2, 3, 5, 10 a day? How many portions of vegetables do you eat on a daily basis? My guess is that it varies from day to day but averages around 3-6, a portion being approximately half a cup of cooked or 1 cup of raw veggies. If you’re reading this post, the chances are that you are healthier than most, or at least have a greater awareness of what healthy eating looks like (or you’re my husband, who is forced to read all my posts anyway!). I want to take a few moments to try to spell out the beauty of vegetables, not only how good they are for your health, but how even more valuable they are when on a weight or fat loss plan. Later on in this post I will show you how you can use vegetables to your advantage to help you in your quest to shed the fat!
Vegetables have some really great culinary and nutritional properties, such as:
- having very varied flavours and textures
- containing many vitamins & minerals
- containing lots of fibre
- having low amounts of sugar, helping keep blood sugar levels stable
- being easily digestible
- containing very few calories per portion compared to similar amounts of other foods
That last point above is the killer punch that vegetables pack, which makes them a very powerful tool in your arsenal when planning a menu for weight-/fat-loss. I’ll say it again – cup for cup, vegetables contain fewer calories per portion than other foods. What this really means is you can eat a shed load of vegetables for not a lot of calories. And who wouldn’t want to eat large amounts of food that has no adverse effect on their waistline?! One cup of vegetables contains just 30 to 80 calories, depending on the variety (to be clear, we are NOT including white potatoes in this discussion – yes they are a vegetable but they are another story – useful in your diet possibly yes, but not for the context that I’m talking about). Vegetables are also nutrient-dense – you get the most amount of nutrients packed in small amounts of food. So not only can you pile them onto your plate without adding hundreds of extra calories, you are also getting the maximum amount of nutrition at the same time. Vegetables are sounding even more attractive aren’t they?
So let’s assume you agree to put more vegetables on your plate in place of other less-nutritious items, what other positive effects does this have?
- Fills you up
- Helps you feel more satisfied after a meal
- Give you a good hit of nutrients and fibre
- Makes you feel spoiled (that’s good!) by the amount of food you can eat
- Makes you much less likely to need extra snacks throughout the day
- Gives you lots of energy
- Cleans up your digestive system along the way
- Uses more calories up just processing the food through the gut, as it has to work harder to break down all the fibre and the sheer volume of food
- Tells your body that good food is abundant, helping to create perfect hormonal conditions for fat loss
Again let’s look at that last point further. Simply put, when we eat large volumes of nutrient-dense food, our body realises that you’re not putting it on a restrictive diet, that it doesn’t need to try to preserve every little ounce of fat stored in its cells, and switches off its so-called “starvation mode”. As long as the volume of nutritious food keeps coming in via the stomach, the body continues to be happy with its fill and is happy to give up some of that stored fat. The message it is receiving is that good quality food is in abundance, there’s no need to panic and it can now start to release its fat stores.
So let’s take a look at a typical “healthy” diet and see how we can transform this into a diet better equipped for fat loss.
A typical day might look like this:
- Breakfast: 2 poached eggs on wholemeal toast with low fat spread
- Lunch: Seeded wrap with tuna, light mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado
- Snack: 0% fat Greek yogurt with ½ cup blueberries
- Dinner: Chicken breast with 1 cup brown rice & 6 stalks of garlicky fried asparagus
- TOTAL FOR THE ABOVE: LESS THAN 2 CUPS OF VEGETABLES (INCLUDING THE BLUEBERRIES FOR SAKE OF ARGUMENT)
This looks like a fairly decent stab at a healthy diet, after all it’s full of wholemeal items, low fat foods, additional healthy fats and a few fruits & vegetables. However, it only contains around 2 cups of vegetables. This means that the nutritional value of the day’s meal is fairly low. The toast, wrap and brown rice provide carbohydrates for energy and some fibre to aid digestion, but in terms of vitamins & minerals their content is weak.
So let’s look how we could improve the above meal plan, by introducing significant volumes of extra vegetables and removing a few of the original items (new items shown in bold):
- Breakfast: 2 eggs + 3 egg whites scrambled, with 1½-2 cups of mixed red peppers, onion, spinach and mushrooms
- Lunch: Tuna, light mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado, plus a cup of cauliflower and a cup of broccoli
- Snack: 0% fat Greek yogurt with 1 cup blueberries (extra half cup) and 2 celery stalks
- Dinner: Chicken breast, 1 cup butternut squash, 6 stalks of garlicky fried asparagus and half a cup of green beans
- TOTAL FOR THE ABOVE: AROUND 7 CUPS OF VEGETABLES (INCLUDING THE BLUEBERRIES FOR SAKE OF ARGUMENT)
Now I’m not suggesting you should replace ALL your bread & rice (and other less nutritionally-dense starchy carbohydrates) with vegetables, but from the above you can hopefully see that by swapping some of the less nutrition-dense foods for larger portions of vegetables, the amount of food being consumed throughout the day has vastly increased. This means that you will feel fuller for longer, have an easier time digesting things that nature designed for your body and most importantly, be getting many more of the nutrients your body needs to initiate fat loss. The calories on each plan are approximately the same, meaning that you are able to satisfy your appetite with a greater volume of food, for the same amount of calories. You might think that there’s no point swapping to these new foods if you’re just eating the same amount of calories, you might think it means you therefore still won’t lose any weight, but try it, you’ll see your body will be MUCH happier eating this way.
Please look at each of the above new meals and imagine the volume of food sat on the plate for each – looks more appealing doesn’t it? You will become the annoying one that eats a huge amount of food but still manages to lose weight. People may be confused about your increasingly voluminous lunches. They may not get it at all. That’s fine! You could let it be your secret, or maybe you could pass on the education and help others with their waistlines too!
I hope this post has inspired you to add more vegetables to your diet, they really can be viewed as nature’s miracle foods. They are in tune with what your body requires and will help boost your metabolism to enable you to get fat loss kick started, or push through any fat loss plateau you might feel stuck on.
Have a healthy weekend!