If you feel like you don’t eat enough vegetables each day, you’re not alone. According to the most recent data from the CDC, only 1 in 10 Americans actually eat the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. There are many reasons it’s a challenge - cost, access, food waste, increased preparation time, limited knowledge / skills, and taste preferences are all known and real challenges.
But what’s the big deal? Can you replace the value of vegetables with other foods or a supplement? The answer boils down to food chemistry and health research.
Contrary to what many believe, fruit and vegetables are technically not an essential food group. Note the word, “essential.” It means that you can survive without them in your diet. But whether or not you thrive is another question. Vegetables are valuable for 4 primary reasons: vitamins / minerals, fiber, antioxidants / phytochemicals, and dietary displacement.
Fun Fact : Vegetable vs Fruit
Did you know zucchini and squash are really fruits? We assign the label of “fruit” or “vegetable” for botanical and culinary reasons. Botanically speaking, anything that comes from the flower of the plant is considered a fruit. However some people label foods based on their culinary application - reserving foods with a higher sugar content as fruits and savory as vegetables. To learn more about the difference, click here
Vitamins / Minerals
And yes, a vitamin supplement can provide missing vitamins and minerals, but it’s not an equal trade. Often the form and dose of the compound is different than what’s found in food and not as readily absorbed. Additionally, a pill doesn’t provide the other three assets below.
You can also get fiber from other plant based foods such fruits, whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread), popcorn, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. However fiber from these compounds also come with a higher density of starch, sugar, and salt. Which is great if you need the additional dietary energy! But for someone with diabetes or insulin resistance, it’s a tricky trade-off.
Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
While many vegetables have a wealth of phytochemicals, so do other foods. Antioxidants and phytonutrients are also found in other plant based foods such as fruits as well as lesser amounts in whole grains. Additionally, foods with omega 3 fatty acids have antioxidant properties. These include foods such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna), nuts, seeds, avocado. Additionally many spices and teas have been shown to have phytonutrients in them.
Some people might believe that "displacement" or "feeling full with little energy" is the primary benefit of vegetables in health. But in reality, the health benefits of vegetables are more about the above topics (fiber, antioxidants, vits/mins) than avoiding energy.
Long story short...
A body can absolutely survive without vegetables - there are other ways to get the nutrients benefits that vegetables provide. But there really isn't another as perfectly packaged - it takes a bit more work and creativity as well as some trade-offs, but it's absolutely possible.
But why do you "hate" them?
When people are resistant to vegetables, it's often because of negative past experiences or little to no experimentation. Vegetables don’t have to be cold, raw, or boring. It may be worth exploring ways to include vegetables more often but thinking outside of the salad box. While I’m not a proponent for regularly sneaking vegetables into a child’s diet (for reasons we can chat about another day), mincing and blending them small enough they go unnoticed in soups, sauces, and muffins are decent ways for adults to enjoy the nutrient, fiber, and antioxidant benefits without sacrificing flavor or texture. Juicing can be beneficial for those looking for the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals without the bulk / fullness in the stomach (eg, those with small appetites and/or large energy needs).
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The writing here is for informational and educational purposes only. It is NOT a substitute for individual care. Your needs may vary. or individual support, please contact a provider.
Please note it's been a number of years since I have updated these posts. The content and philosophies may have changed as I've grown as a provider. Please reach out with questions or concerns.
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and endurance athlete supporting well-being, one bit and bite at a time