Food is incredibly important in our society. In many ways it is the centerpiece of our culture and our relationships. Food brings people together, literally. But food is also very divisive. Paleo, gluten free, sugar free, low carb and high fat, vegetarian, vegan, juicing, super foods, the list of diets or approaches to food is long. And each has an expert proponent explaining why a certain way is the best way to gain health benefits or to lose weight.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. These are the words of author, journalist and food advocate Michael Pollan. Plants are a rich source of many nutrients that we need to be healthy, including many vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and unsaturated fats. Especially vegetables tend to feature heavily in most approaches to food, even Paleo.
Despite this, most of us do not eat enough vegetables. The Australian dietary guidelines recommend five to six serves of vegetables per day, with a standard serve of vegetables being around 75 grams. In 2017, the CSIRO found that only one third of Australians met this guideline. That is, only one in three of us eat the relatively modest recommended intake of vegetables. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the situation is actually worse than that: Only 7% of Australian adults met the guidelines for serves of vegetables in 2014-15, according to the National Health Survey.
Eating more vegetables is not just good for our health, it’s also good for the environment. In fact, a plant-rich diet is one way to reduce your emissions footprint. According to the first book from Project Drawdown, the most conservative estimates suggest that raising livestock accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gases emitted each year, and the most comprehensive assessments of direct and indirect emissions say more than 50%.
Meat and dairy contribute much more emissions than vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Cows generate the potent greenhouse gas methane when they digest their food. Agricultural land use and energy consumption to grow feed for livestock produce carbon dioxide emissions, and manure and fertiliser emit nitrous oxide. If cattle were their own country, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases! The Drawdown project ranks plant-rich diets as the #4 most substantive solution to global warming based on the total amount of green houses gases they can potentially avoid or remove from the atmosphere (after #1 refrigeration, #2 wind turbines and #3 reduced food waste).
So how do we add more vegetables into our diet? The options are many, but here are some of our favourites:
- Make a vegetable smoothie for breakfast or a snack. This is a great way to get a lot of vegetables in one go. Kale, spinach and other leafy greens are a great base for smoothies.
- Replace meat with vegetables in your favourite dishes. Try a zucchini lasagne, a vegetarian curry or a chickpea burger.
- Focus on variety. You can make a great lunch or dinner bowl with only or mostly different types of vegetables. Think broccoli, sweet potato mash, shredded red cabbage, avocado, edamame…
- Make cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles instead of the traditional alternative.
- Eat vegetables as a snack or starter before the main meal. Think cucumber, carrot and capsicum sticks with hummus.
- Make a finely chopped salad. Some vegetables like kale and broccoli are easier to eat (in greater quantities) finely chopped than in big chunks.
Check out @thesmallist on Instagram for more ideas on vegetable based drinks, snacks and meals.