I’ve been a vegetarian for almost four years. Over that time, I’ve come to learn – through both my own choices and what I hear from others – that all that descriptor really means, from a general standpoint, is “I don’t eat meat.” Vegetarian is definitely not synonymous with vegetables.
I’m the absolute worst for eating enough veggies. I’m quite fond of kale salads, kale chips, steamed broccoli and spinach, Greek salad…but for some reason, I completely suck when it comes to actually consuming said fondness.
Part of it is the freshness factor, of course. It’s so much easier to consume large amounts of pasta, canned beans, prepackaged “stuff”, than it is to keep fresh veggies on hand. Except that’s a bogus excuse, since frozen vegetables are just as healthy, and I live within extremely easy walking distance (think 2 minutes) of a fully stocked grocery store.
But excuses aside, I often find myself wondering why I’m not more adversely affected by my lousy relationship with cruciferous greens. If we’re supposed to be getting 5-12 servings per day, and I’m lucky if I make it to two, why aren’t I jaundiced and weak, prone to illness and fast losing sensation in my extremities?
The first thing I notice as I begin my exploration of this infamous Food Guide statement (officially determined in Canada in 1992) is that the “acceptable amount” of fruits and vegetables for a day isn’t really as enormous as I was envisioning.
When prompted, I immediately picture a massive store of edibles; a dining surface full of rainbow-coloured natural foods, with oranges and tomatoes making a rolling run for the edge of the table.
According to an article on The Kitchn, which presents a tasty selection of pictures that indicate a day’s worth of produce, that’s not exactly the case. Look right. Doesn’t look so bad, does it?
One serving can include one banana, a small apple or 1 cup of leafy greens. Going by that, one of my monster Greek salads probably totals close to 4 servings – pretty darn near the daily minimum.
Last year, the National Post reported Americans only eat an average of 2.3 servings of fruits and veggies per day. Apparently Canadians do a little better, with the average canuk knocking back about 3.5 servings per day. This article also makes the volume a little easier to visualize: they recommend two to three cups per day (about a ½ cup per serving).
I guess, from this quick bout of research, the answer to my question is: I actually do eat more vegetables (servings-wise) than I thought, which might explain why I’m not curled in a ball on the floor, turning grey, or whatever.
I’ve also determined that 5-7 is a more realistic daily intake. I think we get thrown off by the “12”, when it’s really there to reassure us that it’s hard to eat too many veggies in a day.
But still, I want to know what happens if you really don’t, over a long period of time, eat enough (or any) vegetables.
An SFGate article (does it drive anyone else crazy that some sites don’t include when their articles were written?) outlines a number of the health problems that can arise from slacking off on the veggie-noshing. While supplements can help, they shouldn’t be treated as a total alternative.
For one thing, you can wind up with a host of fun deficiencies. Lacking B-vitamins, for instance, can seriously dial back your energy levels, and without vitamin C our bodies may not heal as quickly as they should.
You can muck up your intestines; produce contains an awesome calorie-free (yep!) carbohydrate (aka insoluble fibre) that helps keep ya regular.
You can put your heart at risk if you’re not getting enough potassium – bountiful in spinach, squash, bananas – to balance out the sodium you’re most likely consuming plenty of (because who doesn’t?). Stroke or high blood pressure, anyone?
And, of course, you can wind up putting on weight. Most of us are more likely to pig out on foods with a higher calorie count if they aren’t partially filling up on low calorie produce.
There are lots of other things that can go wrong when you don’t eat enough produce. Which sucks royally, since I’d much rather chow down on popcorn (uh, corn is a vegetable, right?), mac n’ cheese, and cupcakes, than stringy green stuff.
But I’d like to live to a ripe old age, and remain relatively healthy while I do it, so for the millionth time, I’ll make that goal to eat more veggies. Blah. Maybe I’ll let myself splurge on my favourites more often: asparagus and Brussel sprouts for example. Better that than a quart of ice cream, right?
PS: Speaking of popcorn, I recently discovered that a ½ cup of the stuff has about 10% of your recommended iron, a nutrient sometimes lacking in vegetarians. So, that’s neat.
You’re up! What change can you make to get more good stuff into your diet?
Alternate comment prompts: ‘Brag to us about how awesome you are at eating 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day’ or ‘Here’s why I don’t give a crap and shall carry on eating junk food forever.’ FYI: we’re all jealous of those of you who choose the latter option, and you can read this article if you want to “prove” your argument (you’re welcome :P).