As National awareness days go, today is a great celebration about all things veggie. Whilst most Nutritionists will talk about a balanced diet, including animal proteins, one thing which we’ll all agree on is the importance of vegetables. Social media has long been advocating meat-free Mondays in a bid to increase our awareness about meat consumption (or over consumption) and so today is a fitting opportunity to embrace vegetables and promote healthy eating generally.
World Vegetarian day was first launched back in 1977 and is the start of a full month promoting vegetarian awareness. Whether or not you choose to follow a vegetarian diet ordinarily, the benefits of including an abundance of plant foods, especially vegetables, in the diet are well researched. Healthcare initiatives have been promoting 5-a-day in a bid to get us all eating more fruit and vegetables but often the focus has been more on fruit and not on the wide variety of vegetables, beans and pulses which offer a mix of plant proteins and essential vitamins and minerals. Fruits have their own importance of course but we must remember they also contain the natural sugar fructose which means we may need to eat them in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
So what are the benefits of embracing a vegetarian diet or at the very least including more fruit and vegetables in our diets?
Plant foods can be divided into different groups but as a collective they provide us with a rich array of nutrients and fibre, protein and essential amino acids, carbohydrates and healthy fats so all the ingredients for a healthy balanced diet. In Nutritional terms we often divide fruits and vegetables into functional groups based on the benefits they confer as you can see on my fruit and vegetables guides below. You can download these in the resources section here.
Carbohydrate-rich plants – These typically include starchy root vegetables such as squash, carrots and potato varieties as well as fruits such as bananas. We all need carbohydrates to provide our cells with energy and one way of reducing our dependency on grains (pasta, breads, rice etc) is to include more starchy vegetables in the diet.
Nutrient-rich plants – All fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals which help our body perform on a daily business. Think of these nutrients as the ingredients we need to support our metabolism and produce energy. As the guides below show, different plants provide different families of nutrients. Some help support our immune systems and boost our resistance to common colds and infections, whilst others provide the ingredients needed for our liver to detoxify our bodies from everyday waste materials. Colourful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which are our cells natural defense mechanism as well as helping to prevent signs of aging. Most of these plants contain natural fibres which feed our friendly gut bacteria, help our digestive system and keep our bowel movements regular.
Healthy Fats – Some plants such as avocado, nuts and seeds are rich in healthy polyunsaturated fats which lubricate our cardiovascular system, build healthy cell membranes, support brain function, help with hormone production and promote healthy skin.
Plant proteins – Proteins are nature’s building blocks and can be broken down into their metaphoric bricks called amino acids. These are the components used to build dna, muscle, tissue and most structural elements in our bodies. Animal foods and fish are one source of protein but there are also a wide array of plant proteins such as beans, pulses, lentils, soya, nuts, seeds, quinoa, spirulina and others.
So today, on World vegetarian day, consider adding in a few more vegetables to the soup you’re making or the salad you were thinking of having for lunch. Or if the fridge is looking a little on the empty side how about you head out for a top-up shop of fruits and veggies. Not a fan of veggies at all, then the challenge may be to try one new vegetable per week. Whatever works for you!