Research shows that a dismal 1 in 10 Aussies are getting their 5 serves of vegetables, while the rest of us are falling short. Here’s why it matters and what you can do about it.
A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that most Aussies are not consuming enough veggies, with over 95% of men reportedly missing the mark, and 87% of women also not meeting the daily recommended intake of 5 serves. But when we skip out on the veg, we’re also skipping out on abundant sources of essential nutrients that our bodies rely on to function. Take a look at why these severe shortcomings are detrimental to our health.
The dangers of replacing veggies
If you’re part of the 9 in 10 who aren’t getting the required dose of veggies, the pressing question to ask yourself is: what are you eating in place of those veggies? For the bulk of us, it’s highly-processed foods void of fibre and other essential nutrients, and products that are deceptively high in sugar. This could include pre-made meals, bread, flavoured yoghurts, chips, biscuits and fast food.
That’s why filling up on veggies is a simple way to ensure you’re keeping the overly-processed stuff off your plate – it’s also surprisingly difficult to meet all our daily vitamin and mineral requirements when we neglect veggies. Let’s take a look at some of the nutrients we miss out on when we don’t prioritise getting that 5 veg:
Fibre is found in a range of whole foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains and, of course, vegetables. Veggies are loaded with fibre and with only 5% of us getting enough fibre, adding some extra greens to our plate could be the answer to our digestive issues. This nutrient plays an important role in slowing down our digestion – including the absorption of sugar – and, as a result, it improves gut health and lowers blood sugar levels. Fibre is also essential for the following:
- Regulating bowel movements
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Helping with weight loss
- Increasing satiety
The veggies with the highest amounts of fibre include acorn squash, green peas and parsnips, coming in at 32%, 31% and 23% of our daily needs, respectively, in just one cup.
Vitamins and minerals
Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies: Leafy greens like spinach, kale and silverbeet are rich in antioxidants like chlorophyl, vitamin K, iron and calcium. Spinach is an exceptionally nutrient-dense veggie that is so easy to add to soups, salads, sandwiches and curries, and you’ll stand to benefit from the following:
- Reduced risk of iron deficiency
- Improved eye and skin health
- Improved hydration
- Boosted immune system
- Greater satiety after eating
Cruciferous veggies are also an easy and affordable group of veggies to keep in your fridge. They include:
- Cauliflower: This veggie is loaded with fibre, along with packing a hefty dose of potassium and choline, the latter of which is essential for sleep, memory and learning functions.
- Broccoli: These greens are loaded with antioxidants and bioactive compounds which are known for reducing inflammation, reducing our risks for some cancers and maintaining stable blood sugars. Vitamin K, vitamin C and calcium are just a few of the nutrients you’ll find in abundance in these quick-cooking veggies.
- Brussels sprouts: These don’t have the best reputation when it comes to taste and smell, but the naysayers have never tried roasting these babies in olive oil, salt and smoked paprika – game changer. But, that’s not all there is to love about Brussels sprouts; this humble veggie is loaded with vitamins C and K, folate and carotenoids known as beta-carotene, and lutein, which are essential for protecting our cells and maintaining the health of our skin, gut and brain.
Pro tip: Buy frozen greens if you’re short on time or money – they’re just as nutritious and often cheaper than their fresh counterparts. It’s not worth missing out on the vitamin and mineral content if you’re struggling to get a hold of affordable, fresh produce.
Allium veggies: These tasty veggies are a perfect addition to your stir fries, roasts and omelettes – when heated they release a sweetness that pairs well with any cuisine. But it’s not just their culinary significance that makes allium veggies worth working into your weekly meal plan, it’s their healthful properties that support a healthy immune system, a balanced gut microbiome and a lower count of inflammation. Onions, for instance, are loaded with antioxidants known as flavonoids, packing in 25 varieties of these antioxidants. These fight free radicals in our body – meaning healthier cells, fewer infections and a lower risk of developing diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Take a look at some of the tasty alliums to keep a good stock of:
- Spring onion
Root veggies: Potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots all belong to the root vegetable family – and man is it a powerhouse of a family. Vitamin A and C, fibre and antioxidants are found in abundance in these veggies, making them ideal for skin, eye and bone health, along with providing an immunity boost during the winter months. Potatoes are known for their potassium content – this is the mineral that supports heart, muscle and nerve health, so if you’ve been a little twitchy lately, it could be a good idea to roast up some potatoes. They’re also loaded with vitamin B6 and folate, which are essential for our nervous system and metabolism. Carrots are another essential to add to your shopping list – they get their bright orange colour from the carotenoids within, which are important for eye, skin and brain health. This is because our bodies convert it into vitamin A – so when you see a bright orange veggie like carrots or sweet potatoes, you’ll know it’s rich in the carotenoid known as beta-carotene.
Marrow veggies: These are rich in a host of nutrients like folate, potassium and vitamin A. Take a look at the diverse range of veggies that make up the marrow category:
- Pumpkin: This warming veggie is packed with iron and fibre, and it also happens to provide a hefty dose of vitamin A, coming in at over 200% of our daily needs in one serve. That same serve of pumpkin will give you 37% of your daily vitamin K needs and 38% of your copper needs, making it an exceptionally nutritionally dense veggie to add to soups, bakes and even salads.
- Cucumber: This refreshing veggie is more than just a crunchy snack to enjoy with your hummus – it’s a vitamin-packed dynamo of gut, immunity and skin-boosting properties. There’s a reason beauticians put slices of the stuff on their clients’ eyes – their vitamin K content may actually help reduce puffiness. Coming in at 57% of our daily needs for this essential vitamin, cucumber is a surprisingly loaded veggie, and that’s not all – it’s also rich in vitamin C and magnesium, packing in 10% and 9% of our daily needs per serve, respectively.
- Zucchini: This summer veggie is a powerhouse of nutrition and healthful properties, just take a look at some of the surprising benefits this humble veggie can offer:
- Skin health and UV protection: Zucchini is loaded with nutrients known as carotenoids, and these protect our skin from the harsh UV rays we’re exposed to, along with shielding us from damaging pollution. Studies have shown these carotenoids can slow the ageing process as they maintain skin elasticity and hydration.
- Heart health: Zucchini is also a heart-boosting veggie, with research backing its abilities to reduce our risk for heart disease, along with lowering our blood pressure levels.
- Bone health: Foods rich in carotenoids are essential for bone health – including maintaining an adequate level of density, which is necessary for warding off osteoporosis.
These are just a few of the countless vegetables to choose from, so if you’re the 9 in 10 missing out, it’s time to get these nutritional powerhouses onto your plate. It doesn’t have to be boring – from flavoursome roasts to veggie-packed curries, pasta bakes and stir fries, eating nutritiously should be an exciting experience.
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