By Charlotte Debeugny.
It’s always good to eat more vegetables!
For those of you in the UK and Europe, like me you are possibly reeling after a week of political uproar. While nutrition and food politics are certainly compatible, in democracies where everyone is entitled to an opinion, a pleasant meal with family and friends might need to focus on avoiding political discussions at the moment until everything has calmed down…!
And, just a few further thoughts. Like Jo Cox, the English MP murdered during the UK referendum process, I do truly believe that ‘love’ can conqueror hatred and ignorance, but ‘love’ can’t be passive in these situations. It needs to get out there and stand up for itself and the rights of others. It’s a love that needs to roar, demonstrate and ‘rage’ against injustice and inequality. One world, one planet and we simply have to work together to make it magical.
So with chaos around us, I’m going to gently underline that the one thing we can truly control is what we put in our mouths and in the mouths of our families. While the world may be uncertain, what is certain is that a nutritious diet protects our health and this is entirely our responsibility.
There’s a lot more focus in the nutrition world at the moment on dietary patterns, as opposed to telling people to eat more or less fat, sugar etc. which just seems to cause confusion (!) The one dietary pattern which wins hands down for health and weight control is the Mediterranean diet which is characterised by fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, olives and whole grains.
A higher vegetable consumption improves our health and prevents disease
In terms of putting the spot light on vegetables, when you look at the research any diet which has a high consumption of vegetables tends to be linked with better health and weight outcomes.
How many should we be eating? This is where you groan and chant ‘5 A day’. OK, but why five a day, have you ever asked this question? It’s based on a study performed in 1989 by the World Health Organisation in relation to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease. They found fruits and vegetables to be protective for heart disease risk and set a lower limit of 400g of fruits and vegetables a day (about 5 servings of 80g) as being an achievable goal for most people to aim for.
This was then taken up as a campaign by fruit and vegetable companies in the US, and this is where the 5 a day comes from. Note that this is the lower limit, we can certainly eat more than this but sadly, our average consumption in Europe is between about 3-4 servings a day. Further recent studies on overall mortality indicate that we should actually be aiming for 7 servings a day.
Vegetables are not the enemy!
While most people like eating fruit, many wrinkle their dainty little noses at eating vegetables. Phrases I hear over and over again in my clinic are ‘I don’t like……’ followed by a low list of almost every vegetable in existence. I also hear that ‘They are too expensive’ or that ‘They take too long to prepare’ or even ‘I don’t know how to cook them’.
Vegetables possibly have a slight edge on health when compared to fruit – bursting with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and, most importantly from a weight control perspective, they add bulk without the calories. A true win, win situation.
These colourful, perky, fun foods seem to have to get a very bad press and we possibly need to change our attitudes, we should not feel that we have to eat them, but rather that we want to eat them. They need to stop being the afterthought and become the main attraction! The good news according to Bee Wilson in her fabulous book, ‘How we learn to eat’, is that we can actually relearn how to eat and change our eating habits. I happen to think that eating vegetables should come as naturally to us as breathing – a balanced meal contains vegetables – end of discussion and we should not have to use food charts, pleads or bribery in order for our families to eat vegetables.
How to eat more vegetables
Too busy? Two words – ‘salads’ or ‘frozen’ – vegetables which take minutes to prepare and serve. I’ll often prepare the vegetables in the morning for meals later in the day as I find chopping and slicing a very therapeutic way to start my day!
Don’t know how to cook them? Roasting vegetables is a technique that adds incredible depth and flavour. Simply chop up a selection of your favourite vegetables, drizzle over olive oil and roast in the oven at 200 degrees for 45 minutes.
Don’t like them? Some people are truly more sensitive to the bitter taste of some vegetables and some people equally inherit the gene which makes coriander taste ‘soapy’. So start with the less bitter vegetables – carrots, peas and sweetcorn are all ‘harmless’ and usually enjoyed by most people. Add in a knob of butter or cream to your spinach and cabbage which can transform the flavour, try stir frying, vegetable soups……just keep on trying to find ways to enjoy them!!!
An example of an ‘easy’ 7 a day daily eating plan
Yoghurt, oats, nuts and 1 portion of fruit (1 serving)
Grilled salmon/meat with a large green salad and fresh fruit for dessert (1 serving of fruit, 2 vegetable servings)
Hummus and carrot sticks as a snack (1 serving of vegetables)
Scrambled eggs with spinach and grilled mushrooms and a slice of whole wheat toast (2 vegetable servings)
And, as the final icing on the vegetable cake, here’s 2 recipes for you to enjoy, exclusively created for the Mutton Club by yours truly.
Charlotte’s Quinoa Salad
Great for a packed lunch
100g quinoa (or rice)
1 box of cherry tomatoes
½ tsp paprika
Juice of 1 lemon
½ preserved lemon (optional but adds a fantastic taste)
Salt and pepper
2 spring onions
Handful of rocket
Handful of chopped hazel nuts
Handful of chopped basil and parsley
Cook the quinoa or rice according to the instructions. While this is cooking prepare the dressing: blend about 10 cherry tomatoes with 40 ml olive oil, the paprika, lemon juice preserved lemon and seasoning. Drain quinoa and rice and while it is still warm pour over the dressing and place in a salad bowl. Halve the rest of the cherry tomatoes, dice the courgette, slice the spring onions and add to the bowl with the rocket, hazel nuts and herbs.
Optional extras: Feta cheese, Parma ham, chickpeas.
The ‘proud to be Mutton’ spicy Asian salad
6 Chinese lettuce leaves
1 bunch of radishes
2 spring onions
Handful of chopped roasted peanuts
½ fresh mango, diced
Bunch of coriander
Handful of fresh mint
2 handfuls of bean sprouts
Juice of 2 limes
1 ½ tbsp. fish sauce
½ tbsp. brown sugar
1 clove of garlic
1 red chilli
Thinly slice the lettuce leaves, radishes, spring onions and carrot. Place in a salad bowl. Add the peanuts, mango, bean sprouts and chopped fresh herbs. Blend all the ingredients for the dressing together. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, and pour over the salad. Good to go!
Optional extras: Great with cooked chicken, cooked prawns or cubed tofu.
Charlotte Debeugny has a BSc in nutrition and is currently completing her Masters in Food, Nutrition and Public Health. She’s a member of BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and is registered with and regulated by the CNHC (Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) in the UK. Charlotte spent 14 years working in finance before switching careers. She understands the difficulty of balancing a busy professional life with a healthy lifestyle. She’s also a mother of 3 children and has first-hand experience (cough!) of the challenges of supporting children to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Charlotte is a firm believer that healthy food can and should taste delicious. You can find out more on Charlotte’s website.