Updated: Dec 15, 2020
There is a growing body of evidence that shows plant-based foods are the most important part of a healthy diet, and are vital for ideal weight control, higher energy levels, improved sports performance and disease prevention. In fact, evidence shows that diets low in vegetables are responsible for 31% of heart disease cases, 19% of cancers of the digestive system and 11% of strokes.
Plant-based foods are critical because they are packed full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, all of which are essential for optimum body function. In addition, vegetables are low in calories and high in bulk/fibre, leaving less room for the bad stuff (refined carbohydrates)! As an extra bonus, the diverse nutrients in vegetables assist your body in breaking down fat cells more efficiently; thus, helping you to lose weight. Finally, as if all that isn’t enough, when you eat vegetables in large quantities, they literally short-circuit the food addiction cycle, turning off your cravings for processed foods. From a biological perspective, this is because when your body receives the nutrients it requires, it no longer triggers the demand for quick energy foods and hence your appetite and desire for unhealthy food decreases. In contrast, when you regularly choose foods that are low in nutrients, your cellular nutritional demands remain unmet and your cravings increase, causing weight-gain and poor health. Depending on your current health status, optimising your inner nutrient levels can take anything from a couple of days to three months to achieve. However, once your nutrient levels are high, you will experience more energy, better skin, easier weight control and improved health.
So, knowing how important vegetables are to your health and wellbeing, have you ever wondered how much is enough?
As a rough guide a portion of vegetables or fruit is equal to 80g raw (75g cooked), while The British Heart Foundation and The Cancer Research Campaign have previously recommended that you eat a minimum of 5 (400g) of these portions a day. However, evidence now suggests that this is nowhere near enough for optimum health and long-term weight control. Many experts currently believe that your daily consumption should actually be closer to 10-13 (800g-1040g) portions a day, and it is at this quantity that your weight balances, your energy levels increase and your food cravings switch-off. In addition, it is recommended that you eat at least 20-30 different types of vegetables a week to gain a combination of nourishing factors.
As for fruits, we often think of these as a healthy option. However, most fruits have a much higher sugar (and fructose) content than vegetables and so should be eaten in moderation. Therefore, ideally, your 10-13 portions a day should consist entirely of vegetables, but if you wish to eat fruit ensure you have one piece to every 4 portions of vegetables. In addition, berries are the best fruit choice, as these are higher in nutrients and lower in sugar than most other fruits.
With very few disadvantages, it is easy to see why vegetables should make-up the majority of your diet. However, astoundingly, 86% of Europeans don’t even reach the 5-a-day recommendation, so it’s no wonder that we are a less than healthy nation with an expanding waistline. If you personally eat over 8 portions of vegetables a day then you are doing incredibly well. However, if you resemble the majority, who don’t even manage 5, then perhaps it’s time to consider why.
If you or your family don’t like them, then make an effort to experiment with different varieties and cooking methods. Try adding new types of vegetables to meals that have a sauce, hide them in soups and use herbs and spices to ‘spice them up’. Interestingly, the more you eat them, the more you will get used to them and maybe even like them. If you don’t know how to cook or prepare vegetables, then look online for some simple ideas or even buy some recipe books. You don’t have to create masterpieces, just nice-looking healthy food that tastes good. If you just don’t fancy vegetables and would rather eat higher carb foods (cake) instead, then it is likely that your blood sugar requires rebalancing. Unsurprisingly, the first step to achieving this is to eat more veg! If you find that eating vegetables causes bloating, then you need to strengthen your digestive system, and once again this is fundamentally achieved by eating more vegetables. If you simply find them inconvenient, then maybe it’s time to give it your focus, your health, weight, and general well-being really does depend on it.
In summary, if you are serious about your health, weight, and energy levels, there is no area of nutrition (other than adequate water) that counts more than your vegetable intake. However, if you are not used to eating a large quantity of vegetables, be gentle on yourself. Don’t try to achieve 13 portions a day from day 1, as this will not only shock your digestive system, but may also be hard to keep it up. Simply concentrate on gradually introducing more vegetables into your meals, and snacks, at a pace you are happy with, and enjoy the health benefits as they begin to materialise.
BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy, memBANT, memNT, memCNCH
For more information on health and weight loss see ‘The Meta-Keto Diet’. This book is available as an eBook (£6.99), or in paperback (£15.99), via the Secret Healthy Eater Shop; www.secrethealthyeater.com/shop.
drawing by paulina maluhia and daniel zineldin