Whether you prefer them sliced, diced, mashed, raw, cooked or juiced, it's hard to beat the nutritional benefits of vegetables—green or any other color.
Naturally low in fat and calories, veggies offer many nutrients, including potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, and phytonutrients (healthy plant compounds).
Most adults should eat 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables each day. That might sound like a lot, but if you make it a habit to eat veggies at lunch, dinner and as part of a snack, you can quickly meet your quota.
As a general rule, one cup of vegetables is equal to one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or two cups of raw leafy greens. So, a small garden salad with a bowl of bean chili for lunch, baby carrots for a snack and a side of steamed broccoli with a baked sweet potato at dinner easily gets you to your goal.
Vegetables are grouped into different categories, depending on the nutrients they contain. That's why it's important to eat a wide variety of veggies. The amounts you need depend on your daily calorie level. The recommendations below are based on 2,000 calories a day.
Orange vegetables are chockfull of beta-carotene and include acorn squash and sweet potatoes. Aim for 2 cups per week.
Dark green leafy veggies such as kale and broccoli are great sources of vitamin C, folate and calcium. Aim for 3 cups per week.
Starchy vegetables like potatoes and green peas contribute vitamin B6, zinc and potassium. Aim for 3 cups per week.
Legumes like black beans, lentils and tofu provide protein, fiber and iron. Aim for 3 cups per week.
Other vegetables such as red peppers and green beans add many different vitamins and minerals. Aim for 6½ cups per week.
These tips can help you meet your daily vegetable goal:
Make a salad in minutes with pre-washed bags of salad mix, grape tomatoes and shredded carrots. Or, buy veggies from the salad bar to toss on your bed of greens.
Buy bags of pre-cut broccoli florets, sugar snap peas, green beans and stir-fry vegetable mixes to speed prep time.
Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables so you always have a stash on hand.
Go vegetarian! Plan one meal a week around a vegetable main dish, like a veggie stir-fry, pasta with fresh chopped tomatoes, or black bean quesadillas.
Enjoy a glass of low-sodium tomato or vegetable juice at breakfast.
Grate carrots, zucchini and other vegetables into meatloaf, chili, casseroles and quick breads to help boost nutrition.
Skewer mushrooms, green peppers, onions, squash and cherry tomatoes to grill alongside your meat entrée.
Keep a container of sliced raw vegetables in plain sight in the fridge for a grab-and-go snack. Or, dip veggies into low-fat ranch salad dressing.