Welcome back! Hoping that last week’s article shed a bit of light that grains don’t have to be avoided. That they actually can be your friend! If you missed that article, please go back and check it out.
This week the topic is vegetables. And yes, your mother was quite right when she insisted on you eating your veggies! Fresh vegetables are naturally low in fat, salt and sugar, making them an excellent food choice. Because we can eat most of them raw, they likely should be referred to as one of nature’s “fast foods”! Vegetables provide energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre for starters. Add to that the additional benefits from phytonutrients.
Vegetables are often broken down into two categories, non-starchy and starchy vegetables. The non-starchy ones tend to have a higher water content, are lower in energy, rich in vitamins and minerals, and are easier to eat raw.
Starchy vegetables contain higher levels of carbohydrate so provide more energy. These are usually roots and tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, most squash, and sweet corn. Legumes are technically a vegetable as well, and are also considered starchy because of their higher levels of carbohydrate. These however, are quite high in protein, so are ideal in meatless meals.
Vegetables also contain phytonutrients. Ones that are commonly spoken about is beta-carotene which are found in carrots, pumpkin and leafy green vegetables; lycopene found in tomatoes; and flavonoids found in beans, onions, and again, leafy green vegetables and tomatoes.
Vitamins and minerals are also found in vegetables. Vitamin A stimulates new cell growth, keeps cells healthy and can help vision in dim light, and can be found in pumpkin, carrots, spinach and broccoli. Vitamin B releases energy from food, and is good for the nervous system and can be found in green vegetables. Vitamin C is used in tissue repair, helps the immune system by fighting against infection and supports health overall health. It also helps the absorption of iron from foods. Vitamin K helps blood clot, and can be found in turnips, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, asparagus, peas and green beans. Calcium is necessary for healthy teeth, bones, hair and nails, and can be found in spinach, parsley, broccoli, celery, leeks, spring onions, cabbage and carrots. Potassium controls muscles and nerves and may be important in preventing high blood pressure. All vegetables contain potassium. Iron is essential for red blood cells so that oxygen can be carried around the body. Spinach, parsley, leeks, broccoli and mushrooms are good sources of iron.
I believe that non-starchy vegetables are unlimited. I have prepared for many natural bodybuilding shows over the past 13 years, and the best advice I received was non-starchy veg is your best friend. Not only can you load up on them, they contain a lot of water, and they contain fibre, which supports slower digestion and good bowel function.
One thing to consider with starchy vegetables is, just like the grains we spoke about last week, is the quality and quantity. Regarding quality, let’s look at potatoes. A potato isn’t bad for you, but French fries, tater tots, poutine, etc. aren’t good choices. The same goes for sweet potatoes. Better as a potato than fries. What you put on matters as well. Sour cream, gravy, ketchup and salt aren’t keeping you on your path to health and wellness. Portion size matters too! For most women, a ½ cup serving of any starchy vegetable is enough. For men I recommend 1 cup. Too much starch for a person who doesn’t move enough is too much! In saying that, I recommend that you aim to make half your plate non-starchy vegetables, choosing a range of different colours. Then add the proper portion size of starchy veg to it. If you are having bread, or another grain alongside, cut it down more. Your starchy portion should be no more than a ¼ of your plate.
There you have it. Fill your plate with a variety of varieties, colours and textures! There is so much goodness in vegetables, your body will be unbelievably thankful for the abundance you provide it with!