Eating vegetables regularly is essential to feeling good — both physically and mentally.
And for dieters, they are an invaluable tool for beating cravings.
In additional to the nutritional benefits of vegetables, they also help you feel full and satisfied. This slows down your eating and reduces cravings.
And the best part? When prepared properly, vegetables make delicious and satisfying meals and snacks.
Vegetables make it easier to achieve — and maintain — your ideal body weight.
Vegetables provide key nutrients
Your body needs certain nutrients to perform its basic functions.
These nutrients serve three main purposes:
- Provide your body with energy
- Contribute to the structure of your body
- Regulate chemical processes that are occurring inside your body
Vitamins are nutrients that regulate bodily processes to keep your body functioning properly and in good health.
Minerals — such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, and others — are nutrients that are necessary for your cells to function properly. They are also used as components in the building of body tissues, such as muscles and bones.
Phytochemicals (also known as phytonutrients) are beneficial compounds produced by plants which your body can take advantage of when you eat vegetables.
Don’t let that word scare you — “phyto” means “plant” and “chemicals” are “substances.” So a phyto-chemical is simply a naturally occurring substance made by plants.
Scientists are discovering that phytochemicals from plants such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. have important protective health properties.
Vegetables make your gut happy
While the nutritional value of vegetables is reason enough to include them generously in your diet, there is another huge benefit of eating them…
The fiber provided by vegetables keeps the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut thriving.
If you’ve ever had GI problems — perhaps from too much Halloween candy as a kid or too much beer as a teenager — you know that when your gut is not happy you’re not happy. Even a touch of nausea, diarrhea, or constipation is a bummer.
A robust population of beneficial bacteria keeps your gut healthy and functioning properly.
These bacteria live on the fiber that you consume from vegetables. So the more complete a smorgasbord of vegetables you eat, the better your gut will feel.
They improve your mood too
Recent scientific studies have been demonstrating more and more conclusively that there is a strong gut-brain connection.
Your mental state affects how your gut feels and the state of your gut affects your mental state.
You’re probably already familiar with the feeling of “butterflies in your stomach” that results from being mentally nervous. But it works in the other direction too.
When the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut is healthy, your brain is aware of this and you are rewarded with a positive mood.
But when there are problems in your GI tract, it can turn on and contribute to negative emotions such as nervousness, anxiety or depression in your brain.
Maintaining a healthy gut helps keep you happy, calm and relaxed.
Dietary fiber is the key
Consuming an adequate amount of dietary fiber is the key to maintaining a healthy population of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Vegetables are a cheap, easy, and tasty way to add sufficient amounts of fiber to your diet.
The fiber you eat is not actually broken down and absorbed by your body as it goes through the digestive tract. It’s just along for the ride and passes through. But that doesn’t mean it’s not doing a lot of good things for you.
You can envision a sort of “battle” going on in your gut between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. Fiber makes the good bacteria flourish, while processed foods make bad gut bacteria flourish.
By eating more vegetables and less processed food, you increase the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria.
This not only improves your body’s health but also boosts your mental health.
Fiber protects against inflammation
The good bacteria in your gut live on the fiber you’ve consumed, and one of the beneficial things they do is to produce mucus.
This mucus lines the inside of your gut and plays an important role in preventing you from aching and being in a bad mood.
This is because the mucous coating helps “seal” the lining of your gut and reduces the amount of inflammatory food proteins that cross over into your bloodstream.
When these food proteins do manage to get into your bloodstream, your body mistakes them for foreign invaders (such as viruses) and activates your immune system to deal with them.
This leads to inflammation in various parts of your body, resulting in general discomfort, aches and pain.
Your mom may not have known about the mucus, but she was right to tell you to eat your vegetables.
It’s hard to think of vegetables being good for your joints, but they are.
Their fiber also helps lower heart disease and diabetes. Who knew?
Vegetables reduce cravings
Dietary fiber is also called roughage.
As you consume it, stretch receptors are activated in your stomach and intestines.
These receptors signal the brain to reduce the feeling of craving and slow down eating.
Having enough fiber in your gastrointestinal tract allows your brain to detect it and damp down cravings.
Regular dosing of a couple of cups of vegetables at lunch and supper should reassure your brain that food is always on board.
In this way, vegetables can be used to lessen cravings and to wean off of addictive high-energy foods like carbohydrates and fats.
You may be familiar with carb cravings such as those caused by regular flour and sugar consumption. Vegetables are your ticket to crushing these cravings and shifting your diet to a healthier combination of proteins, healthy fats and fiber.
Fiber keeps things moving
Moving the gut contents along is easier with fiber on board.
Regular bowel movements and increases in the bulk of stools are promoted by dietary fiber.
Waste spends less time in the tract with dietary fiber present. Constipated people take fiber and appreciate it when things get moving.
This relationship between fiber and stools means you can use tools like the Bristol Stool Scale to easily monitor whether you are eating an adequate amount of vegetables and fiber.
So… get vegetables into your diet!
It is relatively easy to add vegetables permanently to your diet. Start by adding an extra vegetable or two into each meal.
Then, over time, ramp up to eating 2 cups of vegetables with lunch and 2 cups with dinner each day.
Some people need more, and some less, so adjust these quantities to whatever makes your body feel best.
The benefits of eating more vegetables will become evident within a couple of weeks.
It’s not an overnight change, but stick with it consistently and you’ll soon start feeling the full benefits.