves* of fruit and 5 serves* of vegetables as a minimum for us to eat per day. This simple concept (that I remember being told about in school, so it’s been around for ages) clearly demonstrates that we should all be eating 2.5 times more vegetables in a day than fruit.
I really like this recommendation, and I think it’s a good goal to have for every day in order to fill your body with the minerals, fibre and vitamins it needs to function well every day. Its also important to have a bit of a balance between your cooked and your raw vegetables, meaning don’t eat ONLY cooked or ONLY raw vegetables every day. While cooked vegetables are easier to digest, raw vegetables have more nutrients available, as cooking can not only destroy heat and oxygen sensitive nutrients (such as vitamin C), but certain cooking methods, such as boiling, cause minerals to leech out of the vegetables – and vegetables are a very important source of minerals in everyone diet, from iron in spinach to calcium in kale.
Green leafys – I’m talkin’ broccoli, kale, spinach, silverbeet, rocket, cabbage, bitter lettuces, and even fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil – are high in minerals and chlorophyll (the component in leaves that makes them green) so I would recommend at least two cups of these guys per day, as they are very important!
Increasing your veggie intake may cause side-effects, such as: increased energy, weight loss, clear skin and an overall sense of wellbeing. Doesn’t that sound terrible.
And now folks, its time for the tips!
1. Add a green smoothie to your day
A green smoothie is a drink you make in your blender that typically has at least 1.5-2 cups of vegetables in it. They are easy to make, taste delicious, are easy to incorporate into your diet and easier to digest because the food is already broken up into tiny pieces.
I have a couple of green smoothie recipes that have everyday ingredients, and if you’re feeling adventurous, why not add a different herb or vegetable to change up the flavours and nutrients of your smoothie? There are plenty of recipes out there, so have a google, you never know what you might find!
2. Embrace Side-Salads
I’ve spoken before about Matt Wilkinson and his method of centring meals around vegetables, instead of the protein, and I feel like this tip goes along nicely with that one. Side salads really do make a meal, whether you’re going for an Asian-style slaw (like my Crunchy Asian Slaw) and that inspires you to have some sort of tamari chicken wings or red curry pork burgers (you can thank my housemate Amber for that amazing inspiration bomb –YOMMMMM!), going for an incredibly fresh tabouli (like my (gluten-free) Sesame Seed Tabouli below) and that inspires you to have a gorgeous Greek-style dish with lots of garlic, oregano, lemon juice and mint (I often quickly marinate my protein – be it lamb, chicken, chickpeas or even tinned salmon – in this sort of combo before grilling, when I have tabouli on the brain), or go for a different take on slaw (like the one below) and pair that with some sort of lemon and sage protein combination – by starting with a side salad, you may find yourself eating much more adventurously than you usually do, and getting more veggies in at the same time.
I usually have a combination of two side salads or a side salad and some steamed or roasted vegetables with my protein in a meal, for more vegies (half a plate) and more flavour!
Pink Lady Slaw
1\4 small cabbage, finely chopped/sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 pink lady apple, grated
Handful of mint, finely chopped
1tb extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Prepare, combine and toss. Done!
Sesame Seed Tabouli
1 bunch parsley (I prefer the curly for this), finely chopped
1/2 bunch of mint, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely diced
1 Lebanese cucumber, finely diced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ cup sesame seeds
1tb extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Prepare, combine and toss. Done!
Another gorgeous combination that my friend Anaid often had at uni, was a simple salad of grated carrot, chilli flakes and lemon juice that she says is “a very commonly eaten salad in Mexico” (where she grew up). So perhaps you could try that with pepitas sprinkled on top on the side of some Mexican-style skewers and a green salad – doesn’t that just sound AMAZING?!!
3. Replace Your Grains with Vegetables
A lot of our meals in Australia are based around grains – pasta, bread, rice, wraps, corn, cereals – its rare to go for one meal without grains, and to me, especially when they are refined, grains are just a filler! While there are some nutritional benefits to grains (such as B vitamins), they can be difficult to digest, have a high glycaemic index (which is bad for your blood sugar levels), and if refined, be devoid of fibre, which is usually the reason they are incorporated into our diets.
I’m not saying you have to cut them out completely, but limiting your intake of grains to once a day or less can improve your digestive function and make way for more nutrient-rich foods – vegetables!
Exchanging rice for Cauliflower “Rice”, pasta for Zucchini noodles (this is a recipe for Zucchini Noodle Pad Thai), flat breads and tortillas for lettuce leaves, or simply having your protein (such as a burger, pasta sauce or taco filling) with roasted vegetables and salad are just a few ideas to get you thinking outside the box.
4. Pack Lunches Full of Veg!
Not only are packed lunches WAY more affordable than buying lunch, they are an easy way to encourage you to eat more veggies.
In winter, you can make a huge batch of vegetable soup on a Sunday afternoon, and fill a thermos with the piping hot deliciousness every morning to cart to work (they only cost about $20). While on warmer days, you can prepare yourself a salad with a tin of salmon, boiled eggs, or shredded chicken with plenty of herbs to give yourself a lunch you can really look forward to. Check out my salads guide for inspiration.
5. Make Yourself Some Veggie-ful Snacks
To sneak in a few more veggies, opt for snacks that are full of vegetables. I think the obvious one is to have carrot and celery sticks with hummus – but why not take it that one step further and add spinach, roasted beetroot, eggplant or sweet potato to your regular hummus recipe?
One snack I discovered in my first year of uni that is simple yet tasty, is crackers with tahini and alfalfa – trust me, it just WORKS! But you could also top them with a homemade guacamole or create an avocado bruschetta type concoction with garlic, tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil.
What sneaky ways do you like to use to up your vegetable intake? I’d love some more inspiration from you guys!