Continued from Part 1…
Why Bother Emphasizing Vegetables So Much?
In this post I am not urging you to become a vegan or a vegetarian. I am simply advocating that you eat A LOT MORE vegetables than you are. If you are anywhere close to average, you are not coming close to eating enough for your long-term health. Even if you are aiming for a paleo, or a ketogenic diet, vegetables are indispensible for making that emphasis on protein work. There are so many vegetables that are not carbohydrate-heavy so you can easily choose those that do not interfere with the low-glycemic objective.
My argument is not even about higher performance in athletics. It is about longevity. Vegetables are easier on the metabolism and packed with the things that defend, repair and restore the body – things that slow down aging. In their whole-food form vegetables contain vital substances that are arranged in combination with other things that do the body far more good than when they are extracted into supplements and taken separately. Because all animals, including humans, evolved to eat whole foods, not extracted or processed ones, it is no wonder we do better on whole foods. So, fill up on these nutrients in their natural packages, naturally combined and arranged, as much as possible.
Eat More Veggies Earlier
Depending on your daily activities, it may be better to eat the heaviest meal in the morning (meaning, your emphasis is on protein or low-glycemic foods) and let the meals get lighter and lighter, as the day progresses to evening. In many cultures, the heaviest meal is in the evening, yet digesting all that at night is harder on the body. A salad or nicely prepared vegetables for the last meal of the day would be much easier on digestion while sleeping.
But, if there is doubt about your ability to get more veggies later in the day, aim to eat as many vegetables as you can in the morning and at lunch time. Because I have more consistent control over my breakfast and lunch, I aim for this, and a vegetable-laden dinner is a bonus. Hence, I have a smoothie nearly every morning (in addition to my other breakfast foods), and I have a salad nearly every lunch before I eat anything else. For evening meals, someone else in my family may be making the dinner or I may need to eat out after coaching late, then I don’t have to be so concerned about getting my quota for the day.
Make a massive veggie/fruit smoothie in the morning. Make extra and store it in a big, easily opened jar, so that you can sip on it over the day whenever you need a snack, and you can have it for the next morning or two.
In mine you’ll find:
- Kale or other dark green
- Purple cabbage
- Pea protein powder
- Flax seed meal
- Chlorella powder
- Vitamin C powder
- Vitamin B12 (tablet)
- Soy milk
- Seasonal fruit
Mediterranean breakfast is wonderful. When we lived in Turkey, often at home and anytime we were visiting a friends for breakfast, fruit on the table was not common, but there would always be flesh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, leafy greens, and sometimes sauteed peppers.
When you go shopping each week make sure you have the ingredients for a week to make a couple massive lunch salads that will last you 2 or 3 days. If you live with others and you want them to eat salad too, make enough to share so it’s convenient for them to do what you are doing. Just about every time I make a lunch salad for myself at home I make enough for the family for dinner and for another salad for myself the next day.
And pack those salads with seeds, nuts, dried berries, and add some crumpled cheese or nutritional yeast (my favorite), avocado, olives, etc so that it feels heartier and more attractive. If you are going to make one meal a day artful and celebratory, make it your lunch salad! Go all out. Increase the healthy, tasty additives, and reduce dependence on salad dressing and sauces. Aim for light, simple, transparent oil and vinegar.
More Veggies! Is Not Convenient
I am sorry to say that the more healthy you want to eat, the more you must invest your own time and energy into preparing it. It becomes part of your mindful living practice. You can see that all these suggestions take time. That’s the whole catch. If you don’t want to eat like the rest of the convenience culture, going along with the unhealthy flow, you are going to have to interact with food differently. Unless you can pay for someone to do all this for you, you must put effort into making better food for yourself, or else it is going to be hard to avoid being caught up in the destructive convenience food cycle.
For an example of how I deal with it, if I anticipate going to a restaurant, a party or someone’s house for a meal, and I have doubts there will be enough vegetables, I eat mine before I go. I try to have extras ready in the frig for these occasions, or I just eat as many carrots and celery (with nut butter!) as I can before I head out the door.
Restaurants Are Not Good Friends
You can choose to order more vegetable-laden meals at restaurants, but there is a great temptation not to. And, what you get is often combined with things (like stuff hidden in the sauces) that work against your health, even when going to vegetarian and vegan places. I am cautious even there.
I’ve already written some thoughts about the misalignment between what you crave and what your body needs in Food For Nutrition More Than Entertainment. I am sorry to say that restaurants are not usually good nutrition friends because they can’t easily match those two for a misaligned person. I hear that profit margins for restaurants are thin and obviously, in order to attract customers in a very competitive market, their first priority is making food taste good which means adding salt, oil and/or sugar to bump up the dopamine hits in your brain – those dopamine hits correspond to what you crave not to what your body needs. Restaurants need to make a profit and encourage you to come back again, so hitting your craving button is more important than giving your body what it needs. Too few businesses put in sufficient effort (and expense) to make it more healthy by increasing what is beneficial, and reducing what is harmful, while still making it taste great. The flavoring substances that most readily trigger the dopamine hits are not good for us, and so reducing those is not good for profit. But once you detox from those substances, and they leave you feeling yucky not good, then eating out no longer feels so pleasant.
If you must eat out – which we all must do sometimes – order from the vegetarian/vegan menu more often. Personally, I find it a relief to have fewer menu choices when I go to restaurants. I have cultivated a more utilitarian view of food – its nutritional value is higher priority than its flavor or novelty – and so fewer choices in this area spares me time and energy for pondering other, more important decisions in my day.
Grocery stores are better. When I commute and travel I carry a small pouch of utensils, knife, peeler, and food prep items so that I can eat primarily out of the fresh section of a grocery store. I carry ziplock bags so I can take prepared fruits and veggies with me.
Eat What’s Good For You, Like It Or Not
There are those who, for whatever reason, just don’t like vegetables. They don’t make you salivate and that makes it hard to swallow them. But here is the deal. They are more than good for you, they are necessary for your longevity. And, since you are a grown up and an athlete who voluntarily signs up for things that are difficult, the tough coach in me is going to push that button and tell you, “Get over it”. Eat you damn vegetables, whether you like it or not, because this is what you need to do as part of your training and for your life. (You can take that lightly with a smile on my face or sternly with a frown, whichever works better for you!)
The bad news is that, for all these years you have pushed them away, your gut and your brain have adapted to the vegetable-free diet you’ve been giving it and they don’t currently prefer vegetables, and even protest a bit when you try to eat them. But, believe it or not, over several weeks, you can start to change that whole situation, if you just start force feeding your body with these. Initially, as you eat less junk, the bacteria and warped brain chemistry that relies on that junk will punish you with withdrawal symptoms. That will not be fun, but it is normal and it will pass. Eventually, the kind of gut bacteria that prefer vegetables will gain more dominance and send more craving signals to the brain and you will turn the corner to liking vegetables.
Repetition Is OK
Implied in all this is some amount of routine and repetition of foods you eat. Your menu of options may be smaller and less diverse. When you make extra fresh food, you will be eating the same things in some meals for the next couple days. Because of seasonal and regional variety, you will be having the same vegetables cycle through your weekly patterns more often.
But this a primary way you overcome convenience and entertainment eating. You plan and prepare ahead of time, you keep things more simple, because the food system you live in is not set up to support your health.
This is a primary way set up good eating patterns and reduce the amount of decision-making you must expend precious energy upon. Now you can spend that attention upon other things and let your superior eating pattern operate more on autopilot, despite its counter-cultural direction.
The Main Points
- Cultivate a passion for eating vegetables
- Eat vegetables before you eat other things on the plate
- Eat at home more often – or prepare your own meals to take
- Make massive amounts so you have leftovers ready for other quick meals – this is your new ‘fast food’
- Make it as convenient as possible to access vegetables over other alternatives
In this modern world, where truly healthy food is not a market priority because it is not high profit, you have to take it into your own hands to get it. You must do some planning and invest some time up front to make this happen. Later on, once the routines are going, you won’t have to think about it so much, or struggle so much to make good choices against that cultural flow. Eventually, it will become your routine, which will become a habit, which will make you feel so much better and you’ll end up with a stronger craving for what’s good for you body.
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