Falling in Love with Vegetables

I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of vegetables that are available in my local grocery store. I don’t honestly even know what half of them are. I mean, rutabaga? What do you do with that?!

My friend joked once that I must have grown up as an inner city kid, because I kept asking her what various vegetables were when we passed through the vegetable section in the local grocery store.

Despite the fact that I grew up in a middle class home with plenty of food and love, my vegetable intake was limited to potatoes, onions, celery, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and carrots. To me, that seems like a pretty standard American diet. Vegetables were the side portion of my meal. We’d often microwave a steamable pack, oftentimes when it was doused in some kind of sauce or butter.

I decided a few months ago that my body was craving better nutrition. I was counting my macros (protein, carbohydrates, fat) but I was still feeling like I was missing something vital. I began to juice vegetables only, often mixing together these items:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Beet Root
  • Half a cucumber

I juice as a supplement to my diet, I’ve never done any sort of juicing fast. I avoided adding fruit so that my sugar intake would not exceed what was healthy, as I have a tendency to overeat carbs.

The first few days of juicing were rough. My stomach was out of sorts and I definitely increased my trips to the restroom. But I really started looking forward to my daily juice, even salivating in expectation for my frothy bright green drink, which swirled so beautifully with the bright orange carrot and the dark red beet.

I started experimenting with vegetables I picked up in the grocery store. I enjoyed spiralizing my zucchini noodles instead of using pasta, and I enjoyed eating fresh brussels sprouts I roasted in the pan rather than microwaving the frozen kind.

My friend Tiffany is a vegetarian and health aficionado. She challenged me to start eating one giant salad a day, with at least two kinds of dark green leafy veggies. I took to the challenge with vigor, experimenting with new vegetables and tentatively buying things like bok choy and arugula to add to my salads.

This salad has been my favorite so far: arugula, romaine lettuce, cucumber, carrots, beets, figs, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, lemon juice. For those of you who grew up in the 90’s, pomegranate seeds are like God’s fruit gushers, but healthy.

green-salad

Since my daily salad challenge, I’ve been making nutrition my obsession. the past couple of weeks, mainly by watching food documentaries on Netflix. I’ve seen:

  • Fed Up
  • Sugar Coated
  • Food, Inc.
  • Vegucated
  • Plant Pure Nation
  • Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead
  • Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead 2

I have a lot more on my list that I intend to watch. The purpose of each documentary is different, but I get the same moral lesson out of each one:

The ideal for humanity’s health is to eat more vegetables. A large majority of diseases that our first world country suffers from are preventable, because they are due to our lifestyle choices. A diet focused on plant-based food would majorly alleviate our country’s health crisis.

Let that sink in for a second, because this fact haunts me. Heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer — these chronic illnesses are sapping the lives of adults and children in our world, and it’s preventable with a healthy diet.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.

Harvard T.H. Chan – School of Public Health

In addition, I’ve learned there are a whole lot of good ideas about an ethical and responsible earth that we could cultivate if we focused on producing and consuming local, organic vegetables.

I’ve committed my year to my health. So far I’ve primarily focused on fitness, and I’ve thrown in nutrition in the form of healthy overall caloric intake. It’s not enough, so I’ve upped my vegetable intake dramatically. I’ve challenged myself to eat at least 4 servings of vegetables a day, and juice daily (which I count as 2 nutritional servings, minus the fiber). Since I’m eating so many vegetables, I’m having to make sure my protein intake stays strong so I can keep up my intense workouts. I prefer to eat eggs, chicken, and turkey, and I rely a lot on whey protein. I love eating fruit, but I’ve always avoided it in large quantities because it’s sugar, and I have a tendency to eat too many carbs. But now that I’m focused on eating fruits and vegetables, my grains and dairy intake has been reduced.

I’m trying to find a healthy balance for me. I have a lot of friends who have found great success with diets and eating plans like Paleo, Whole 30, Vegan, Bulletproof, Gluten free, and Ketogenic. My struggle with these diets is that they’re all insisting I abstain from something, and I much prefer to eat in moderation than completely cut out things. That’s why the macro diet has been effective for me. I am willing to try things for short periods of time, but right now my goal is to take the overarching idea of these diets and these food documentaries and implement it in my life. I’m having success so far, but there’s always room for improvement.

In the meantime, I am eager to explore more vegetables that I find “exotic.” Today I cooked ratatouille for the first time. I’ve never cooked with an eggplant before, and it was delicious!

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