Of all the research studies that cross my desk, the most common recurring theme reinforces something we all know naturally already: eat more vegetables.
It’s something every nutrition professional I’ve ever met – no matter what they advocate otherwise – agrees with. The more veges we eat, the better our health will be in all sorts of ways, from a younger heart to better looking skin to a healthier weight.
We all know the ‘5 plus a day’ mantra – three veges and two fruits every day. A fair number of us achieve this. But what we could be focussing on a bit more is the ‘plus’ part. Five a day is good – but more is better, especially when it comes to vegetables. While it is actually possible to eat too much fruit, ‘too many vegetables’ is rarely something health professionals worry about.
That’s why I like to think of myself as a vegivore. What’s a vegivore? It’s not someone who eats solely vegetables, and it’s not a vegetarian. The term means someone who passionately loves vegetables, and gives them a starring role in their meals. A recent New York Times article entitled ‘Why Vegetables are the New Meat’ describes it thus:
“For the vegivore, a vegetable can occupy the centre of the plate, with meat adding flavour or functioning as a condiment.”
I was so thrilled to see this, because for some time now, making vegetables equally as important as meat has been my approach to cooking, and also to the recipes we feature in Healthy Food Guide magazine. It’s why we tell you how many serves of veges there are in every recipes we publish. This approach is not, I believe, a focus for all chefs and food writers. But I reckon that’s going to change, especially if we vegivores demand it.
Being a vegivore doesn’t mean changing what you eat. You can still enjoy all manner of delicious meat. It just means changing your focus. Maybe have a couple of meat-free meals a week; or use less meat and more vegetables than called for in the recipe you’re using. Think of the vegetables first when you’re planning your meal, rather than basing your meals around the protein component. There are only so many ways you can cook a piece of meat, but vegetables have endless possibilities – they’re super-inspiring for keen cooks. Cover half your plate with a delicious toss of blanched broccoli, spinach leaves and courgette ribbons with a little olive oil and shaved parmesan and serve alongside a piece of fish or steak. Roast canned cherry tomatoes, carrots and red onions and toss through crispy roasted potatoes and baby spinach leaves to serve with grilled chicken. Mash peas and canned white beans together with garlic, mint and olive oil for a vibrant green alternative to mashed potato.
A serve of veges is about 80g – think 1/2 cup cooked veges, 1 cup raw leafy veges, or one whole vege such as tomato, carrot or onion. The good news is, those veges don’t have to always be piled on the side of your plate. Soups, now it’s getting cooler, are a fantastic way to pack a lot of veges into a concentrated form. You can also count veges added to casseroles, stir-fries, curries, chillies and other ‘combined’ dishes.
No-one wants to be counting and weighing to check they’re getting enough veges, so if you want to think of a rule, just remember this: try to get as many coloured veges into your day as possible, and with every meal, think “How can I add more?”