Thursday, April 19, 2012

VEGGIES CAN SET YOU FREE

Here's me a couple of years ago: I go to a restaurant and practically have to sit on my hands to avoid consuming all the bread in the basket before dinner comes. My wine glass is the first to be empty and it's all I can do to stop pouring from the bottle before my friends are ready. I wonder how others seem so much more restrained in the face of these temptations. I consider myself weak. I'm looking forward to the desert menu, hoping there's a good chocolate choice.

Enter vegetables. I'd always eaten them. I enjoyed salads, and I made sure there was something green on my family's dinner plate each night. But in July of 2010 I went to a nutrition lecture where the speaker said, "If you want to live a long life and avoid major diseases, do this..." She drew a circle on the board and divided it in half, half she divided in half again. "Make all your meals with these proportions:" In the big half she wrote fruits and vegetables, and she told us "the more variety, and the darker the colors, the better." Also, "potatoes don't count."

In one of the quarters she wrote protein, in the other, grains. But I was still thinking about the half part of the plate, the one filled with fruits and vegetables. For some reason I couldn't wait to go home and fix my first meal with this new proportion in mind.

At first I just added some extra vegetables to the types of meals I was already making and made the meat and pasta portions a little smaller. A fruit side dish  got added to breakfast, a piece of fruit to every snack, and a salad had to go with a sandwich at lunch. But then, as I started to research vegetable recipes, a whole world of tasty vegetable dishes opened up to me. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian became my favorite book.

I started to LOVE vegetables. Not just the taste of them, but the looks of them, the cutting up of them, the display of them. I researched their nutritional values. I even started to paint them. I started this blog! I craved vegetables in every way. I'd cook up a bunch of spinach and devour it directly from the pot. How had I never realized how wonderful vegetables were? Bad PR! Vegetables were always the thing you HAD to eat, they were never introduced to me as the centerpiece of a meal. But once I made them that, my cravings went away. Not immediately, but it happened.

I can't tell you the last time I've had more than half a roll before dinner, even during the longest restaurant waits. Wine? Sometimes I'll surprise myself and not finish even a first glass. Chocolate? It still tastes good, but really, I can take it or leave it. Whatever my body was starving for that I hoped bread, wine, and chocolate would provide has been given to me by vegetables. Sounds nuts, right? Well maybe nuts have something to do with it. I add nuts and seeds to a lot of vegetable dishes.

So if you suffer from cravings or an insatiable appetite, my advice:  increase the vegetables. There's so much nutrition in that choice, your body will start to respond in a positive way very quickly and vegetables will begin to crowd out other foods. Plus your body will begin to make the connection between healthy food and feeling good. Making more healthy choices gets easier from there.

Make sure those veggies taste as good as possible. Use butter, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, parmesan cheese, seeds, nuts, whatever it takes to make them palatable to you and your family. Don't worry at first if these extra ingredients are "bad" for you. Vegetables are so GOOD for you, I'm convinced you'll fall in love with them. If it takes a little dressing up to get you hooked, that's fine.

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