What the Health: Why the fuss about vegetables?

17 October 2022

A high intake of vegetables is the foundation of a healthy diet, however according to Nutrition Australia 91% of Australians are not eating enough.

Why is eating vegetables important?

The current recommendations for a healthy and balanced diet say we should include five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit daily.

Vegetables are what we call ‘nutrient dense’. This means that they contain a high amount of valuable nutrients (e.g. fibre, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fatty acids, and even protein!) for a small amount of energy. They also provide a variety of health-promoting chemicals such as antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals). 

Did you know… the fibre in vegetable has a particularly important role to play as it feeds micro-organisms that reside in the gastro-intestinal tract which help develop a diverse microbiota. It’s this gut microbiota that’s associated with the best health outcomes (both physical and mental) as is constantly evidenced by research. 

Consuming different vegetables daily is associated with:

  • Appetite control and a healthy weight
  • Happier moods
  • A healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular system
  • Healthy blood sugar and lipids
  • A healthy gut and overall digestive system
  • The prevention of chronic disease

How do I get my five serves of veggies a day?

First, what is a serve? A serve is equivalent to one cup of raw or half a cup of cooked vegetables. For example, one cup of raw spinach would be equivalent to half a cup of cooked spinach. Or one large raw carrot would be equivalent to half a cup of cooked carrots. Once you visualise the target of five serves, it is easy to come up with options. 

For instance, put these five serves of vegetables on the kitchen bench: 

  • One large raw carrot (one serve)
  • Two cups of raw spinach (two serves)
  • One cup of cooked mushrooms (two serves)

Now, incorporate these five serves into your daily menu…

  • Cut the carrot into fingers, and package into a container with either peanut butter or a handful of roasted peanuts for a delicious snack.
  • Prepare a sandwich for lunch in which you include your choice of protein (e.g. tuna), a few baby spinach leaves, a couple of sliced mushrooms and a sliced tomato (technically a fruit).
  • Steam the remaining baby spinach and mushrooms (these will reduce after cooking) to accompany any other ingredients (e.g. grilled tofu, fish or meat).

Here are a few final tips on how to eat more vegetables:

  • Blend a selection of vegetables into a smoothie (this is better than juicing)
  • Make a 'monkey' plate by cutting a variety of vegetables and adding a handful of mixed nuts and some cheese
  • Experiment with new recipes by including more vegetables than rice or noodles, for example in a stir fry
  • Add vegetables to pasta sauces
  • Experiment with veggie noodles instead of plain wheat pasta
  • Try a lettuce leaf in place of a bread wrap 

The bottom line

When it comes to eating vegetables, they're really good for you. Take on the challenge this National Nutrition Week and eat at least five serves of vegetables daily!

Veronique ChachayAUTHOR: Dr Veronique Chachay is the coordinator and lecturer of the nutrition science courses in the undergraduate nutrition major Programs, and the applied food science for dietetics course in the Master on Dietetics Studies, in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences.