I honestly canât remember the last time I ate a meal that didnât include veggies. For me, theyâre the main attraction at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I've worked with plenty of clients whoÂ can go days without eating anÂ adequate amount ofÂ veggies.Â They might optÂ forÂ a little lettuce on a sandwich, or a side of starchy potatoes, but too often vegetables tend to beÂ an afterthought.
It isn't thatÂ surprising consideringÂ the latest data showsÂ vegetable consumption has dropped over the past five years, despite all the positive buzz about this food group. About half of the total U.S. population eats less than 1.5 cups of vegetables a day. And a whopping 87% donât reach the recommended minimum goal of 2 to 3Â cups a day.
As a Health reader, you may be hitting the daily mark. But if you are falling shortâor you have a friend or family member who still doesn't get why veggies are so importantâcheck out the seven points below. They are all powerful perksÂ of eating more veggies (beyond "they're good for you"), and I hope they'll Â inspire you, or the people you love, to become true veg enthusiasts. Even if just oneÂ argumentÂ resonates, upping veggie intake will lead toÂ allÂ of the benefitsÂ below.
Veggies make you more attractive
You may have heard that eating healthy foodsÂ gives skin a ânatural glow,â and itâs very true. One University of Nottingham study found when strangers viewed photographs of peopleâs faces, they rated the peopleÂ who ate more produce asÂ more attractive than the people who hadÂ suntans. Another study from St. Andrews University concluded that people who ate three additional daily portions of produce for six weeks were ranked as better looking than those with lower intakes. Why the beauty benefit? Veggies have been shown to change skin pigment and improve circulation, which means more blood flow to the skin's surface, giving you a glowing appearance.Â PlusÂ they could ward off signs of aging: research shows certain veggies help keep skin firm and wrinkle-free.
Veggies can help you lose pounds without âdietingâ
Research has shown that people who eat primarily plant-based diets tend to weigh less.Â OneÂ study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that over a five-year period, both men and women who ateÂ more plant foods and fewer animal foods gained the least weight. Researchers have attributed this result, in part, to the antioxidants and fiber in veggies, which have been tied to weight loss. In fact, some studies have observed that the bodyÂ boosts calorie burn after eating plant-based meals.
Another reason is veggies are both filling andÂ low in calories. For example, two cups of spinach contain lessÂ than 15 calories. That's almost 200 fewer caloriesÂ than a cup of rice. So rather thanÂ filling your plate with go-toÂ staples likeÂ pasta and rice, swap in veggies and stick to smaller portions of starches.Â Cup for cup youâll shave about 200 calories, without having to eat tinyÂ meals.
Veggies help prevent constipation
Letâs face it: If your gut doesnât feel good, you donât feel good. People have told me that theyâve cancelled fun plans, lost their sex drive, and called in sick due to the discomfort of being âbacked up.â Luckily, veggies can remedy digestive problems. The natural fiber in veggies helps strengthen gastrointestinalÂ muscle (kind of like a work out for your digestive system), and push waste through the body faster. One client, who regulated her digestion by eating more veggies, said the dietary change improved everything from her moodÂ to how her clothes fit,Â because she was no longer sporting a constipation belly bump.
Veggies help support work outs
For all of the reasons already mentioned, veggies help athletes perform at their best. And some specific veggies have been shown to help boost endurance and support recovery. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that drinking 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice daily for six days helped men cycle up to 16% longer than they did with a placebo beverage. Meanwhile 100% tomato juice has beenÂ foundÂ toÂ reduce exercise-induced stress on the body by as much as 84%. AndÂ watercress, a peppery green from the mustard family, couldÂ effectively counter the wear and tear of exercise, even after one serving. Veggie-loading, anyone?
Veggies boost happiness
One recent New Zealand study found that a higher produce intake helped people feel more energized, calmer, and happierâand the effects lasted through the following day. Another study, published in the journalÂ Social Indicators Research, concluded that more produce boosted mental well being. So the next time you're feeling down, skip the cookies and reach for some veggies and hummus instead.
Veggies lower the risk of chronic diseases
It may seemÂ obvious that eating more veggies lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers, but you may not realize how much of an impact small changes can make. One recent study found that eating just over one extra serving of leafy greens a day reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%. A higher intake of plant-based foods also means a moreÂ alkaline diet, which has been tied to lower risk of diabetes.
Veggies boost everyday energy
Most of my clients say the main thing they hope to improveÂ by changing their diet is their energy level. Â And guess what? Veggies can help meet this goal too, especially when they replace refined carbs and processed foods. The fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in veggies improveÂ circulation, immunity, mood, digestive health, blood sugar, and insulin regulationâall of which translate into feeling lighter and more energized.Â The best part? These results can be pretty immediate. But don't take my word for it: Try making veggies the star of everyÂ meal for one day, and monitor how you feel. Here are a few ideas:
Breakfast:Â Make a smoothie withÂ spinach or kale,Â frozen fruit, a protein powder or Greek yogurt, almond butter, and almond milk. Or whip upÂ aÂ veggie-heavy omelet with avocado, and enjoy with a side of fruit.
Lunch:Â OptÂ for a salad with lots of greens and veggies, dressed in an olive oil-based vinaigrette.Â AddÂ salmon, chicken, or beans. Top withÂ quinoa or chickpeas.
Dinner:Â Cook up a stir-fry withÂ lots of colorful veggies, in a sauce made from brown rice vinegar, and fresh squeezed citrus juice, seasoned with fresh ginger, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Serve over a small bed of brown rice, topped with sesame seeds.
If you stick to a daily plan like this one, you'll eat well over the recommended minimum recommendation for veggies. And I bet youâll notice a tremendous difference in your energy levelâeven after just one day.
Meet Cynthia Sass at theÂ HealthÂ Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon RanchÂ AprilÂ 22-24. For details, go toÂ Health.com/TotalWellness.
Do you have a question about nutrition? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioningÂ @goodhealthÂ andÂ @CynthiaSass.Â
Cynthia SassÂ is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen onÂ national TV, sheâs Healthâs contributing nutrition editor, and privately counselsÂ clientsÂ in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her onÂ Facebook,Â TwitterÂ andÂ Pinterest.