We all know we're supposed to eat more vegetables, right? I mean, our moms drilled that into our heads when we were little, keeping us at the table until we finished our peas, didn't they? Then why does actually consuming more vegetables usually seem so hard? And why do veggie-less pastas and meat-centric dishes make us drool so much more than a big salad? Maybe more importantly, does it really matter? Part of loving ourselves is taking care of ourselves in every way, right? And that ought to include caring about how we fill and fuel our bodies. We do not merely eat for pleasure, although there is certainly joy to be found in food. We need food for fuel, and there are good ways and not-so-good ways to go about getting that.
Our bodies run on energy. We obtain energy via calories in food. To keep everything functioning properly and get the energy we need to complete our daily activities, we need calories and nutrients from the right sources. If we choose primarily whole, plant-based foods, we are much more likely to have long-lasting energy from complex carbohydrates and proteins that take longer for our bodies to process compared to simple sugars in processed foods.
If we don't want to be weighed down by excess body fat or feel sluggish after a particularly rich meal, we need to be aware of our fat intake. I'm not at all saying that we need to avoid it altogether. I'm advocating for a more moderate approach, one of carefully selecting the sources of our fats and properly controlling the amount we consume. We live in a society that puts a high value on animal products of all kinds for their purported health benefits (calcium in dairy, protein in meat, etc.) while ignoring the fact that these nutrients are also available in vegetables in comparable concentrations, and with less of the accompanying calories and fat.
Vegetables are cheaper and all around healthier options than animal products. Unlike the more controversial subjects (and diets which avoid consumption of) animal products, carbs, and fats, vegetables' health benefits are not widely disputed; they aren't pointed to as the evil foods that cause us to gain weight. They offer a wider variety of nutrients for fewer calories, which is a big deal if you're looking to eat healthier-- it's like killing two birds with one stone. Vegetables are packed with fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals that your body desperately needs. And as if the nutritional content wasn't enough, they come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors, you can make a truly beautiful meal that you can't wait to eat!
Vegetable plots also are more environmentally friendly than farmland dedicated to raising animals, which in turn helps us care better for our nonrenewable resources. It takes less energy to grow vegetables than it does to create animal products or processed foods. So not only is the end product better for you, but by choosing more vegetables, you're supporting more environmentally-friendly farming practices (What to Eat by Marion Nestle).
Of course, as vegetables (and fruits) spoil more quickly than processed, packaged foods, they should be bought only in proportion to what can reasonably be consumed in a short time frame. I find this difficult sometimes when I see so many different foods and feel the urge to just buy ALL THE VEGETABLES AND FRUITS. Something that helps me is remembering that each fruit and vegetable tastes best (and is usually cheapest due to availability) during a particular season of the year (check out these monthly guides if you want ideas). Choosing to buy seasonal produce has become a greater goal of mine as I seek ways to incorporate more of the foods that make me feel both healthy and happy, while also sticking to my grocery budget.
I encourage you to try new foods, especially vegetables, as many of them come into season and become more readily available at farmers' markets this summer. Pick up something you've never tried (garlic scapes, kohlrabi, and leeks, I'm looking at you!), look up a new recipe, and give it a whirl! Tuck them into a bowl of pasta, use them to top a pizza, or cook them up in stir fry. You might just find a new favorite food, and you'll be that much healthier for it!