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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest not only that we get a certain amount of vegetables each week, but also that we get a variety. The guidelines specifically recommend that adults aged 19 to 50 get 1 1/2 to 2 cups per week of dark green vegetables and 5 1/2 to 6 cups per week of red and orange vegetables. This is in addition to 5 to 6 cups of starchy vegetables and 4 to 5 cups of other vegetables. The reason? Eating a variety of veggies means we get a variety of nutrients — particularly fiber, vitamin A (as carotenoids), vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. And remember that fresh, frozen and canned varieties all count.
Dark green vegetables: These include leafy greens served raw — such as lettuce, arugula and spinach — or cooked (kale, spinach, chard and collards), as well as nonleafy vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Dark green veggies are high in fiber, vitamins A and C, magnesium, folate and potassium.
Red/purple vegetables: Tomatoes, tomato juice, red bell peppers, red cabbage, beets, radishes, eggplant and radicchio all fall into this group. These veggies are high in fiber, vitamins A and C, folate and potassium.
Orange/yellow vegetables: These include carrots, orange and yellow bell peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkin. Turn to these brightly hued foods for fiber, vitamin A and potassium.
Starchy vegetables: These include potatoes, corn and green peas. These vegetables are higher in carbohydrates than other vegetables, and are often thought of separately from their colorful counterparts.
Other vegetables: Mushrooms, onions, zucchini, cucumbers, cauliflower and celery all fall into the “other” group — but are still delicious and good for you.
Plan ahead when possible
Prewashed, ready-to-eat salad greens and cut vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked quickly. For no-prep snacks, look for grab-and-go baby carrots, cherry or grape tomatoes and snap peas. To be safe, wash raw vegetables under cold running water before eating them. Frozen and canned vegetables, without high-fat and high-sodium sauces, are another convenient option.
Start every meal with a salad. This can help you feel full and eat fewer total calories throughout your meal. Switch up the type of greens each week.
Prepare vegetables ahead of time. Steam a whole head of broccoli or cauliflower, or roast winter squash or sweet potatoes, then eat the cooked veggies over the next two or three days.
Sneak in extra vegetables at every meal. Keep diced onions, mushrooms and peppers on hand and slip them into omelets, meatloaf, tomato sauce and soups.
Slip veggies into your sandwiches. Top a sandwich with spinach leaves, roasted red pepper strips or cucumber slices.
Snack on precut produce. Keep sliced red pepper, broccoli or carrots in the fridge, and pair them with a low-fat yogurt dip or dressing for a crunchy snack.
Fix salads en masse. Mix a bowlful of fresh salad ingredients to last for two or three days, making sure the greens and vegetables are dry. Seal the undressed salad in an airtight container to keep it fresh and crisp. Rinse, drain and dress each portion just before serving.
Experiment. Keep your meals and snacks varied by swapping out your veggies from week to week. Try snow peas, beets, squash or radishes. And vary your greens by trying out spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collards.
(Diabetic Living is a magazine and website with a mission to give people with diabetes (PWDs) and the people who love and care for them the information needed to make the best health decisions in their day-to-day diabetes care. Online at www.diabeticlivingonline.com.)