The Vegetable Challenge

In my previous post on How I Lost Weight Without Trying I mentioned an article I read on how Canadians are not eating enough veggies. This really isn’t surprising given that a Western Diet isn’t exactly based on eating veggies. We may poke fun at Eastern European diets that are all “Meat and Potatoes” but, let’s be honest, our diet could be named “Fast Food and Sugar”.

Initially I thought I ate pretty healthy; I always had oatmeal or eggs for breakfast, something like quinoa salad for lunch, and then some kind of lean meat and veggies for dinner. Sounds healthy, right? While I was eating “clean” what I did not account for was my vegetable consumption. I was getting maybe 2-3 servings of fruits and veggies a day, and that just does not cut it. As a Canadian female, it is recommended that I eat 7-8 servings of veggies a day, according to the Canada Food Guide . (I’m still not sure why they base it by age and sex vs age and body height/weight…). While the Canada Food Guide is not perfect (I’m not even going to start to get into some of the controversy surrounding it) it is still a good start and 8 servings sounds entirely reasonable, right?

What Exactly Quantifies as a Serving of Fruits and Vegetables?

I always assumed a serving was something like “one banana” or “one beet”. Well it’s not quite that simple since not all bananas or beets are the same size. For the most part, when you buy prepackaged foods you’ll find “Per _____”  right at the top of the Nutrition Facts. This indicates one serving of that food item. Now, this gets tricky for those of us who go by the mantra of “Real Food Does Not Have a Label”. For those who follow that rule, servings of fruits and veggies are as follows:

  • Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Veggies: 1/2 Cup
  • Leafy Greens (Raw): 1 Cup
  • Leafy Greens (Cooked): 1 Cup
  • Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Fruit: 1/2 Cup
  • 100% Juice: 1/2 Cup

That’s pretty straightforward. No need for fancy scales or difficult math. All you need are two different sized measuring cups. That being said, there are a few other things to note:

  1. If it is canned, make sure it is packed in water. Often, fruits will be canned in fruit juice, with added sugar, and veggies will be canned with added salt. Look for “No Salt Added” or “Packed in Water”
  2. Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and celery contain more water and less nutrients. It is recommended that you aim to have at least one dark green vegetable and one orange vegetable per day. As the saying goes “Eat Colourful”.
  3. Be wary of juice. It is too easy to overindulge on juice, it basically is natures candy. Keep an eye on the ingredients as there might be added sugar in there somewhere. Also, keep away from concentrated. While natural sugars from juice are still a way better option than refined sugar, having concentrated orange juice (for example) is similar to having 10 oranges in one sitting! Your body just cant use all of that at once.

Do Legumes Count Towards my Daily Servings?

For starters, a legume is a fruit contained in a pod. These are plants such as beans, peas, nuts, sprouts, etc. Notably, these are also major source of plant protein and are also loaded with fibre. While there are numerous benefits of plant based diets, legumes fall into the same class as meats on the Canada Food Guide. In other words: No, legumes do not count towards your daily veggie intake. In fact, they count against your meat intake. It is recommended that women get 2 servings and men get 3 servings of meat and meat alternatives a day. When it comes to cooked legumes, one serving is 3/4 cups. So, if you had eggs for breakfast and are planning to have a steak for dinner, then there isn’t room in your diet for legumes.

The downside of legumes is that they contain what some refer to as “anti-nutrients” (this is why legumes are omitted from the paleo diet). These anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, impair the absorption of nutrients like zinc, iron, and calcium. Other anti-nutrients can affect cells in gut lining.

Overall, legumes are still good for you, but remember to keep an eye on serving sizes!

How Exactly am I supposed to get 8-10 Servings of Veggies a Day???

Now that is the million dollar question! This summer has been a non stop challenge for me to make sure I am getting all of my veggies. It will usually mean eating veggies every time I eat. Here are some mix and match suggestions to help you get your servings in!

  • Breakfast: 
    • Banana: one serving of fruit
    • Omelet: dice up a cup of red peppers and tomatoes with 2 eggs and voila! (Two servings of veggies)
    • Breakfast Bar: get creative! Use some oats, yams, bananas, and cocoa powder and you’ve got yourself a breakfast bar! (Your could even puree some dark leafy greens) -> I swear this actually tastes good! (servings vary based on your measurements 1-2.5 servings)
  • Snack:

    • 1 Cup of chopped veggies: 2 Servings
  • Lunch
    • Kale Salad: Throw in some beets, peppers, carrots, corn, celery, and cucumbers! (1 Cup of raw kale, 2 cups of veggies = 5 servings of veggies!!!)
  • Dinner
    • Lean meat and steamed veggies: Let’s be honest, Im kind of boring and opt for the chicken and steamed broccoli. (One serving of veggies)

The Veggie Challenge

It took me a while to get into the swing of eating enough veggies and into the habit of doing enough meal prep. Once I got the hang of it it was pretty straight forward and not an overly difficult habit to adopt. Now that it has become a habit I feel amazing. There really is something to be said about gut health and how a healthy gut makes for a healthy person. Don’t even get me started on the quality of my workouts and the energy I have!

So, this is my challenge for any readers looking to make a positive lifestyle change: focus on getting your 8-10 servings of veggies a day!


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