Spring is finally here. The signs are clear — the yellows and purples of flowering bulbs are making their appearance, and the trees are leafing out. With spring, of course, also come spring vegetables. You can already find some at farmers’ markets, such as early spinach and mustard greens. If you are a gardener, chives and perennial onion plants are back, and maybe you even have greens starting in a hoop house. Fiddleheads, asparagus, and sunchokes are right around the corner. All of these options are a wonderful reminder to “eat your vegetables!” Eating vegetables is an excellent way to decrease your risk of chronic disease, and the delicious taste of early spring vegetables makes this incredibly easy.

Besides the fact that they taste good and are fun to eat, there is another great reason to eat more vegetables: they are nutrient powerhouses. Vegetables are full of phytochemicals (plant chemicals that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties); they are a great source of fiber, which is good for the digestive tract and feeds the microbiome; and they contain many vitamins and minerals needed for health. Because of all this, vegetable consumption decreases risk for chronic disease. Examples include cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The risk reduction is proportional to how much we eat; the more vegetables we eat, the less risk we have of developing disease.

Which vegetables are best? Vegetables can be divided into two categories: starchy and non-starchy. Neither one is good or bad, but they are different. Starchy vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, and legumes (especially peas). Most all other vegetables fall into the non-starchy category, though there are differing opinions on this. Non-starchy vegetables include leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli family), allium/onion family vegetables, root vegetables, and seaweeds. How much you need of each kind is highly individualized; but, to paint with a broad brush, many tend to need more of the non-starchy kind.

Look down at your plate again. Is it filled at least half full with vegetables? How many colors do you see? Falling into a food rut is common; some eat the same four vegetables over and over again. Every vegetable has a slightly different nutrient profile; variety is key. Make sure you are eating the rainbow. This includes reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues/purples, and whites. A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least 20 different vegetables per week. Don’t be afraid to try new foods. You never know — you might actually like it.

Think about the time of day that you tend to eat vegetables. Does it only happen at dinner? What kinds of vegetables do you eat at lunch? How about breakfast? Vegetables often don’t make an appearance at breakfast. This is unfortunate because it means one third of your daily meals are devoid of vegetables; it is hard to catch up with other meals because your stomach can only take in so much food at one sitting. Many cultures around the world eat vegetables for breakfast, and dishes that Americans would consider more for lunch or dinner are often consumed at breakfast, such as dahl or soups. Common breakfasts in the standard American diet include sugar-laden cold cereals with skim milk and a glass of juice or granola with yogurt, for example. These types of breakfasts are high in simple carbohydrates and calories, but low in nutrients. Look at the colors in these meals; there is not much there. Adding vegetables is a great way to add nutrient density to breakfast. Of course, vegetables are not the only answer; proper amounts of protein and healthy fats are also needed for a well-balanced meal.

There are myriad ways of adding vegetables to breakfast; the possibilities are endless. For example, vegetables pair very well with eggs. A frittata or quiche filled with spinach (or any other greens), red peppers, and onions is a great way to combine the two. Baking these the night before makes it an easy grab-and-go breakfast in the morning. Other options are to prepare eggs your favorite way, and sauté some vegetables on the side. If time is an issue, chopped raw carrots, radishes, or peppers are another great option. Fermented vegetables are another way to go. This can include sauerkraut, kimchi, or fermented carrots or beets, for example. They go well with breakfast meats or sautéed tofu or tempeh if you avoid meats. Breakfast burritos are another good choice. Fill your favorite tortilla with beans, shredded cabbage or carrots, and spicy salad greens and serve with salsa and sliced avocado on the side. Smoothies are another option for those who want to “hide” their vegetables. If you are used to sweets at breakfast, transitioning to or alternating with savory can take some time to get used to. Start low and go slow. Add small amounts, and take your time. Who knows, at some point your taste buds may start to like it, and your body may start to thank you, too.

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Makes two servings
4 eggs (pastured is ideal)
4 small slices of whole-grain sourdough bread
1 large ripe avocado
salt and pepper
optional parsley garnish
Hard-boil 4 eggs. (Place eggs in a small pot of water. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat. Let sit in water 12-13 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.) Toast bread. Scoop out one half avocado and mash on two slices bread. Repeat. Peel eggs and cut in half, lengthwise. Place one half on each slice of bread. Top with optional salt and pepper and parsley garnish. Serve with fermented vegetable of choice or sliced red peppers or carrots. Enjoy!

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.