You probably heard it over and over as a child, and it probably made you cringe each time: “Eat your vegetables so you’ll grow up big and strong!” Moms are always giving their children advice—some good (“Treat others the way you want to be treated”), some bad (“You can be whatever you want to be, even with a liberal arts degree”), and some, well, weird (“Never wear white after Labor Day”). But the vegetables thing? Turns out she was totally right!
In honor of Mother’s Day and the lovely women who raised us, we’re about to give every mother tons of validation on that particular point. You may not always have listened to your mother (“Why don’t you date someone nice for a change?”), but this is one piece of advice you’ll definitely want to take!
Why You Should Always Eat Your Veggies
First of all, veggies are low-fat, low-calorie, and completely cholesterol-free, so provided they’re prepared in a healthy way (i.e., not fried, battered, or drowned in dressing), you can literally eat as much of them as you want. And since vegetables are high in fiber, a nutrient that absorbs water and expands inside the digestive system, you won’t have to eat much to feel full and satisfied. Plus, a high-fiber diet helps keep your digestive system functioning optimally, which reduces constipation and helps soothe or even prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
What’s more, a diet rich in vegetables has been shown to dramatically reduce a person’s risk of developing heart disease and related complications. In fact, a long-term Harvard health study recently found that individuals who ate 8 or more servings of vegetables every day were 30% less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke when compared to individuals who had 1.5 servings or less. And, despite a lack of conclusive evidence and the need for more rigorous research to be conducted, early studies suggest that eating plenty of vegetables may also reduce your risk of developing certain kinds of cancer.
Finally, vegetables are chock-full of phytonutrients, special protective chemicals found only in plants that can reduce inflammation in the human body when ingested. Eating plenty of vegetables helps alleviate symptoms of inflammatory diseases like asthma, arthritis, and psoriasis.
How Best to Eat Your Veggies
If raw veggies gross you out, don’t panic—you can derive health benefits from vegetables in any form, whether they’re fresh, canned, frozen, dried, or juiced. Vegetables are so crucial to a healthy diet that it doesn’t really matter how you eat them, as long as you do eat them—and plenty!
However, there are certain ways of preparing vegetables that will preserve more of their nutritious value. Raw veggies begin to lose nutrients as soon as they are picked, so for maximum benefits, choose locally grown veggies that are in season. Likewise, nutrients degrade when exposed to light and air, so cut your veggies into large pieces rather than chopping or dicing them, and plan to eat them as soon as they are cut. To make raw veggies more appetizing and add valuable protein, mix a packet of salad dressing seasoning with an 8-ounce carton of plain low-fat Greek yogurt and use it as a dip.
If you prefer your veggies cooked, choosing methods that require the least amount of heat, water, and cooking time will help reduce nutrient loss. For example, sautéing, steaming, or stir-frying vegetables preserves more of their nutritional value than baking or boiling them. Adding a small amount of healthy fat to your vegetables increases your body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, so feel free to cook veggies with a splash of oil (the healthiest kinds are olive, canola, corn, and avocado). For extra flavor, add citrus juice or zest—the vitamin C found in lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit makes it easier for our bodies to absorb iron from vegetables like spinach and asparagus.
Let’s Recap: Tips for Preparing Vegetables
- Choose locally grown vegetables that are fresh and in season.
- Cut veggies into large pieces rather than dicing or chopping them.
- Don’t bake or boil your veggies; instead, sauté, steam, or stir-fry them.
- Use healthy cooking oils rather than butter or Crisco.
- Season veggies with salt-free herbs and citrus juices.
Our moms only want the best for us, and they try to give us the guidance they think we need. So even when it seems like she has no idea what she’s talking about (“Don’t cross your eyes or your face will freeze that way”), when Mom gives you advice, she’s really just showing you how much she loves you.
Mother’s Day may be over this year, but if your mother ever encouraged you to eat healthy, she deserves a big thank-you right this minute!