Alexandria Hast, PhD, RD
Plants are popping up everywhere, and I don’t mean flowers and weeds. More and more plant-based products and recipes are hitting grocery store shelves, cookbooks, and social media channels. From beans and lentils to vegan cream cheeses and faux meats, the types of products that can be made with plants are increasing and often taste good, too. People are choosing to go plant-based for a variety of reasons, including health benefits, sustainability, and animal welfare. No matter the reason for choosing more “plant-based” foods, focusing on fitting more veggies in your diet can provide the greatest benefit.
When Eating Plant-Based, Choose Veggies for the Greatest Nutritional Advantage:
- Vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals
- Many vegetables are lower in calories while others like beans and peas are higher in protein and fiber
- When water-rich vegetables are substituted for higher calorie, higher fat foods in the diet, they can help reduce calorie intake1
- Evidence supports that diets rich in vegetables and fruits may reduce the risk for certain diseases and chronic health problems2
Compare an original recipe or product to a plant-based version. Does it provide the nutrients you want or don’t want, with the same or better taste? Keep in mind veggie-based products (take chips for example) can have the same amount of calories but less fat or more fiber, so reading labels is still important! To get the most out of your plant-based food choices and recipes, stick with products that include vegetables as the main ingredients or recipes that use fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables in flavorful and creative ways. Do a quick search on “zoodle noodles” and you’ll get the idea. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you started on how you can add more plants to your diet.
1. Welcome a new “pasta”
Veggies are taking over pasta dishes everywhere. Kitchen tools, like spiralizers, turn a simple zucchini or sweet potato into “noodles” that can be lightly sautéed and topped with a marinara sauce, like Prego® for a veggie-rich “pasta” dish. No spiralizer? Go for spaghetti squash instead. It’s not called spaghetti squash for the fun of it – it really looks like spaghetti! Once cooked, simply use a fork to scrape it out – the spaghetti noodle strands appear like magic! Intimidated by this vegetable and not sure how to cook it? Try this easy recipe for Creamy Chicken & Vegetables over Spaghetti Squash.
2. Take the stealth approach
Puréed foods aren’t just for babies. Puréed or finely chopped vegetables are a great way to add nutrients to a dish (and few calories if using water-rich veggies). If you have any “veggie-snubbers” in the family, this might be a way to sneak some into their meals. Cauliflower, carrot, squash and beans are just a few veggies that are easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes like mashed potatoes, chili, pasta sauce and desserts (yes, desserts). Just cook the veggies and purée or finely chop. You can also stock up by making big batches and storing them in baggies in the freezer to use later. Be sure to check your grocer’s freezer aisle, some stores carry puréed squash, so all you have to do is defrost! To learn how this could help you lose weight and eat fewer calories, check out “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” book.
Check out this book for delicious veggie-packed recipes.
3. Switch out the carbs once in a while
Whole grain breads are an important part of our diets and provide necessary fiber and nutrients. But, it’s ok to try something new and different every once in a while, especially when it involves adding veggies to your diet! Cauliflower is another versatile vegetable that can be used to make a pizza crust! Check out this Pizza Primavera with Cauliflower Crust recipe from CampbellsKitchen.com. Want to add a little twist to your typical lunch? Instead of using tortillas or pitas, wrap up your lunch with lettuce or make a portabella mushroom cap bun.
If you want to go more plant-based this year, remember to choose products and recipes that feature nutrient-dense veggies (provide lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and more). Remember, these are just a few delicious ways to add more plants to your diet, but the internet is full of unique recipes and uses for vegetables. Check out what others are doing on Pinterest or Facebook.
Cheers to veggies,
Alex received her Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences from the Pennsylvania State University. Her research investigated the effects of protein, energy density, and portion size on satiety and energy intake, and her work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals. She also obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Penn State and completed a combined internship and Master’s degree program at University Hospitals and Case University in Cleveland, Ohio. Alex has several years of experience as a clinical dietitian and is a member of the American Society for Nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association. At Campbell, Alex is a Senior Nutritionist responsible for nutrition science communications, research, and claims development and nutrition labeling for the beverage business.
- Blatt AD, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Hidden Vegetables: an effective strategy to reduce energy intake and increase vegetable intake in adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011; 93:756-63.
- The Nutrition Source: Vegetables and Fruits https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/ Accessed January 3rd, 2016.