Published on November 16, 2015

You can learn to love Brussels sproutsYou can learn to love Brussels sprouts

Incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet will make you healthier, a growing body of evidence suggests. But, learning to like some of the ones you hated as a child can prove challenging for some.

“Your taste buds have to go to school,” says Amy Rose Sager, dietitian for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod. “It doesn’t have to be a whole plate full or even a half a cup (of the new vegetable). It just has to be two or three bites over a period of a few weeks and your taste buds will become accustomed to it.”

Judging by the vegetables that top the list of the most commonly eaten vegetables in the U.S., Americans are not straying far from the old standbys. Potatoes and tomatoes are number one and two on the list, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Two other items commonly found on fast food sandwiches, onions and lettuce, came in third and fourth.

White potatoes account for about 115 pounds of the 384 pounds-per-person of vegetables and legumes consumed in 2013. Two-thirds of those potatoes were eaten as French fries, chips and other processed foods.

People are fooling themselves if they think these foods constitute a healthy diet, says Sager, who also owns Leap into Wellness, a health and nutrition business.

“We need to get back to eating more minimally processed whole foods like whole grains and vegetables,” she says. “The benefits of a plant-based diet are to lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar and help with blood sugar control. You can reduce your risks of diseases and possibly even help reverse them.”

A large part of Sager’s job is to teach people, many of them seniors, how to incorporate more plants into their diets. She says many people think they don’t like vegetables because they ate them overcooked during their childhood and haven’t tried them since.

Besides introducing two or three bites of new vegetables at a meal, you can easily increase veggie intake by adding them to other dishes, says Sager. Soups are a simple way to add a variety of vegetables. If you are making lasagna, add spinach to it. Hummus is already healthy but it gets a flavor and nutritional boost if you add roasted butternut squash or pumpkin. It can then be used as a dip for raw veggies or a sandwich spread on whole grain bread.

“The more color vegetables have, the more phytochemicals and antioxidants they have that help to prevent disease,” Sager says. “We get different benefits from different vegetables. Our leafy greens should really be a big part of our diet. The more we can incorporate them the better.”

Leafy greens with tons of vitamins include:

  • Bok choy
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach

Carrots are an excellent source of nutrition, she adds. And vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus take on a whole different flavor when you roast them in the oven, because they caramelize and become sweeter. The goal is to fill at least half your plate with vegetables and make meat more of a condiment than the main attraction.

“If you eat more plant foods and vegetables you’re going to be eating less processed foods, so your diet is going to be lower in sodium,” Sager says. “So it’s also going to help people with congested heart failure and high blood pressure.”

Still craving potatoes and tomatoes? Those vegetables aren’t villains, but the preparation matters, she says. How about tossing some baby Yukon gold potatoes with some vine-ripened tomatoes in a baking dish? Then add some chopped red onion, rosemary and fresh bay leaves and mix one tablespoon of tamari with one cup of water and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

For more plant healthy recipes like this visit Forks Over Knives.