Now, nothing against salad. Salad just means a bunch of ingredients tossed together; generally containing vegetables, and often but not always eaten cold. However, many people make the mistake of assuming their vegetable requirements are being met as long as they have some salad each day. This depends on the salads in question, and is usually not the case. For many working professionals, the "Toss-a-Salad" counter at the local deli is their go-to spot for lunch. This would be a good thing...if that salad were not a small pile of lettuce which is then generously topped with meats, cheeses, buttery croutons, and a heavy cream dressing. Take a look around the next time you are at the Toss-a-Salad counter; most of the salads being handed back over that partition to the customers' waiting hands are packing a serious caloric punch, and not much of a nutritional one. And then people wonder why they can't lose weight when they eat salad for lunch every day.....
The fact of the matter is that largely due to our culture's food habits, which have increasingly focused on protein and animal foods and not on vegetables and fiber rich foods, many of us are out of touch with how many vegetables we need and what we should be looking for in our vegetables. I was at a restaurant this weekend where the entree salad on the menu offered mixed greens topped with cheese and three types of meat. Not a choice of three meats; three meats together. No other vegetables were mentioned in the description of the salad. However, many people would see that item and think "Good choice; I haven't had my vegetables yet for the day".
So what do we want from our vegetables? What fits the bill if not your basic restaurant salad? Your best bet is to go with variety. Go beyond lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Go for texture, deep color, fibrousness. Choose vegetables of all colors, shapes, sizes, textures, tastes and types. When you go to the store, make a point of trying some different vegetables each week along with your staples. The deeper the color, the more nutritious. Vegetables are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients....they keep your digestive tract working smoothly, they cleanse and detoxify your system, they strengthen your heart and other organs, they support your respiratory system, and they regulate the balance of bacteria in your body. The best way to make sure you are fulfilling your requirements is to get a good variety of veggies so that you are covering all your bases.
Some tips to get you there:
If you want to have salad for lunch, simply take a different approach at the Toss-a-Salad counter or at home; for your greens, choose arugula or mixed greens to get more nutrients than basic romaine lettuce. Then, skip the heavy meats, cheeses, buttered croutons and creamy dressing and instead top your greens with protein packed edamame, garbanzo, or kidney beans (or a mixture), raw broccoli, shredded carrots, artichoke hearts, red cabbage, healthy-fat olives,and a dash of olive oil and vinegar for dressing. Make sure that if the beans are your main protein, that you have the server add enough to keep you full rather than just a sprinkling. If you are going to opt for meat on your salad instead of beans, then make sure to skip cheese, or egg, or creamy dressing; too many animal foods in one meal make digestion sluggish and assimilation difficult. An excess of animal protein also puts stress on the liver and kidneys. Instead, focus on one ingredient as the "protein" ingredient, and have the rest be nutrition-packed vegetables. Make sure to include some olive oil and/or a small amount of nuts or seeds for the healthy fat that will keep you full and allow your body to absorb the nutrients of the veggies.
What about when the meal isn't salad? How many veggies do you eat then? When you think of your plate, imagine that the area you are going to fill is a clock. Half of the clock should be vegetables; 12- 6 o'clock. Out of the remaining 6 hours, half should be complex carbs and half should be protein. Example: 12 - 6 o'clock is broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots; 6 - 9 o'clock is beans; 9 - 12 o'clock is brown rice. Once you have your proportions down, you can rotate in whatever foods you are having at a given meal. 12 - 6 o'clock is kale, beets, and brussels sprouts, 6 - 9 o'clock is broiled fish, 9 - 12 o'clock is quinoa. Once you get in the habit, you will see how satisfied you feel when you are consuming vegetables in these proportions. You will also notice the benefits in your waistline; think of how many less calories you are eating if half of your entire plate is vegetables. Most importantly, eating that quantity and variety of vegetables will help you to meet your nutrient requirements and give you the fiber that your body needs to keep it running efficiently.
Here are some new veggies to add in as you broaden your vegetable horizons.
If You Like --> Then Try:
Sauteed Spinach --> Sauteed Kale, Collard Greens, or Arugula
Roasted Carrots --> Roasted Parsnips
Baked Sweet Potatoes --> Baked Butternut or Kabocha Squash (looks like a green pumpkin)
Raw Cucumbers, Celery --> Raw Daikon (japanese white radish)
Steamed Broccoli --> Steamed Brussel Sprouts
Remember, variety and quantity is key when it comes to vegetables. There is a whole world outside of salad; veggies can be eaten raw, baked, stewed, steamed, sauteed, roasted, or grilled. Sometimes falling in love with a vegetable is simply a matter of trying it prepared differently. Broccoli and cauliflower, which are generally steamed, are also wonderful when roasted with olive oil and garlic. Squash, which is often baked, is also wonderful cooked into a bean stew. For that matter, cooked vegetables make a wonderful "salad" when tossed together with raw vegetables and some beans or lean meat for protein. Use your imagination, Happy Eating!
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