The wonder foods. Need I say more. This week we'll also be talking all things vegan and vegetarian too.
Vegetables almost come in any shape and size, colour and texture.
You've got a near endless list of different varieties and as many nutritional benefits to be garnered from eating them.
What is important however is to note that with vegetables, the key is to eat as much variety as possible to ensure that you are gaining a broad and balanced intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
No single vegetable is going to provide you with the nutrients you need to be healthy - so when it comes to fruit and vegetables - there are two things to consider - variety and quantity. There are at least nine different families of fruits and vegetables and the key to getting the nutrients your body needs is to incorporate as many of these as you can.
So think textures, colours, things grown on trees, on bushes, on the ground, below ground.
Most vegetables tend to be low in calories but high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Which vegetables should I be eating?
Nature very much has it's own rock-stars - and veggies are one of them.
Generally those who incorporate a lot of fruits and vegetables as part of a wider healthy diet tend to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Vegetables are an incredible source when it comes to providing you with the recommended vital nutrients that you need to remain in good health and for good maintenance of your body.
Let me get this straight with you - ANY vegetable is going to be beneficial for you to ad to your diet. However, there are some which have superpowers and will benefit your health even more than others - helping to fight inflammation and reduce risks of chronic disease.
It tends to be that the healthiest veggies to eat that crop up time and time again are the leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce and swiss chard, eating these are strongly correlated to the reduction in cardiovascular diseases. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits and lemons also made a good contribution.
Vegetables with high levels of antioxidants, like carrots and other vegetables / fruits which tend to be brightly coloured like tomatoes or peppers have shown in studies to have cancer prevention properties too.
Vegetables are categorised in to five sub-groups:
Vegetables are categorised in to their sub-groups based on their nutrient content.
These are your dark green leafy and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale, spinach, chard, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, watercress etc.
These are often low calorie and offer vitamins like A, C, folate, potassium, magnesium and calcium along with fibre.
Red and orange
These as expected are your red and orange antioxidant packed veggies.
Think carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, red peppers, pumpkin etc.
This subgroup is a good source of vitamin A, potassium, fibre and antioxidants.
Beans, peas and lentils
As the name suggests - these are beans, dried peas and lentils. Think of all of the tinned beans you often find lining the supermarket aisles. Black, black-eyes, chickpeas, kidney, pinto, white beans - they're all under this bracket. It also includes split peas and lentils too Not only do they class as a vegetable but they also class as a protein. You can also find them as dried versions too.
Along with protein they are also good sources of fibre, folate and magnesium.
These are things like potatoes, green peas, parsnips, corn. They tend to be higher in calories than other vegetables and are filled with fibre and carbohydrate - so be mindful of portion sizes of these.
These are everything else that doesn't fall under the above categories so think avocado, bean sprouts, cauliflower, celery, aubergine, green beans and peppers, mushrooms, onions, radishes, olives, artichokes and more.
All of the veggies in this group vary in their nutrient content therefore its important you eat a good variety of them as there some great health benefits to be gained.
How many vegetables should I be eating a day?
There are so many different guidelines as to what we should be eating. It can also vary depending on age and sex.
However, the NHS recommends that adults should consume a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. But first, we need to understand what makes up a 'serving' or 'portion'.
A portion is 80g.
Children should also be eating at least five portions too. A rough guide on a portion size is what should fit in to the palm of your hand. The amount of food a child need does tend to vary with age, body size and levels of physical activity so these are all things to consider.
It is also important that those five portions aren't just made up of fruit. Which is easily done.
When it comes to dried fruits - a portion is approx 30g.
It's important to note also that potatoes and other starchy foods don't class as one of your five-a-day.
And regarding fruit juice - no matter how much you drink, (which includes smoothies) this will only class as one portion of your five-a-day. It's also always better to eat whole fruit rather than just the juice!
If you want more information on your 5-a-day guidance of what classes as a portion etc head to the NHS website and read more here.
The benefits of eating vegetables - let's talk statistics
I often think it's all very well telling someone what they should and shouldn't be doing in terms of do this because it is good for you - but I think it's more important to understand the why behind the reasoning.
So here are a few benefits of eating vegetables (some in numbers) for you that have been backed by science.
People who ate more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day were 20% less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and stroke compared to those who only ate less than 3 portions per day.
Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, onions etc have shown to probably protect against a variety of cancers including mouth, throat, stomach and esophagus to name but a few.
Women who eat more than 5.5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day have a lower risk (11% less) of developing breast cancer than those who eat 2.5 portions or less. Especially if the vegetables are cruciferous and yellow/orange).
Eating a vegetarian diet has shown to be associated with lower blood pressure.
Consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruit has been associated with a lower risk of developing type-2 diabetes. However greater consumption of fruit juices has been linked to an increase in risk of type-2 diabetes.
Consuming vegetables high in antioxidants has been link to helping protect against eye disease. These sorts of antioxidants are often found in green leafy vegetables, and brightly coloured red/orange/yellow foods like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, red berries etc.
They're great for the gut. Vegetables contain high levels of fibre which have been proven to be beneficial for promoting growth of healthy gut bacteria. The insoluble fibre that they contain is also beneficial for the digestive system when it comes to keeping healthy and regular bowel movements.
Quick Eats: Aubergine, Tomato and Parmesan bake
This is an absolutely delicious meal!! When it comes to eating meat substitutes I always think aubergine is a great addition. It's filling, got a good amount of 'bite' and super tasty! Plus is can be used in so many dishes.
This is really simple and a great meal to serve with a huge side salad making sure you're getting your veggies fix.
and I switch out the egg and add a few bread crumbs on the top with the cheese for a nice tasty, crunchy topping.
Serve with a delicious simple side salad of green leaves with a simple dressing of a combination of the following:
Play around with the quantities to find a taste that suits you. Olive oil will always be the greatest quantity, followed by balsamic vinegar, then soy then sesame as sesame oil has a very strong flavour.
Veganism is when people make a choice to exclude (as much as possible and where practical) any sort products which are gained as a result of animal cruelty or exploitation from your life. So that includes predominantly diet, but also includes clothing or otherwise.
It often promotes the use of animal-free alternatives too.
There are many reasons why people choose to follow a vegan way of life - and these tend to often be summarised in to the following:
- Ethical reasons
- Health reasons
- Environmental reasons
We will briefly cover each other these below.
This is a result of vegans believing that they want to avoid where possible any cruelty to animals at all costs and this goes way beyond just their food choices. So this will come in to all areas of life for instance not using products which test on animals.
They oppose the way that another living-beings life is ended in order to provide food or products from it's flesh, milk or skin.
Ethical vegans are also concerned with the way in which animals are reared and kept and the farming practices which are associated with this.
Some people choose to vegan based on the potential benefits that it might have on their health.
There have been some links to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some times of cancer for those who follow a vegan diet.
By going vegan it is also a way to reduce the intake of antibiotics and hormones that are often used in modern animal agriculture.
Another health reason for going vegan is that vegan diets have been linked to weight loss and a lower body mass index (BMI) of those who follow such diets.
Some vegans choose to go vegan for environmental reasons. These may include one or all of the following:
As a way to live a greener life and lower their carbon footprint.
- There is a lot of food that is grown and imported especially to Europe to feed animals which has been grown abroad and been transported across the world.
- Meat production in general, (especially beef and lamb production) tends to have a higher CO2 output from production than plant-based diets. It is said that on average livestock farming produces 20-50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. For example someone who eats an average meat based diet will have a carbon footprint that contributes approximately 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions versus someone who consumes a vegan diet with a carbon foot print of approximately 1.5 tonnes.
(However it is important to note that the sources of foods you eat on a vegan diet do determine your footprint as some foodstuffs such as avocado, mangoes, asparagus and mushrooms all have very high carbon footprints comparably to some other plant-based foods.
- By using land to grow crops for animal feed rather than food for people, there is an argument by some that going vegan also helps to reduce the level of malnutrition taking place in developing worlds.
- Another argument for veganism is that there is a much lower need of crops and water required in order to sustain a vegan diet therefore by switching to veganism it is one of the most effective ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
- Other viewpoints for following a vegan diet is that it is a much more sustainable way of living and providing for a human family. The argument continues in relation to global food and water insecurity and that being vegan is a simple way to reduce the strain put on the ecosystem when it comes to food production and other resources.
However when looking to become a vegan - I think it is important to research these facts to ensure that your choices if they are for environmental reasons are indeed correct as I mentioned above some foods might not all fall under a low carbon footprint so if you are moving to a vegan diet for these reasons it is important to ensure you are informed in order for you to make the right choices.
Quick Eats: Vegan Mushroom Pasta
This is a super simple recipe which is also cost friendly. It's a recipe from Deliciously Ella - and is very quick.
As a vegan in order to get things like creamy sauces - it takes a little more work because its not as simple as opening a pot and pouring it in, but well worth the effort.
Pasta (white or wholemeal, spelt - whatever you fancy)
Rosemary (dried or fresh) - this is optional
Tamari or soy sauce
Nutritional yeast (optional)
Having looked at veganism above - we'll now look at the difference between vegetarians and vegans.
The fundamental difference between the two is that vegetarians eat animal products like milk, cheese, eggs and other products that come from animals but generally not meat. In certain cases - vegetarians will decide to eat fish too.
However, as in the case of vegans too, not all vegetarians are equal. Some may choose to abstain from certain products like dairy products but eat other things like eggs. Below helps clear this distinction up a little.
Lacto Vegetarian: A vegetarian who eats dairy products but does not eat eggs or meat.
Ovo Vegetarian: An ovo vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat or dairy and only eats eggs.
Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: This tends to be the most common form of vegetarianism - and is when people simply avoid all meat products.
Pollotarian: A vegetarian that will consume chicken but no other meats.
Pescatarian: A vegetarian that will chose to eat fish but not meat.
Flexitarian: An individual who chooses to follow mainly a vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat. A lot of people unknowingly are flexitarians by simply choosing not to include meat at every mealtime.
What do vegetarian diets include?
Vegetarians eat a varied diet which includes the following
Vegetables and fruits
Grains and pulses
Nuts and seeds
Dairy products (milk, cream, cheese, butter etc - not lard however as that is animal fat)
What vegetarians don't eat?
Vegetarians as I mentioned don't often eat any animal products - but apart from meat this also includes any by-products from animal production e.g. gummy sweets often are made using gelatine which often comes from cows or pigs - you can however get vegetarian and vegan gummy sweets too though.
Below are the common foods that vegetarians don't eat.
Meat or poultry
Fish or seafood
Gelatine or animal rennet
Stock or fat from animals
Quick eats: Courgette and carrot fritters
These are absolutely delicious. Simple, quick and a nice change as a vegetarian supper or even if you're a meat eater there are a super tasty meal change up where you won't feel like you're missing out not having meat. It's also a great way to get kiddies to eat more veggies too so a fab recipe for the whole family.
Nigella seeds (optional)
Plain (or spelt) flour
If you're interested in finding out more about vegetarian diets and what they include - the Vegetarian Society has a very informative website - which you can access here.