I personally believe that each meal we sit down to enjoy, we want to ideally fill our plate ½ to ¾ full of vegetables, and this includes both starchy and non-starchy veg, as recommended by Dr Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom website. In fact, the latest research suggests that we should be aiming for 8-9 servings of veggies per day - as a minimum!
You see, plant foods are the most accessible and affordable source of many of the essential vitamins and minerals we need for our overall health. They give us major bang for our buck! Their antioxidants and phytochemicals actually support our immune system and our body’s ability to detoxify all on its very own. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Did you know that many of the scientifically supported diets out there today (including Paleo and the Mediterranean diets), all promote a high intake of vegetables? This could be due to:
- vegetables being rich in vitamins and minerals, including the most absorbable form of calcium
- vegetables containing loads of fibre to help boost and support our gut health (and protect against leaky gut!)
- vegetables being rich in beneficial plant phytochemicals – providing an abundance of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
so what veggies are we talking about?
NON STARCHY VEG | Think asparagus, celery, cucumber, mushrooms, onions, green beans*, sugar snaps* and zucchini, as well as the cruciferous vegetable family that are full of vitamins and phytonutrients needed for us to heal. This group includes cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, kale and brussels sprouts
STARCHY VEG | These veggies provide the fibre that feeds our good gut bacteria. They’re high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which help remove toxins from our body, lower our cholesterol and help improve our immunity. Think sweet potato, beetroot, potato*, peas*, parsnips and pumpkin
LEAFY GREENS | Provide us with an abundance of wonderful chlorophyll, magnesium, folate and vitamin K. This group includes spinach, rocket, kale bok choy and dark lettuce leaves, along with silverbeet, chard, sorrel and collards, and don’t forget those fresh leafy herbs like parsley, mint and basil
LOW FRUCTOSE FRUIT | Provide us with a multitude of antioxidants which allow the cells in our body to stay healthy. Reach for berries, kiwi fruit, green apples, papaya and avocado
SEA VEGETABLES | Offering the broadest range of minerals of any food. This group includes dulse, kelp, nori, arame, kombu, wakame, chlorella and spirulina
*Denotes foods not suitable if following AIP
so how much is a serving?
As mentioned above, making sure we eat 8-9 servings of vegetables per day (including fruit - however limit to 1-2 servings per day) means we get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre in our daily diet for overall good health. 8-9 serves sounds like a lot, right? But it actually is very achievable.
8-9 servings per day sounds like a lot, but when you break it down to 2-3 servings at every meal (yes, even breakfast), it's not so bad, and 1 serving looks a little like this:
- 1 cup raw vegetables
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- 2 cups raw leafy greens
- 1 medium fruit (about the size of baseball)
- ½ cup chopped fruit (or berries)
- ½ cup cooked fruit
so what’s the big deal with fibre?
Fibre can be found pretty much in every vegetable, however in general, the darker the colour of the vegetable, the higher the fibre content. So think dark leafy greens and cruciferous veggies as well as those bright colourful starchy vegetables – pumpkin, beets, sweet potato.
When we eat fibre, it:
- helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts – improving our digestion;
- helps stabilise our blood glucose levels;
- binds with toxins, waste products, excess hormones, cholesterol, and other substances in the gut to help with elimination;
- adds bulk to our stool, improving the quality of our bowel movements; and
- helps reduce overall inflammation in our body
There are two main forms of fibre to be aware of, and it’s good to make sure we eat a mix of both at each of our meals:
Insoluble Fibre | Found in just about all vegetables (particularly in the skin) which works like a broom through the bowel –helping prevent constipation, encourage regular bowel habits and keeping our bowel environment nice and healthy. Foods to include are pretty much every vegetable, especially green leafy veggies and non-starchy/cruciferous veggies, tomatoes*, avocado, carrots, peas* and green beans* (remember – skin on!)
Soluble Fibre | Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance when combined with fluid in our body (hence the need to up your water intake!), and acts like a sponge, absorbing toxins and waste products on its way out of our body. Foods to include are starchy veggies, cruciferous veggies and those low sugar fruits. Also include citrus fruits, spinach, asparagus, peas* and zucchini
*Denotes foods not suitable if following AIP
A last little note on greens
Out of the recommended 8-9 serves of vegetables per day, try and aim to make up to 4 of those serves green, as leafy greens are one of the most potent and powerful foods on the planet.
If there is one thing that will have the biggest impact on the health of your gut and skin = leafy green vegetables, and lots of them!
Why? They help encourage the growth of good bacteria, heal inflammation, improve motility, crowd out parasites, eliminate yeast, get rid of belly fat, dissolve gallstones, balance your pH, calm irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cut your risk of colon cancer in half, boost your energy, banish your bloat, and help you glow.
A last little note on Sulfurous Veggies
Not the most glamorous veggies on the block, but they are important and worth a note. The nutrients found in sulphurous vegetables help keep our skin clear and supple and our hair and nails strong and healthy. In addition to antioxidants, sulfur-rich foods nourish the cells and help the body to be more efficient in eliminating toxins. They help to balance hormones and support our immune system.
Sulfer-rich veggies include any and all fibrous non-leafy (usually green) veggies that when cooked emit a distinctive odour (you know the ones!). This includes the Brassicas family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, etc), and the Alliums family (onions, shallots, garlic, leeks).
Out of the recommended 8-9 serves of vegetables per day, it’s recommended to make 2-4 serves sulphurous!