12 Sneaky Tips to Eat More Vegetables and Feel Your Best
Learn about the benefits of eating a diet rich in vegetables, including the benefits on joint pain, and easy ways to sneak more veggies into your day.
Our Hinge Health Experts
John Gill, PT, DPT
Eating. It’s one of the most basic parts of survival and something you’ve been doing your whole life. But these days, it just seems so complicated. “You will notice a lot of conflicting information about diet on the internet, and it gets confusing fast,” says John Gill, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health with a nutritional physical therapist certification. While what it means to eat a nutritious, balanced diet can vary widely from person to person, you probably don’t hear a lot of warnings against eating vegetables. And that’s for good reason. Although there are countless ways to strike a healthy and balanced diet, vegetables are pretty much always a part of a recommended diet.
Here, learn more about how a diet rich in vegetables can improve your overall health, including your joint health, and recommendations to sneak more veggies into your day.
The Big Picture
Whether you want to be more active, make better food choices, lose weight, or reduce your persistent joint pain, it’s all a part of the same puzzle. A healthy, balanced diet is one of many pieces of the “health puzzle,” along with movement, good sleep, stress management, and more.
Even if you’re more focused on an exercise-based goal or building strength to reduce pain in your back or knees, staying nourished is an essential tool to help you achieve those things. And simply eating more veggies is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Benefits of Vegetables
Veggies are a nutrition powerhouse. They contain valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help to:
Combat joint pain by protecting against cell damage and lowering inflammation throughout the entire body, including your muscles and joints
Lower blood pressure
Reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Prevent some types of cancer
Lower risk of eye problems
Stabilize blood sugar
Vegetables can also be beneficial for weight loss due to their low-calorie content. Plus, they’re an excellent source of fiber.
Remind Me Why We Care About Fiber
Fiber is found in foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It’s a non-digestible carbohydrate, which means it doesn’t get broken down into simple sugars in your body like other carbohydrates. Rather, it passes through your digestive tract more slowly, working its magic before leaving your body. More specifically, fiber:
Fills you up, making you feel fuller for longer after eating a meal
Promotes healthy digestion and regular bowel movements, and prevents constipation
Helps control blood sugar
Helps with weight management
Lowers risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer
What You Can Do
Knowing the benefits vegetables offer and actually adding more veggies to your day are two different things. If you’re someone who steers clear of salad and views piles of veggie sides on your plate as a childhood punishment, there’s still hope. Here are 12 easy ways to eat more vegetables and boost your health without even trying.
1. Start your day with them
Adding vegetables to your breakfast not only gives you a great nutrient and energy boost as you start your day, but it also establishes very positive momentum for healthy food choices for the remainder of your day. Scramble some eggs and add spinach or leftover vegetables from dinner. Make a hash with cubed sweet potatoes, onions, and kale. Or try toast with avocado, spinach, and tomato.
2. Slurp them up
You can easily disguise a handful of greens in a smoothie, making it a great opportunity to have a few servings of vegetables you don’t necessarily love. “Adding a smoothie into your day can be an easy and delicious way to get nutrients from fruits and vegetables. Do your best to avoid adding additional sugar or artificial sweeteners. You can also freeze some of your smoothie into popsicle form and have a nutritious snack for another time,” says Dr. Gill.
You can add just about anything to a smoothie to make it healthy and tasty for you. Not sure where to start? Try one to two hearty handfuls of spinach, kale, romaine, beet greens, or bok choy, a cup of water or unsweetened almond milk, and a handful of frozen fruit. For an even greater nutrition punch, add a spoonful of nut butter and extra veggies such as carrots or beets.
3. Turn them into chips
Want a crunchy, salty mid-afternoon snack? You’re not the only one. But you don’t have to derail or even sidestep your food goals to satisfy a craving. Instead of potato chips, try kale chips. Spread bite-sized pieces of kale on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive, avocado, or coconut oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, until the edges of the kale start to brown.
4. Display them
Place your vegetables front and center when you open the fridge so they are visible. If you keep them where you can see them, you’re more likely to eat them. Keep baby carrots or slices of pepper or cucumber in accessible bowls or baggies near your favorite dips.
5. Prep them
What’s the best way to encourage a new habit? According to habit and decision-making author and speaker James Clear, you have to make it attractive, easy, satisfying, and obvious. There’s no denying that grabbing something that’s ready to go is more appealing than having to chop veggies before having a snack. Spending a small amount of time, say, at the beginning of the week, to wash, cut, and prep the vegetables you want to eat for the week ahead is a great tool to set yourself up for success.
6. Snack on them
Incorporating veggie-based snacks into your day is a very effective way to boost your nutrient intake. An added bonus: It crowds out less nutritious foods, like packaged and processed goods and sweets. So rather than thinking about what you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” eat for your snack today, you can focus on all the different foods you can enjoy free of guilt. Easy snacks include baby carrots, sliced cucumbers or bell peppers with hummus, or celery with nut butter. Or place a tray of assorted raw vegetables out to munch on while dinner is cooking.
7. Spiralize them
Sometimes, a hearty plate of pasta sounds just amazing. You can still indulge that craving while using it as an opportunity to optimize your vegetable intake. Turn vegetables into “noodles” to reduce the amount of calories and carbohydrates in your meal. Zucchini, sweet potatoes, beets, butternut squash, jicama, parsnips, cucumbers, and onions all make tasty vegetable noodles. You can make these at home, or may even find pre-cut spiralized vegetables in your supermarket’s produce department.
8. Grill them
Hate brussels sprouts because you used to have to eat them steamed as a kid? Grilling vegetables can add great flavor to vegetables, even ones you may not be crazy about. Start by chopping veggies such as bell peppers, onions, zucchini, or mushrooms. You can then place them on a skewer and grill them, or put them right on a grill mat or basket. Many produce departments sell pre-cut vegetables to make it even easier.
9. Add them to soup
Soups are an excellent way to eat many different types of vegetables at once. Make your own soup by combining your favorite veggies, low-sodium vegetable broth, and beans with a few spices and seasonings. Or try steaming broccoli or cauliflower and pureeing it into a soup.
10. Wrap them
Here’s one way to pack a healthy, convenient lunch: Use a large leaf of lettuce, cabbage, Swiss chard, or collard greens to replace bread or a tortilla to make a sandwich or wrap.
11. Freeze them
Frozen vegetables are convenient and easy to use, and may even be more nutritious than fresh vegetables. They’re easy to saute and great for soups. Look for frozen vegetables that don’t contain any added ingredients.
12. Hide them
There’s no shame in being a picky eater or someone who just doesn’t love vegetables. But there are still plenty of ways to get creative and conceal the taste and texture of vegetables in meals. That ensures you get the veggie punch and nutrition you need while still enjoying your meal. Try mixing pureed broccoli, zucchini, squash, carrots, or bell peppers into a spaghetti sauce to make them virtually undetectable, or mix cauliflower or parsnips into a batch of mashed potatoes.
And If It’s Hard to Cook?
There can be a lot of barriers to cooking and meal prepping, one of which may be that your joint pain makes it hard to cook and spend time in the kitchen. Whether you struggle with back or knee pain that makes it hard to stand, or hand and wrist pain that makes cooking difficult, there are kitchen workarounds. Try these tips:
Get a cushioned floor mat. This takes the pressure off painful joints in your lower body. Place a small stool near your sink or stove to rest your affected foot while cooking or preparing food.
Wear supportive shoes. If you’re going to be in the kitchen for a long time, wear a pair of supportive shoes to reduce pain and strain on your joints.
Find a position that works for you. If prolonged standing is difficult for you, bring your prepping materials to a table and sit while you prepare your food, suggests Dr. Gill. If you struggle with standing in the same position for a long time, try marching in place to prevent your joints from getting stiff.
Cook in shifts. If it’s hard to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, make your foods in batches. Cook your meats at the beginning of the week and reheat them while you saute vegetables for dinner. Toss your salad ingredients in a bowl and set in the refrigerator to chill while you rest, then come back to cook the rest of your meal.
Use electric utensils, such as a can opener, food processor, hand or stand mixer, or blender. Other gadgets like a garlic press, reamer, pepper or apple corer, and herb stripper are also useful.
Consider specialty tools like a rocker knife. It has a curved blade that gives you more control when cutting.
Make sure your knives are sharp so you don’t have to apply as much force.
Line baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper. This saves you from having to bend over the sink and scrub stubborn messes.
Buy pre-prepared options. Buy minced garlic and use dried herbs instead of fresh ones. Opt for pre-prepared produce such as pre-cut or frozen fruits and veggies if possible.
PT Tip: Shop Smart
Making changes in your grocery shopping habits can help you make the necessary changes to add more vegetables into your diet, says Dr. Gill. Instead of buying a bag of chips on a whim, make a grocery list before you go to the store and stick to it. This is a great way to replace something processed, like chips, with a vegetable or fruit to have at home as a snack. Starting with small changes like this can go a long way in promoting more positive change over time.
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This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
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