Statistically speaking, you probably don't eat enough vegetables. In fact, only four in 100 Australians do meet the daily recommended vegetable intake.
What can we do about it? Obviously, eat more vegetables, but for the 96 percent of us who are struggling to meet the five-serves-a-day mark, we need a little help.
There are easy ways to eat more (or sneak in) vegetables into your day, whether it be adding grated veggies to bolognese or replacing half your crackers with carrot sticks.
"'Eat your veggies!' It's a phrase most of us have probably heard numerous times but as dietitians, if there's one food we encourage our clients to eat more of it's vegetables," Anna Debenham, accredited practising dietitian of The Biting Truth, told HuffPost Australia.
Why do we need to eat vegetables?
"Vegetables are important for our overall health and wellbeing for a number of reasons," Debenham said.
Benefits of eating vegetables:
- Rich in vitamins and minerals
- Rich in antioxidants, which helps prevent cancers and other diseases
- High in fibre, which helps us feel full
- Help with weight loss
- Improve our digestive system
- Keep our bowels healthy
What can happen when we don't eat enough veggies?
"The bottom line is that most Aussies are not eating enough vegetables each day," Alexandra Parker, accredited practising dietitian of The Biting Truth, told HuffPost Australia.
"Veggies contain many nutrients that are vital for our health, which means if you eat too few you may be at risk of a nutrient deficiency."
If we don't eat enough vegetables we may experience digestive problems due to lack of fibre.
"Veggies contain lots of fibre which helps to keep our digestive track healthy and our bowel patterns regular. If you're not getting enough in your diet, you may experience constipation or haemorrhoids," Parker said.
Not eating enough vegetables may also result in weight gain and nutrient deficiencies, Debenham explained.
"If you're not eating enough veggies, it is likely you are not eating enough fruit either and most likely going for foods with a higher fat content and kilojoule density," Debenham said. "We usually find that people who eat more vegetables find it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Veggies are full of fibre, which helps to keep you full so you are less likely to overeat.
"You may experience fatigue. Deficiency in folate can cause fatigue and anemia. Among other foods, this B vitamin can be found in dark leafy greens and starchy vegetables."
Another side effect of not eating enough vegetables is potentially falling sick more often.
"If you lack vegetables in your diet then you won't be receiving the important vitamins they provide, which means your body may lack the defences it needs to release free radical fighters against viruses," Debenham said.
How many vegetables should we eat a day?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adult Australians consume five serves of veggies every day. And of course you can eat more than this if you please.
"If you're worried that you are not getting enough veg, then we encourage you to try and incorporate some veg into every meal," Parker said.
A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g, which is equivalent to:
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- ½ cup leafy green or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup cooked beans, peas or lentils
- 1 medium tomato
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, taro)
Easy ways to eat more vegetables
1. Add flavour to veggies
"If you're bored with a side of steamed veggies with dinner, try mixing it up to make them more enjoyable and therefore more enticing to eat," Parker said.
"Try drizzling extra virgin olive oil over your veggies and add some different herbs and spices, or even chilli and garlic. If you really want to get creative you could trying stuffing vegetables like capsicum or eggplant with lean meat or rice and legumes."
2. Sneak veggies into your favourite meals
Yes, sneaking veggies into meals without tasting too vegetable-like is possible. All you need to do is finely chop, grate or blend the vegetables into a puree, before adding them to your pot/fry pan.
"Add more veggies into your favourite meals like spaghetti bolognese, frittatas, casseroles, scrambled eggs and so on," Debenham said.
"This is a great way to get your kids to eat more veggies too. If you find they tend to pick them out, then try grating carrot or zucchini. They might not even realise they are there."
You can also mix zoodles (zucchini made into noodles using a spiraliser) with regular spaghetti, or mix cauliflower rice with regular rice, to bump up the veggies in your meals.
3. Give veggies a more delicious name
It might sound weird but research shows that giving vegetables luxurious labels like "twisted citrus-glazed carrots", "dynamite chilli and tangy lime-seasoned beetroot" or "sweet sizzlin' green beans" makes them more enticing to us.
In fact, the research showed fancy-sounding names for veg boosted sales by 25 percent and by 40 percent compared with veggies given 'healthy' labels like "lighter-choice beets with no added sugar", even though all the vegetables were exactly the same.
4. Add beans to your favourite meals
Beans are a vegetable we often forget about, but the truth is they add flavour, texture and nutrition to any meal. Try adding kidney or black beans to tacos, burritos and chilli con carne, or add lentils to your bolognese.
"Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans are often consumed by vegetarians as a source of protein and iron. These foods are also considered a vegetable and can be a great way to boost your veggie intake," Parker said.
5. Have a savoury breakfast
We usually leave savoury breakfasts for the weekend, but there's no reason why you can't quickly whip up baked beans on toast with wilted spinach and tomato, or toast with hummus, sprouts and tomato.
"We always try to include some veggies at each main meal (including breakfast) as this means hitting five serves a day is very achievable," Debenham said.
6. Keep your fridge and freezer full
Let's face it, if your fridge is full of chocolate and cake and one measly carrot, then the natural choice will be the treats. Prioritising healthy food and keeping the fridge and freezer full of fruit and vegetables means you're more likely to reach for the good stuff.
"Keep frozen veggies in your freezer. While I do encourage the consumption of fresh vegetables where possible, frozen veggies are equally as nutritious and most of the time more convenient and affordable," Parker said.
7. Reach for vegetables for snacks
"If you have time to plan and prepare your snacks then you will certainly be on the right track to a healthy diet," Debenham said.
"Keeping a container of chopped veggies (like carrots and cucumber) in the fridge will mean you always have a healthy snack option on hand. We love to pair veggie sticks with some cottage cheese or hummus to combat the afternoon munchies."