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10 Ways to Increase Your Vegetable Intake

We all know that vegetables are good for us. They contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that have beneficial effects on our health. People who eat lots of vegetables tend to have a lower risk of many diseases including obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Ideally, we should be consuming at least 5-7 portions of different vegetables a day, but many of us struggle to consume 2 or 3! Children in particular can be fussy about vegetables, understandably preferring sweeter vegetables such as peas, carrot and sweetcorn to the more bitter tastes of spinach, Brussel sprouts or cauliflower. But by eating the same vegetables day after day, it is more likely that we’ll be missing out on the valuable health benefits of a wider range of vegetables. Here are some ways to sneak more vegetables into your daily diet:

1)   Grate vegetables into soups, sauces and curries. Try grating some courgette and carrot into a Bolognese or chilli towards the end of cooking. They will add a natural sweetness to the sauce but you won’t notice them there!

2)   Eat vegetables for breakfast. Veggies are a great addition to an omelette or traditional cooked breakfast. Try sautéed mushrooms and spinach, grilled tomatoes, or a sweet potato rosti. Leftover vegetables from dinner the night before can be sautéed in a pan and topped with a poached egg.

3)   Swap traditional chips for some vegetable wedges. Root vegetables such as sweet potato, swede or parsnip make great wedges. Cut into wedge shapes, toss in a little oil, put on a baking tray and bake in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes. You can add flavourings such as smoked paprika, thyme, garlic powder or sea salt if you like.

4)   Ditch the bread and get creative! Instead of wraps, try a large lettuce or cabbage leaf to contain your sandwich filling. Serve a beefburger on a Portobello mushroom that has been baked with a little garlic and a knob of butter, instead of the usual bread roll. Sweet potato toast is the newest foodie’s favourite – slice a sweet potato lengthways into ½ inch thick pieces, and pop in the toaster or under the grill. Serve topped with nut butter and banana, sardines or scrambled eggs.

5)   Drink your vegetables! If you have a juicer, juice one or two vegetables with once piece of fruit for a healthy combination that won’t send your blood sugar rocketing. Try beetroot, celery and apple or carrot, orange and cucumber. Or add vegetables to smoothies – baby spinach has a mild flavour that you won’t notice, whilst avocado added to a smoothie makes a really creamy texture and is especially good in chocolate smoothies!

6)   Add to home baking. We’ve all heard of carrot cake but there are other varieties of vegetables which make delicious, moist cakes too. Try red velvet cake (beetroot and chocolate), courgette or parsnip cake.

7)   Serve steamed vegetables with a generous drizzle of olive oil or knob of butter and some fresh herbs. This not only makes them taste better, but increases the availability of fat-soluble nutrients such as beta-carotene, which can’t be absorbed without fat!  

8)   When you need a snack, reach for cherry tomatoes, celery, or sweet pepper strips. Many supermarkets carry small packages of carrot sticks or mini cucumbers in their produce sections. They make good lunch box (or briefcase) snacks for kids of all ages. If you don’t like them plain, try dipping them in hummus, guacamole or salsa.

9)   If you must resort to the occasional ready meal, boost the nutritional content by adding in extra veg. For example, throw a handful of baby spinach into a curry or add some extra mushrooms and sliced peppers to a pizza, and serve with a side salad.

10) Swap a packet of crisps for some homemade vegetable crisps. Try curly kale, torn into pieces and tossed with a little olive or coconut oil. Bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes until crispy, and sprinkle with sea salt. Or slice sweet potato or beetroot into thin rounds and bake until crisp. You can also use your vegetable peelings in this way – carrot and parsnip are great – the possibilities are endless!

Nighty night!

You probably already know that drinking coffee in the evening isn’t the best way to get a good night’s shut-eye, right? If you’ve already reduced your caffeine intake but still have trouble getting to sleep at night, try some of these tips to help you slip off into slumberland:

1) Spend some time outdoors in natural light each day if possible – this helps to regulate your circadian clock (your internal day/night rhythm).

2) Make your bedroom as dark as possible – light can suppress the production of melatonin, which is needed to signal to your body that it is time to sleep.

3) Avoid sources of “blue” (short-wave) light for an hour before bed (this includes TV, computer screens and mobile phones!) – research has shown that blue light is the most melatonin suppressive. If you really can’t avoid using your laptop or smartphone before bed, you can download the f.lux app which gradually reduces the amount of blue light emitted by your screen throughout the day.

4) Exercise! The oft-quoted advice is to avoid exercising in the evening if you want a restful night’s sleep. However, exercise in the evening is likely to be better than no exercise at all. Yoga, pilates or a gentle walk would be ideal exercise before bed.

5) Address the stress in your life – constant worrying will keep the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol, high. Cortisol blocks the production of melatonin. Talk to someone, practice saying no, learn mindfulness or meditation, delegate some tasks – whatever works for you to bring your stress levels down.

6) Have a bath before bed – preferably with a cupful of Epsom Salts. Epsom Salts contain magnesium, which is well absorbed transdermally (through the skin). Magnesium acts as a relaxant, not just for your muscles, but for your nervous system too!

7) Balance your blood sugar throughout the day – this means minimising your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar. A blood sugar high is usually swiftly followed by a low, and this triggers your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline which will make you feel jittery and set your mind racing.

8) Have a cup of calming herbal tea in the evening – chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, passion flower and lavender are all good choices. Pop the saucer over the top of your cup while your tea is cooling down to prevent those precious essential oils escaping in the steam.

9) Eat plenty of foods rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which the body converts first to serotonin (which gives you a feeling of wellbeing), and then to melatonin. Good sources of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk, eggs, cheese and pumpkin seeds.

10) Drink your melatonin. Monterey cherry juice is naturally rich in melatonin and participants in a 2012 study given cherry juice concentrate slept better and for longer. Monterey cherry juice concentrate is available in health food shops.

Please do let me know what works for you!