The World Health Organization calls lack of exercise and poor diet the "leading global risk to health," yet only 1 in 10 Americans gets enough vegetables via diet, while some eat no vegetables at all. Not eating vegetables makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight and increases the risk of disease.
If you don't eat vegetables or you're not eating enough, try to start incorporating them into each of your meals to make sure you're meeting your nutrient needs. Your body will thank you.
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If you eat no vegetables or your diet is lacking in them, you may set yourself up for an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, weight gain and chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer. To combat these risks, include 2 to 3 cups of vegetables in your diet every day.
Increased Risk of Chronic Disease
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million deaths worldwide are connected to not eating enough fruits and vegetables, breaking it down further by attributing 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, 11 percent of heart disease deaths and 9 percent of deaths from stroke to insufficient fruit and vegetable intake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are from chronic diseases, like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and obesity. If you don't eat vegetables, you increase your risk of developing these conditions pretty significantly. On the other hand, eating a diet that contains a lot of fruits and vegetables can help prevent them, or at least reduce your risk.
That's because vegetables are high in essential vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. Vitamins and minerals allow your body to carry out important chemical reactions that are involved in everything from heart health to bone health to blood sugar control.
Phytochemicals and antioxidants help neutralize unstable substances called free radicals that can damage the DNA in your cells and increase your risk of cancer. Fiber lowers bad cholesterol and keeps your bowels healthy, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and colon troubles.
Possible Bowel Troubles
Vegetables are among the highest sources of fiber in your diet, so if you eat no vegetables, or don't eat enough, you may have trouble meeting your fiber needs, which fall between 25 and 38 grams, depending on whether you're a man or a woman. According to a report published in the journal Nutrients in July 2014, average fiber intake falls between 11 and 19 grams per day, which means most people need to eat twice as much as they're currently consuming.
If you don't eat enough fiber, you increase your risk of bowel troubles, like constipation, diverticulosis and hemorrhoids, but it doesn't stop there. A lack of fiber is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer.
Potential Nutrient Deficiencies
Vegetables are rich in lots of vitamins and minerals, including folate (folic acid), vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C and potassium, which Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service deems a "nutrient of concern" for Americans, since many aren't getting enough. A lack of potassium can cause:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulties with proper muscle contraction
- Disruptions in nerve signaling
- High blood pressure
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
Eating a variety of different vegetables can help ensure that you're getting enough potassium, as well as lots of vitamins and minerals. This helps reduce your risk of developing nutrient deficiencies, since no single vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Make sure to include vegetables of all colors, since different-colored vegetables provide different nutrients. Try red bell peppers, carrots, summer squash, leafy greens, eggplant and beets.
Weight Management Issues
Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, so cutting them out of your diet can make it harder to manage your weight. They're also high in fiber and water, which add volume to your meals and fill your stomach more quickly than lower-fiber foods. People who don't eat a lot of vegetables tend to replace them with higher-calorie foods, like pasta or extra meat, which are not as filling for the same volume, making it easier to take in a lot more calories.
On the other hand, swapping out a cup of higher-calorie foods, like pasta, with a cup of vegetables can help lower your overall calorie intake while simultaneously increasing your nutrient consumption.
One study published in PLOS Medicine in September 2015 found that each daily serving of nonstarchy vegetables that you add to your diet may be associated with a 0.25-pound weight loss over a period of four years. A greater effect was seen with green leafy vegetables, which were associated with a 0.68-pound weight loss per daily serving.
However, the study also noted that the positive weight loss effects were associated with nonstarchy vegetables only. Starchy vegetables, like peas, potatoes and corn, had the opposite effect, contributing to weight gain instead.
How to Get More Veggies
If you're not used to eating vegetables, meeting your daily recommendation can seem like a daunting task, but there are some simple ways you can incorporate more vegetables into your meals without much extra effort.
For breakfast, add some broccoli, spinach and onions to your morning omelet. If you're short on time, make some veggie-rich egg cups the night before so you can take them with you on your way out the door. You can also incorporate vegetables into a convenient smoothie by blending a little frozen fruit with a couple handfuls of spinach, some almond milk and a high-quality protein powder.
For lunch, opt for a veggie-packed salad or choose a cup of steamed broccoli as a side for your meal instead of french fries or chips. If you meal prep, prepare a Mason jar salad the night before so you can take it with you and have some portable vegetables to go. You can also swap out the sliced bread in your sandwich for lettuce wraps.
For dinner, replace 1 cup of starch, like pasta or rice, with 1 cup of vegetables instead, or have a salad before moving on to the main course. Take an honest look at your plate and analyze whether there are enough vegetables on it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that vegetables should take up the largest portion of your plate. If they don't, replace some of the meat with vegetables.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight"
- World Health Organization: "Healthy Diet"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — United States, 2015"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap"
- Nutrients: "Identifying Practical Solutions to Meet America’s Fiber Needs"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Vegetables and Fruits"
- Purdue Univeristy Extension: "Four Nutrients of Concern for All Americans"
- USDA ChooseMyPlate: "Why Is It Important to Eat Vegetables?"
- PLOS Medicine: "Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies"