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Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds
if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.

Doug Larson

5 Ways to Make Over Your Veggies

By Joe Wilkes

Yet another study has come out touting the benefits of adding more servings of vegetables to your diet. Vegetables are now believed to be valuable in keeping the brain young. In the study of 2,000 older Chicagoans, those having two or more servings of vegetables every day showed significantly less mental decline over five years than those who didn't. At Beachbody, we've been saying to eat your vegetables for years. In fact, The Pious Tier on Michi's Ladder, Beachbody's nutrition guide, includes most of the vegetables cited in the study as being especially beneficial. Veggies are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and most have practically no calories. What's not to like? Well, for many, the taste.

We can all agree that eating veggies is a good thing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you eat five to nine servings each day. The question is how do you choke down those five to nine servings if you don't care for vegetables? And how can you get your friends and family, especially kids, to veg out with you at mealtime without the aid of cheese sauce or a deep fryer? While raw or lightly steamed are generally the best ways to consume most vegetables, some of us may need to get a little more creative to get all those servings down the hatch. Here are some ideas.

  1. Heal your inner vegetarian. Many of us are nursing vegetable traumas from childhood. When I was a young boy, my grandmother gustatorily scarred me with numerous culinary atrocities involving canned and pickled beets. Soaked in sugar and vinegar until any structural integrity had dissolved into fluorescent purple mush, the sickly taste of those beets was forever seared in my memory. It wasn't until years later that I was served a fresh roasted beet salad, with beautiful ribbons of gold, red, and violet which bore little resemblance to those horrible vegetables I politely gagged into my dinner napkin every family holiday. Now I love hitting the farmers market, finding multihued heirloom tomatoes, purple cauliflower, exotic Asian vegetables, and all the fresh versions of the creamed, boiled, or pickled monstrosities I was force-fed as a kid and swore I would never eat as an adult. It's well worth revisiting the vegetables you hated as a child and trying new vegetables for the first time. Often, you might find that it was the preparation you hated and not the food itself.

  2. Spice up your life. It's been suggested that many warmer cultures began cooking with spices to help camouflage the flavor of meat that was a bit past its prime. Why not experiment with herbs and spices to give some of the blander veggies a flavor boost or help out the veggies that have too strong a flavor? For example, many find brussels sprouts to be less than enchanting in both appearance (they look like the alien brains from Mars Attacks!) and flavor (I have heard it remarked that they taste like dirt). Try cutting them in half lengthwise and roasting or sautéing them with some chicken broth and curry powder. You'll alter the flavor, color, and texture of the sprouts without losing any of the nutritive value.

    Mix and match spices, herbs, and condiments like basil, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cilantro, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, horseradish, mustard, oregano, rosemary, soy sauce, etc. to add flavor without significantly adding calories. Be creative and experiment with spices that might not immediately come to mind when you think of certain vegetables. For example, a friend of mine, a master of microwave cuisine, sprinkles some frozen cauliflower with nutmeg before she nukes it, with delicious results.

  3. Soup up your veggies. One great way to eat veggies whose appearance or texture might not be the most appealing is to puree them and make soup. Cauliflower is a prime candidate for the food processor. People who are put off by its rough appearance and strong flavor can get most of the nutritional value by having it in soup form. Sauté some cauliflower florets and other vegetables in some low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, then blend the cauliflower and broth in a blender or food processor until smooth. Make sure to include the broth you sautéed the cauliflower in, as it will include many of the nutrients. For thicker soup, blend a boiled potato into the mix. Or add some nonfat yogurt for a creamier texture. Add other veggies from Michi's Pious Tier, like onions, leeks, shallots, or garlic for extra flavor, or throw in a little nonfat Parmesan cheese.

  4. Don't be bitter. Among the healthiest of all vegetables are some of the ones that are the least commonly eaten—the dark, leafy greens. These veggies, including kale, chard, rabe, and beet, collard, mustard, and turnip greens contain more nutrients and fiber than almost any other vegetable, but their bitter, chalky taste often puts people off. Also when bought in bunches, it seems almost impossible to get the grit and sand off the leaves, which doesn't add much to the green experience. To clean the greens, start by removing the stems. This is easily done by folding the leaf in half, which should allow the leaf halves to tear off the stem cleanly. Let the leaves soak in a sink full of cold water, occasionally changing the water until no grit or dirt is observed. Or, check your produce section; for a little extra money, you can buy bagged, pre-cut greens which are already washed and ready to cook. Although we still recommend that you give your greens a thorough rinse before you prepare them.

    As for the bitter taste, a common mistake that people make is to steam the greens. This actually seals in the bitter juices, making the greens taste even worse. The best way to cook greens is to sauté them in a bit of broth. The bitterness will disperse in the broth, leaving your greens tasting sweeter. Adding something acidic, such as lemon juice, vinegar, or white wine while it is cooking will also cut the bitterness. You can add onion, garlic, or spices to your sauté, which can improve the flavor and add their own nutritional benefits. Greens are also terrific additions to soups or casseroles, but you should blanch the greens for one minute in boiling water before adding them to the main dish to remove most of the bitterness. Like coffee, greens can become an acquired taste, and the more you eat them, the more your palate will become accustomed to, and even enjoy, their unique flavor.

  5. Hit the sauce. Okay, you've tried steaming, sautéing, pureeing, and the vegetables are still met with silence, or worse, at the dinner table. It's time to bring out the heavy artillery—sauce. Now, we're not talking old standbys like cheese sauce or hollandaise sauce—they are delicious, yes, but loaded with fat and calories, which kind of defeats the purpose of eating vegetables for your health. It's like taking your cholesterol pill wrapped in bacon. But a quick perusal of the top two tiers of Michi's Ladder shows that there is hope! There are plenty of healthy ingredients that can be combined to make some sauces that are delicious and can add to the nutritional value of your vegetable dish.

    Nonfat yogurt is a great base for healthy sauces. Try mixing some yogurt with mustard to taste for a faux hollandaise sauce for asparagus or broccoli. Tofu is another exceptionally healthy sauce base. My brother gave me a recipe for pureeing soft tofu with garlic, black pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard to make a thick and creamy Caesar dressing. (This solves another dietary dilemma of how to make heart-healthy tofu taste good.) You can double your servings by using vegetables to make sauce for your other vegetables. Make a Spanish romesco sauce out of pureed tomatoes, red bell peppers, garlic, almonds, and olive oil—all ingredients from Michi's top two tiers, which combine to make a delicious topping for green beans, kale, or spinach. And, if you don't have time to make an elaborate sauce, just keep some soy sauce, flavored vinegar, lemon juice, Tabasco, and olive oil on hand, and dress your veggies with a couple of dashes of whatever you're in the mood for.

Hopefully, you'll be creatively inspired to try out some new vegetables and some new methods for preparing them. While this article focused mostly on stovetop preparations, you may want to dip into the newsletter archive for articles on "11 Tips for Cooking Out Without Pigging Out" and "10 Simple Ways to Spruce Up Your Salad" for more ideas on preparing vegetables. And if you still can't manage to eat enough vegetables, at least try to take a decent multivitamin every day.

Also, make sure to check out the recipe index at TeamBeachbody.com. Not a member? Click here to start your membership right away!

Study: Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. M. C. Morris, ScD, D. A. Evans, MD, C. C. Tangney, PhD, J. L. Bienias, ScD and R. S. Wilson, PhD. From Rush Institute for Healthy Aging (M.C.M., D.A.E., J.L.B.), Department of Preventive Medicine (M.C.M., J.L.B.), Department of Internal Medicine (M.C.M., D.A.E.), Department of Clinical Nutrition (C.C.T.), Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center (R.S.W.), Department of Neurological Sciences (R.S.W.), and Department of Psychology (R.S.W.), Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL. NEUROLOGY 2006;67:1370-1376.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com. If you'd like to receive Steve' Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter.

Check out Steve's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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6 Reasons to Eat Your Vegetables

By Jude Buglewicz

If you're like most Americans, you're probably eating only three servings of fruits and vegetables a day, if that. Big mistake. Research shows that the more veggies you consume daily, the better off you'll be, in terms of overall health and body weight. Aim for five to nine or even thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Here are six reasons why.

  • Helps you lose weight. Since fruits and vegetables have a lot of fiber, the more of them you eat, the fuller you feel. The beauty is they're low in calories, so you wind up satisfying your appetite without exceeding your daily calorie allotment. Recent studies show that increasing your fiber intake by as little as 14 grams a day can result in weight loss of just over four pounds in four months. It's the fiber in the fruits and veggies that does it, which is why it's better to eat the whole carrot or apple than drink carrot or apple juice. (See Steve Edwards' "The Whole Fruit and Nothing But the Fruit.")

  • Fights cancer. In a comprehensive review of the best research on fruits, vegetables, and cancer by an agency for the World Health Organization, the authors concluded that eating more vegetables "probably lowers the risk of cancers of the esophagus and colon-rectum" and "possibly reduces the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, stomach, larynx, lung, ovary, and kidney." Cooking certain veggies increases the body's ability to absorb cancer-fighting antioxidants—especially carotenoids (found in carrots). In fact, your body can absorb up to five times more carotenoids from cooked and mashed carrots than it can from raw carrots, according to a study led by Dr. Sue Southon of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.

  • Promotes heart health. A 14-year-long Harvard study of nurses and other health professionals found that the more fruits and vegetables a person ate daily, the lower their chances were of developing heart-related health problems like heart attack and stroke. People who ate more than eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30 percent less likely to have cardiovascular problems. For every extra fruit or vegetable serving a person ate each day, their heart disease risk dropped by 4 percent.

  • Lowers cholesterol. According to a study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people who ate more than four servings of fruits and vegetables a day had much lower levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol than those who ate fewer servings.

  • Reduces bowel problems. The fiber in fruits and vegetables relieves constipation and helps prevent diverticulosis and colon disease. See "More Food Substitutions for Faster Slimming Results" for more information and for charts listing the fiber content of everyday foods to help you make smarter choices at the grocery store.

  • Improves vision. Eating your vegetables may help prevent vision problems associated with aging. The antioxidants in veggies (particularly dark green leafy ones) fight damage from free radicals that harm the eye and can lead to the development of cataracts (clouding of the eye's lens) and macular degeneration (damage to the center of the retina).

For more information on the benefits of eating organic produce, read Steve Edwards' "10 Reasons to Eat Organic—and Local." Then, when you're done reading—have a big salad (with a side of cooked carrots)!

Sources: Howarth, NC, Saltzman, E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Energy density of foods affects energy intake across multiple levels of fat content in lean and obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 2001:73:1010-1018. Vainio H, Bianchini F, IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention: Fruit and Vegetables. Vol. 8 Lyon, France, 2003. Southon, S. Knockout broccoli fights cancer. New Scientist 5 April 2003: 25. Hung HC, Joshipura KJ, Jiang R, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease. J Natl Cancer Inst 2004; 96:1577-84. Djousse L, Arnett DK, Coon H, Province MA, Moore LL, Ellison RC. Fruit and vegetable consumption and LDL cholesterol: the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:213-7.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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