“Vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which are key to a healthy immune system,” says Kendra Grinde-Busalacchi, a registered dietitian with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Antioxidants, such as beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, are especially important in helping your body fight illness.”
Eat the rainbow
Antioxidants are typically high in vegetables rich in color, especially ones that are purple, red, orange and yellow. There are many to choose from and something for everyone, including:
- Sweet potatoes
- Collard greens
Each of us should eat four to five servings of vegetables each day. “Colorful vegetables complement all meals,” says Busalacchi.
One serving can be 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Busalacchi offers these tips for adding veggies to every meal:
- Breakfast: Make a vegetable omelet using red, yellow or orange peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.
- Lunch: Sliced beets are a great topper to any salad.
- Snack: Raw carrots dipped in hummus are an excellent afternoon pick-me-up.
- Dinner: A steamed sweet potato as a side is simple and filled with antioxidants.
“Eating vegetables raw or lightly steamed will give you the highest benefits of antioxidants,” says Busalacchi. “However, eating vegetables no matter how they’re cooked — steamed, baked, grilled or blanched — is much more beneficial for your health then not eating vegetables at all.”
That said, she notes that masking the vegetables in less-than-healthy substances can reduce the benefits and introduce new risks. “Butter, cheese, cream sauces, creamy dressings, bacon or croutons can add unhealthy saturated fats and salt that can put you at risk for obesity and heart disease,” Busalacchi says.
So what to do for the less-than-enthusiastic vegetable eaters in your family? Try these tips:
Add extra flavor without the unhealthy fat — If cooked vegetables seem bland, simple steps like adding a touch of olive oil and minced garlic or chopped shallots can increase the flavor.
Introduce spice or crunch — Another trick is adding a bit of spice, such as red pepper flakes or chopped chiles, or some crunch, such as a sprinkle of chopped walnuts or pine nuts, to steamed vegetables.
Fire up the grill — Grilling vegetables adds a delicious smoky flavor and brings out the vegetables’ natural sweetness through caramelization. Leftovers? Use grilled peppers in your next salad.
Smoothie solution — Adding vegetables to smoothies is one more way to boost nutrient and antioxidant intake. Vegetables that are particularly good in smoothies and packed with antioxidants include spinach, beets, carrots, pumpkin and kale.
Grow your own — Finally, consider growing some vegetables of your own, even if you start with just one tomato plant or a few beets in the ground. Gardening is a fun, educational and healthy hobby for family members of all ages, and can make cooking and eating veggies rewarding.
Try these plant-based recipes from Sharp Health News.