Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: How to Break Out of Your Vegetable Rut
Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.
We all know we should eat our veggies, but not only do we fall miserably short in that department, all too many of us tend to eat a very limited array of them. Ask most people about their favorite veggies and you’re likely to hear a chorus of “potatoes and tomatoes.” (Of course, the tomato is really a fruit, but no matter.) Ask them about their favorite fast food side dish and the answer is probably French fries with ketchup, with a baked potato as a runner up. And the most popular “veggie” snack? Potato chips beat out anything else by a mile!
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According the USDA, farmers and food companies are happy to give us what we want. The most recent data reveals that potatoes comprise almost one-third of all vegetables grown in this country and tomatoes constitute almost a quarter. Add in head lettuce, which is neck-in-neck with onions for the third most common vegetable, and we’re talking about 59 percent of the total vegetable crop.
But does if really matter if we eat the same vegetables day after day? It absolutely does. Here are some reasons why variety is the healthier—and more interesting—way to go.
1. Covering All Our Nutritional Bases. Eating the same vegetables day after day reduces the likelihood that you’ll get all (and enough) of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body can’t make on its own. A popular way of making sure your diet is well rounded is to make sure you’re getting something from every color group, as similarly colored fruits often have similar nutritional benefits. Brightly colored vegetables generally have the highest nutrient levels.
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(Tomatoes, Strawberries, Red Cabbage, Red Peppers, Beets)
The red group contains the powerful antioxidants lycopene and anthocyanins that can prevent cell damage and ward off cancer.
(Citrus Fruits, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes and Yellow Peppers)
The plan pigments that give this family its color are carotenoids, which are phytonutrients with strong antioxidants that not only fight cancer, but also prevent cardiovascular disease and inflammation and protect our muscles, tissues and eyes.
(Spinach, Green Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts)
While perhaps the most difficult category for many of us to enjoy, green veggies (particularly of the dark, leafy variety) pack the most nutrition per calorie of any food out there, so it’s perhaps most important to incorporate these into our diets! Greens are high fiber and excellent sources of vitamins A, C, E and K. They’re also chock full of critical minerals like calcium and iron. In addition, research has shown that eating 2 to 3 servings of green leafy vegetables per week may lower the risk of stomach, breast and skin cancer.
(Fun fact: a green pepper has twice the vitamin C, B6 and A of an orange!)
BLUE & PURPLE
(Blueberries, Eggplant, Plums)
This group is perhaps best known for its flavonoid content. Flavonoids are powerful phytochemicals that are most famous for their benefits to our cardiovascular system, including preventing heart disease. It’s critical that we eat the skin of these fruits and veggies to get the most cancer-fighting bang for our buck.
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(Potatoes, Mushrooms, Onions)
White veggies are both hearty and versatile and have earned a primary spot in our kitchens. While onions and garlic are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, other white veggies (like potatoes and cauliflower) are great sources of fiber, potassium and magnesium.
2. Heavily Processed Foods. The farther away the veggie you eat is from its original form, the more it generally loses its nutritional value. So on a scale of a whole potato out of the ground to potato chips, or a tomato off the vine to ketchup out of a bottle, where does your side dish lie?
Potatoes, of course, are often consumed as French fries, potato chips and other processed foods. Such foods are often full of hydrogenated fats or other unhealthy fats. Even baked chips are cooked with oil. According to the USDA, two-thirds of the potatoes grown wind up as chips, fries or other processed foods. Likewise, a little over two-thirds of tomatoes wind up in ketchup, canned tomato products, soups and other jarred or canned products. Less than one-third of the crop appears as fresh produce in a salad bowl or on a sandwich—about 20 pounds per person a year—the equivalent of less than an ounce a day.
Once you skin the veggie, slice it, drain it, dip it in oil and add sugar, the once healthy veggie is now unrecognizable.
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3. All-Important Fiber. Vegetables are a great source of fiber, another nutrient in which Americans are notably deficient. Veggies contain insoluble fiber, the kind you cannot digest and which keeps your intestinal wall well scrubbed. Insoluble fiber is also satiating so you feel full and are likely to eat less, making it easier to curb you appetite and stay on top of your weight. Fiber also slows down digestion, helping to level out blood sugar levels and avoid spiking an insulin response, which signals your body to store fat.
The key is that most of the fiber (and the total nutrition) in potatoes and tomatoes, as well as many other vegetables, is in the skin. So when we eat mashed potatoes or tomato sauce and count them as veggies, we’re cheating ourselves.
RAINBOW OF RECIPES
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Japanese tradition that there should be five colors in every meal. Inspired by that concept, try to include foods of all six color groups in every day. Here are some yummy recipes to help you break out of the potato-tomato doldrums. Each has at least three veggies in three different color groups. Try them out yourself!
ASIAN-INSPIRED CRISP VEGETABLE SALAD (from World Diet)
1 large carrot
½ red bell pepper, quartered lengthwise
8 sugar snap peas
½ cup frozen shelled edemame, thawed
1½ tsp sesame oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
salt & black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Handful of pea shoots or alfalfa sprouts
1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel long strips from the carrot. Slice the bell pepper and sugar snap peas lengthwise into very thin strips.
2. Cook the edamame according to the package directions.
3. In a medium serving bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste, and the pepper flakes. Add the sliced vegetables, edamame and pea shoots. Toss until thoroughly coated and serve.
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BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP
½ cup pearl barley
1½ cups water
½ medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots
1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms (about 8)
½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
4 ounces top round steak, sliced
Chopped fresh thyme
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 slices double-fiber bread, toasted
1. In medium saucepan, combine barley with water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 40 minutes, until barley is tender and most of liquid is absorbed. Fluff grains with fork.
2. Coat medium saucepan with cooking spray; place over medium heat. Add beef; cook 2 minutes, until browned but not cooked through, stirring often. Remove to plate. Add onions and carrots to same pan, still over medium heat; season with salt and pepper and cook 3 minutes, until softened. Reduce heat to low, add mushrooms and tomatoes, and cook 6 minutes, until mushrooms have released their liquid, stirring often. Stir in thyme; cook 30 seconds.
3. Add broth and bay leaf; bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes to combine flavors. Stir in beef and barley; cook until warmed through and thickened. Serve with toast.
2 cups baby arugula
2 kiwifruit, peeled and chopped
5 fresh or frozen strawberries, chooped
1 small frozen banana, chopped
2 tbsp protein powder
½ cup skim milk or unsweetened almond milk
Combine ingredients and blend until desired consistency.