“Eat your vegetables” – every parent has probably said this to their kids (including yours).
But with a busy lifestyle, how do you actually manage to get the recommended “five a day” servings of fruits and vegetables to improve your health?
Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.
- Eating at least five servings of vegetables each day can improve not only your physical health, but your mental health, as well.
- If you don’t like the taste of vegetables on their own, you can hide them in smoothies, meatloaf, and even dessert, and I’ll give you great recipes for each of these below.
- Some vegetables provide even more benefits than others, so be sure to check out my list of the top 5 vegetables to eat every day.
Benefits of Eating Vegetables (Based On Science)
Getting at least five servings of vegetables each day can:
Improve eye health
Vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, are an excellent source of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help to prevent and even treat eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Vegetables help with digestion on at least two fronts.
They contain a special type of sugar called sulfoquinovose, which helps with a healthy gut microbiome by feeding the helpful bacteria in the gut that assist with digesting food.
Plus, they are high in fiber, and fiber is also fuel for healthy gut bacteria, and adds bulk to stool to help it pass smoothly through the digestive system.
Help maintain healthy body weight
Vegetables are not only high in fiber, but they also have a high water content, and this combination of fiber and water means that vegetables have low caloric density, i.e. they provide a small number of calories for a large volume of food.
This makes them very satiating, allowing people to feel full with fewer calories, which helps in weight management.
Lower blood pressure
The minerals in vegetables, such as potassium, help to lower blood pressure, especially when choosing fresh or frozen vegetables that do not contain added salt or sodium the way that canned varieties can.
Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
The “phytochemicals” (plant-based compounds) found in vegetables, such as vitamins, provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory impacts that are good for heart health.
As we saw, the fiber content helps with digestion and satiety for maintaining a healthy weight, and a healthy body weight and healthy blood pressure are key factors for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Promote good mental health
Beyond all of the physical benefits listed above, studies have also shown that a high intake of vegetables is linked to higher levels of optimism and protects against symptoms of depression.
- Related Article: How To Start Eating Healthy: 5 Simple Tips For Beginners
5 Ways To Eat More Vegetables
Here are my five favorite ways to get five a day:
1. Eat ‘Em Early
For many of us in North America, vegetables are not usually on the table at breakfast time. But, there is no reason they shouldn’t be.
Consider adding a few slices of tomato (technically still a fruit) with your morning toast, or add a handful of mild-tasting baby spinach to your morning omelet for a pop of color and nutrients.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which is an antioxidant that provides the pink-red color to various rosy fruits and vegetables. Lycopene helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and is even linked to better sleep.
Since lycopene is fat-soluble, be sure to include a fat source such as butter or avocado on that toast.
– Michael Greger, Founder, NutritionFacts.org
There is a reason that the muscle-bound cartoon character Popeye, with his bulging biceps, was known for eating cans of spinach: spinach is associated with stronger muscles. Plus, the compounds in spinach also improve heart & eye health, and can reduce the risk of ulcers.
Work your way up to a full serving size at breakfast (about ¾ cup of chopped vegetables or two handfuls of leafy greens), and you’ll be well on your way to five a day.
2. Get ‘Em Prepped
Let’s face it; washing, peeling, cutting and chopping vegetables is a lot of work, and it’s time-consuming. A major time-saver is to buy pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables – just open the bag and they’re ready to eat, with no additional prep required.
I like to buy “party trays” – big vegetable platters. I toss the store-bought dip (usually high in fat and with artificial flavors or preservatives) and make my own with high-protein greek yogurt and fresh or dried herbs for a healthy and flavorful snack that’s ready any time.
This is the most expensive option, because you’re paying for someone to cut up the vegetables and arrange them in an attractive way, plus the cost of a dip you’re likely not going to eat. Personally, it’s still worth it for me when I think about the other things I can be doing with the time I save.
I also buy bags of pre-washed salad greens. All I have to do is add some cooked protein (like rotisserie chicken breast) and a simple homemade dressing of olive oil and vinegar, and I’ve got a meal in minutes.
This is more cost effective, because there are no “points for presentation” – bagged salad isn’t as visually appealing, but it’s still incredibly nutritious.
Finally, bags of fresh or frozen mixed vegetables are a great way to make a quick supper. I cook some meat in the fry pan and a pot of rice while the vegetables are sauteing and then throw them together with a stir fry sauce for a family dinner that’s ready in fifteen minutes.
This is the most cost effective option; often frozen vegetables are less expensive than fresh, and frozen vegetables can even have more nutrients than fresh vegetables because they are frozen as soon as they are harvested, preserving nutrients compared to fresh vegetables that lose nutrients over time as they are transported and stored.
3. Cook ‘Em In A New Way
Sometimes all it takes to get excited about vegetables is to try preparing them in a new way. Consider all the ways to have your vegetables:
- Raw: the fastest of all, just make sure your vegetables are washed
- Steamed: get a steamer basket to fit inside a standard pot and fill it with your favorite vegetables, cut into similar size pieces so that they all cook at the same time
- Boiled: similar to steaming, but you just drop the vegetables directly into the boiling water
- Grilled: your BBQ isn’t just for meat! Brush or spray vegetable pieces lightly with avocado oil (has the highest smoke point, so it’s better than olive oil for use on the grill), and grill for a few minutes on each side
- Roasted: preheat the oven to 400 F and toss your vegetable pieces with a little oil and your favorite spices before roasting for 20-40 minutes
4 Sneak ‘Em In
Being a picky eater isn’t just reserved for kids. Many adults find that vegetables have a strong bitter taste.
Cauliflower, zucchini, kale and spinach are all easy to throw into a protein smoothie, and a great-tasting protein powder (like PEScience Select Protein) means you won’t even taste them. Try out this Vanilla Green Protein Smoothie.
Other vegetables can be easily processed in a food processor and added to ground meat such as meatloaf, meatballs and burger patties. Hidden Veggie Meatballs are a perfect example of this technique.
Mushrooms are particularly easy to hide this way because their color and texture blends seamlessly with ground beef.
Peeled eggplant is similar, and an easy way to eat a vegetable that you may not be as familiar with preparing. This Garden Meatloaf has five different vegetables: onion, zucchini, green peppers, eggplant and tomatoes!
Pureeing steamed vegetables like carrots and bell peppers makes for a great addition to soups, stews and pasta sauces.
5. Include ‘Em In Desserts
My son is a big fan of this creamy, cool Mint Chocolate Avocado Pudding.
5 Biggest “Bang For Your Buck” Vegetables
If I could only eat five vegetables for the rest of my life, here are the five I would focus on for the biggest benefit for my health, and why:
- Spinach – spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with antioxidants that help in reducing inflammation, and also high in iron and Vitamin A, which is part of eye health, and Vitamin K which helps with blood clotting.
- Carrots – the vibrant color of carrots comes from carotenoids, which help to support immune system function and skin health.
- Broccoli – the sulforaphane in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables that give them their distinctive “stinky feet” smell is also responsible for benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Beetroot – the betalains in beetroot (also known as beets) are responsible for both its deep reddish purple color and provide health benefits in the form of lower blood pressure and healthy cells.
- Sweet potato – just like carrots, sweet potatoes provide beta-carotene for good eye health and they are also high in fiber, making them a great slow-digesting source of complex carbohydrates to provide a steady source of energy.
Learn More About Vegetables
- Take a look at our list of the 14 Best Vegetables For Building Muscle.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
Why Trust Our Content
On Staff at FeastGood.com, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn more about our team here.
Have a Question?
If you have any questions or feedback about what you’ve read, you can reach out to us at email@example.com. We respond to every email within 1 business day.