Most people have heard eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Did you know that rainbow might help you to feel full and still eat low calorie? While this may not be completely applicable to the immediate post-op weight loss surgery patient due to limited portion sizes, this topic is still important to take into consideration for every part of your weight loss journey and is probably most important when it comes to long-term maintenance.
Weight Control. The fiber found in vegetables will help you to feel more full and stay full longer. Also, the fiber takes longer to chew, which will help you to slow down your eating and be mindful of the different textures and flavors of the foods you are eating and realize your fullness cues better.
Curb Cravings. When it comes to weight management, it is important to pick foods that are juicy and full of water, such as fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are a great low-calorie solution to any craving. Craving something sweet, opt for a piece of fruit like mango, apple, or watermelon. Craving something crunchy, opt for something like baby carrots or sugar snap peas.
Add Flavor and Boost Nutrition to your Favorite Dishes. You may have heard about portabella mushroom burgers by now. Mushrooms are commonly substituted for meat due to their hearty, savory taste and texture. Considering substituting mushrooms (many varieties can be used) and other veggies for part of the meat in a recipe to increase the volume of the food (if you can eat larger portions than you would like), pack a fiber punch, keep you feeling full, and keep the calorie count down.
Health Benefits. A healthy eating plan that incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. It may also protect against certain types of cancer. Foods rich in fiber, such as vegetables, may reduce the risk of heart disease, help lower blood cholesterol levels, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber also helps to maintain proper bowel function and helps to reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Vegetables are rich in potassium, which may lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of developing kidney stones, and help to decrease bone loss as part of an overall healthy eating plan.
Natural Nutrients. Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol. This is not the case for the sauces and or seasonings that may be added to veggies, so be choosy when/if dressing your veggies. Vegetables are a natural source of many important nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), and vitamins A and C. Folic acid (or folate) helps the body form red blood cells and is extremely important for women of childbearing age who may become pregnant to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development. Vitamin A helps to keep eyes and skin healthy and protect against infections. Vitamin C helps to heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption, a nutrient that is found to be deficient in many bariatric patients over time.
Color your Plate. Just as we do not want a beige only wardrobe, we want many colors on our plate as well. So ditch the beige cereal, cracker, and cookie aisle (AKA the nutrient-impaired aisles of the grocery store) for a boost of color to add to your health and wellness! Just like our wardrobe, do not focus on just one color. Look to incorporate many colors to consume a variety of healthy foods.
Vegetables are not just pretty to look at; those bright colors showcase the immune-building properties of the phytochemicals contained in the pretty produce. Phytochemicals are found naturally in food and work together with vitamins, minerals, and fiber in whole foods to promote good health and lower disease risk. Vegetables are also rich in flavonoids (reduce inflammation and have antioxidant properties) and tannins (prevent bacteria from attaching to cells).
- Reds/Oranges. Lycopene is the predominant pigment in red fruits and veggies. Lycopene is a carotenoid, which is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, especially prostate cancer and may protect against heart disease. Tomato-based products are the most concentrated source of this phytochemical. Red fruits and veggies are also rich in vitamin C, folate, and flavonoids.
- Orange fruits and veggies are rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. They are also rich in vitamins A and C and some may contain omega-3 fatty acids. Beta-carotene may play a role in preventing cancer (particularly lung, esophagus, and stomach cancer), reduce the risk of heart disease, and improve immune function.
- Red and orange are two of the most commonly used vegetables in the household and include foods like carrots and tomatoes. Try changing it up by incorporating peppers, winter squash, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin to add a new twist to a favorite meal or snack
- Greens. The natural plant pigment, chlorophyll colors green fruits and vegetables. These foods are rich in isothiocyanates (especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage), which work in the liver to remove potentially cancer-causing compounds. Green vegetables are also rich in vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- This color is probably the easiest to find, but try to expand the variety of greens used in your kitchen. Chop broccoli for snacks; use different leafy greens like spinach, romaine, and arugula in your salad. Try adding the ‘it’ food of 2012, kale, to your smoothie for a great green drink! Consider bok choy and Brussels sprouts as other tasty green foods.
- Whites/Browns. Even though these foods are considered colorless, they still contain many phytochemicals. Most flavonoids are colorless in fact.
- There are so many types of mushrooms that can be used to satisfy this color choice. Other options includes turnips and the ‘it’ food of 2013, cauliflower. Roast cauliflower with a little olive oil, salt (small amount), and pepper for a great side dish for dinner. Have you ever tried mashed cauliflower as a healthier substitute for mashed potatoes?
- Yellow. Yellow foods are rich in lutein, which is particularly beneficial for eye health and preventing age-related macular degeneration.
- Toss yellow bell peppers into any salad or sauté with onions to top your lean protein. A little yellow squash grilled is a great addition to your healthy plate. Another favorite of many weight loss surgery patients includes spaghetti squash as a replacement for spaghetti since so many patients struggle with tolerating pasta.
- Blues/Purples. The blue/purple hue is primarily due to the anthocyanin content, a great antioxidant known to promote heart health, support healthy blood pressure, prevent clot formation, and may also help lower the risk of certain cancers. The darker the hue, the more phytochemicals contained in the whole food.
- Eggplant will take on the taste of about any flavor, which makes it a great addition or base to many delicious meals. Eggplant Parmesan anyone? Ratatouille with eggplant – a favorite in my house! Other options include purple asparagus, cabbage, beets, and peppers to add color to your plate.
Tips to Incorporate More Vegetables. Incorporating vegetables into your eating plan will help with weight control, eating balanced meals, and eating smaller portions (if further out from your surgery and eating larger portions than desired). Always talk to your surgeon and/or dietitian about the proper portion size for you.
- Incorporate vegetables into every meal. Try adding veggies to casseroles and sandwiches.
- Be adventurous. Try to incorporate one new recipe each week that includes a veggie that you do not normally consume.
- Try to make about half of your plate fruits and/or vegetables. This one is sometimes difficult for bariatric patients. It does not mean you have to eat a whole plate of food, but try to make about half of what you eat vegetables and/or fruit.
- Think ahead. Planning ahead and buying the produce you need for the next few days, washing it, and prepping it ahead of time will help you to be more likely to use it in your daily eating plan. Carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, and sliced cucumbers are all great, quick snacks or can be a quick addition to the dinner meal.
- Check your cart. When at the grocery store, check your cart before you leave to assess your color situation. Make a game of it with your children to see if you have a fruit or vegetable from each color hue (red/orange, yellow, green, white/brown, blue/purple).
- Partner with fruit. Fruits and veggies are like PB&J! Try pomegranate seeds, sliced pears, or sliced apples mixed with your salad greens. Chop pineapple to add to traditional salsa and then top on grilled fish or chicken for a great, light spring/summer dish.
- Throw it in a pot. Families tend to love one-pot dinners. Use veggies as a quick and easy way to add substance, flavor, and fiber to a meal. Start a challenge to see how many veggies you can add to one dish.
Overall, it is important to eat a healthy, balanced eating plan full of variety to improve your health. How many different colors can you eat in one week or one meal? No one color or specific vegetable is better than another and it is important to have a balance of many colors to achieve the optimal benefits of health and wellness. If you notice yourself being hungry for more during meals or in-between meals, ask yourself if you have incorporated fiber-rich veggies into your healthy eating plan.