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I see clients with many different health issues; high cholesterol, diabetes, weight management, hypertension, diverticulitis, constipation, and many more. Although I tailor my nutrition advice for each individual, possibly my most consistent message is to eat more Free Vegetables/Salad.

The Australian dietary guidelines recommends that we eat at least 5 serves of vegetables per day, however studies are continually showing that Australian’s are not meeting this recommendation, and it is likely a causing factor in the rising rates of many chronic diseases.

So what constitutes 5 serves, how can we eat that, and why do we need to?

1 serve of vegetables =

  • ½ cup cooked vegetables like broccoli, carrot, zucchini, cauliflower etc
  • 1 cup salad greens like lettuce
  • ½ cup cooked legumes (e.g. chickpeas, lentils, butter beans etc)
  • ½ medium potato/sweet potato
  • ½ cup corn (½ large cob)

Starchy Vegetables include potato, sweet potato, taro, cassava, corn. While still being vegetables, they do contain more carbohydrate than other vegetables (and therefore are higher in calories).

Free Vegetables/Salad refers to all non-starchy vegetables or salad e.g. lettuce, spinach, broccoli, green beans, carrot, tomato, cucumber, squash, sprouts, snow peas, capsicum, mushrooms, Bok choy etc.

Eating more vegetables/salad, especially Free Vegetables helps us get more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which help protect us against chronic disease such as cancer and heart disease; and fibre which helps keep our bowels regular, preventing constipation, diverticular disease and bowel cancer, but also helps to ensure healthy gut bacteria, which is linked to reduced risk of many diseases.

However, perhaps even more important than all these beneficial nutrients, is the fact that Free Vegetables are very low in calories! Loading our plate with lots of Free Vegetables/Salad at every meal, improves our satiety (helps us feel fuller for longer) which reduces our daily energy intake and therefore assists weight management.

In fact, the first thing I get any weight loss client to do is to more vegetables! Most people do not need a special diet to lose weight, they just need to eat more vegetables.

Not only are Free Vegetables very low in calories themselves, but they actually require energy to be digested when eaten (thermic effect of food), which can help increase your metabolic rate.

It is quite difficult to eat 5 serves of vegetables in dinner alone (you would need to eat 2.5 cups of cooked vegetables or 5 cups of salad!), so make sure you are eating vegetables in every lunch.

Easy ways to eat more vegetables/salad at lunch time:

  • Take left-overs for lunch (make extra vegetables/salad for dinner the night before) e.g. left-over stir-fry, left over salad and cold meat, turn left-over roast vegetables into a cold salad with some baby spinach + feta cheese and sprinkle of pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
  • Salad wrap with cold meat/chicken or tuna/salmon. It can be easier to pack more salad into a large wrap than a sandwich: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, sprouts, and avocado.
  • Deconstructed Sandwich: take a container with salad + protein + bread and make your sandwich at work. Fill a medium sized container with lots of salad: baby spinach, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, sprouts, avocado, beetroot, celery etc. Add some protein (small tin tuna, cold meat/chicken or cheese). Take a wrap or 2 slices wholegrain bread and make your sandwich/wrap at work. Eat the extra salad with a fork as there is likely to be more than you could fit on your sandwich.
  • Hearty Salad: 2 cups of your favourite salad ingredients (baby spinach, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, sprouts, beetroot, celery, capsicum, onion etc) + 100g protein (small tin tuna, cold meat/chicken, cheese, 4 bean mix) + some healthy fats (avocado, Tbsp sunflower/pumpkin seeds) and an olive oil dressing (with balsamic or lemon juice).
  • Vegetable sticks + Hommus + Wholegrain Crackers. Cut your favourite vegetables into sticks to dip into hommus e.g. carrot, celery, cucumber, red capsicum. Eat with wholegrain crackers such as Vitawheat or Ryvita +/- cheese, for quick and easy lunch.
  • 4 Bean Salad: ½ tin 4 Bean mix + 1 cup of diced vegetables (e.g. tomato, cucumber, celery, red capsicum) + olive oil and lemon dressing + feta (optional – add fresh herbs or olives to taste).
  • Home-made vegetable soup. Make up a big batch vegetable soup and freeze in single portion containers for an easy lunch. Soup can have chicken or meat or legumes, as long as it has loads of vegetables such as carrot, celery, turnip, parsnip, capsicum, corn etc.
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