During my years in practice, I’ve realized that for many people, visiting a dietitian does not sound like fun. Unfortunately, some of my sisters and brothers in dietetics have established a bad reputation for themselves. I’ll never forget one of my first appointments as a newly-fledged dietitian with a client who was not interested in being there. “What are you going to do—write down everything I say and then tell me what I’m doing wrong?” she asked. Cue the eye roll.
But I get it. If you’re already struggling with eating healthy, the last thing you need is someone telling you you’re doing everything wrong and that you need to completely overhaul your diet. The advice given by health and wellness experts is not always relatable either; I’ve seen plenty of examples of this. I follow a fitness instructor on social media who recently suggested that people with a sweet tooth should munch on cherry tomatoes when they have a craving since they have a slightly sweet flavour.
“Healthy eating tips” like that frustrate me because I know that for most people, they will actually have the opposite effect. Expecting to never eat sweets and only eat vegetables will just set a person up for intense cravings, followed by immense guilt when they give in to those cravings. I’d rather see health professionals be honest and realistic with their clients. It’s a lot easier to eat healthy when you know you’re allowed to be human. You don’t have to turn into a complete veggie lover to improve your diet. I’m proof of that.
I am not a fan of the taste of raw vegetables. Hand to my heart, it’s the honest truth. I have my reasons for being “frenemies” with raw veggies—maybe you can relate to some of them. First, there’s the taste. I’ve never liked bitter flavours, and veggies like broccoli and kale taste so bitter to me when they’re raw. Then, there are the potential unpleasant stomach issues that arise after eating large amounts of uncooked vegetables—the bloating, gas, and loose bowel movements are not so fun. Lastly, I don’t find that vegetables satisfy my hunger. If I eat a salad for lunch, it won’t hold me over until dinnertime.
If you can relate to any of these veggie-related problems, don’t worry. Despite these issues, I’ve figured out how to include vegetables in my daily diet while keeping my tastebuds and body happy.
Don’t Like The Taste? Try This . . .
The key to adding more veggies to your diet when you don’t like the taste is to go on a flavour exploration. The easiest way to do this is to try out a variety of cuisines. Check out the restaurants in your area, or go online to find recipes for dishes from different cultures. Exploring cuisines will help you determine what makes a dish taste good to you, which you can then apply to your own cooking. This will help to improve the taste and appeal of vegetables for you. For example, when trying Indian dishes, you might discover that you prefer your veggies to be cooked with hot, spicy flavours; you might enjoy the tangy salads from Mediterranean cultures; or perhaps you like the umami flavour of a Thai stir fry.
“If you don’t know how to make veggies taste good, you aren’t going to eat them.”
While you’re taking note of the flavours you like, also pay attention to textures and colours. Do you like your veggies to be crunchy or soft? Do you prefer to eat veggies on their own or incorporate them in a mixed dish? Are brightly coloured vegetables appealing to you, or do you prefer dark greens? These may seem like rudimentary questions, but they are important to answer. If you don’t know how to make veggies taste good, you aren’t going to eat them. So, give a lot of thought to what you enjoy and apply those concepts to your grocery shopping and cooking at home.
Stomach Issues . . .
The discomfort that happens in your stomach after eating a bunch of raw veggies is the result of a fibre overload. When we’re not used to eating a lot of fibre, the microbes in the colon have a heyday with the influx of insoluble fibre found in veggies. These microbes ferment the insoluble fibre that our body’s cells can’t break down, causing it to produce large amounts of gas and organic acids—the culprits behind bloating and loose stools. However, there are a few things you can do to prevent these unpleasant side effects.
Whenever you’re introducing something new to your diet, be sure to start slow and gradual, and build from there. If you’re not used to eating veggies regularly and suddenly start eating them at every meal, you’re definitely in for some gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort. I suggest adding vegetables to your diet one serving at a time. If you aren’t in the habit of eating them, begin by having one serving of veggies each day. Give yourself a solid two weeks to adjust to this change. If your gut is feeling happy, introduce another serving of vegetables to your daily routine. If not, give yourself another week or two.
At this point, you might be wondering how many vegetables you should eat in a day. I recommend aiming for five ½-cup servings daily, or 2½ cups total. This ensures that you are getting plenty of the health-promoting fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that veggies offer. However, I don’t recommend exceeding this guideline. At a certain point, it is possible to eat too much fibre. Excess fibre can inhibit nutrient absorption, especially the absorption of minerals like calcium and iron.
“I advise all my clients to include a food from each of the four nutrient categories in every meal: carbs, fibre, protein, and healthy fat.”
In addition to increasing your veggie servings gradually, drinking plenty of water will also help prevent unpleasant side effects in your gut. I suggest adding one cup of water for every ½ cup of veggies you’re adding to your diet. Engaging in daily physical activity will also help things move along smoothly. Another thing you can do is take a probiotic supplement or have fermented food each day (e.g., kefir, yoghurt, or kimchi). Probiotics encourage a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, which helps to decrease the production of the © CanStock Photo Inc. / [dashtik] gases and acids that tend to cause stomach issues.
If you find that you get hungry shortly after chowing down on a plate of veggies, the issue is likely that your meal or snack was not nutritionally balanced. Though vegetables are nutritious, we do need other nutrients in our diet to physically satisfy our body’s needs. I advise all my clients to include a food from each of the four nutrient categories in every meal: carbs, fibre, protein, and healthy fat. Missing out on one or more of these categories at mealtimes will result in hunger and cravings shortly after you’re finished eating. This explains why your salad with grilled chicken doesn’t seem to hold you over. Add in some brown rice (carbs) and avocado (fats), and you’ll have yourself a complete, satisfying meal. If you have veggies for a snack, make sure to add in at least one of the other four nutrient categories to make it satisfying.
I also want to emphasize that we need to make sure our meals are both physically and emotionally satisfying. This means that our meals need to “hit the spot.” You might feel unsatisfied after eating a veggie-filled meal because you didn’t enjoy it. This goes back to my tip about exploring flavours. Make sure you’re choosing dishes and flavours you enjoy. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling unsatisfied and won’t feel motivated to eat your veggies next time.
Still Not Working For You?
Maybe you’ve found that trying to include vegetables in your diet is very difficult for you, and you’re not sure the tips above will work. That’s ok. The critical thing is that you start somewhere. There are other areas you can focus on that will improve your health as well.
Eat more fruit
Start by introducing more fruit into your diet. Like vegetables, fruit offers fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Just try to keep your daily servings down to five ½-cup portions so you aren’t going overboard on your carb intake.
Add whole grains
Eating produce isn’t the only way to increase the nutrient density of your diet. Unrefined grains like quinoa, oats, and brown rice offer many of the same nutrients found in vegetables and fruits.
Choose lean protein and plant-based protein daily
You can improve your blood cholesterol and triglyceride values by incorporating lean proteins like poultry, fish, and seafood; and plant-based proteins like legumes, beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds in your daily diet.
Drink 2–3 litres of water each day
Drinking plenty of water will help you think clearly and prevent dehydration, constipation, and kidney stones.
Get enough sleep and manage your stress
Maybe the thought of adding more veggies to your diet seems overwhelming because you’re burned out. Prioritize giving yourself time to unwind each day to help manage your stress, and establish a pre-bedtime routine to make sure you’re sleeping enough. When you take care of your basic needs, making changes to your diet will be easier.
When you make the above non-veggie-related lifestyle changes, you might find yourself building momentum; you might even decide to branch out and try some vegetables!
Whatever habit changes you decide to try, please always remember to make one change at a time and to have patience with yourself. It’s the small changes that are most likely going to stick in the long term.