India is a predominantly vegetarian country, but many of the vegetarian dishes that are consumed, with the exception of potato, are prepared from ingredients that are not real vegetables. Recipes using pulses, sprouts, soya chunks, paneer, steamed gram flour sticks (gatte), papad pieces are considered as subzis or bhajis among many families. With the exception of milk, most of these other ingredients are of plant origin and hence are vegetarian items but are not true vegetables. From nutritional point of view all these items are protein rich and provide vitamins and minerals. Pulses and sprouts provide dietary fibre too. Though considered vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, colocasia and other starchy root vegetables have a nutritional composition similar to cereal grains providing energy to the body.
What are vegetables? Vegetables are edible stems, flower buds, leaves and roots of plants. Avocados, beans, gourds, tomatoes, peapods, corn kernels, capsicums which are technically fruits are also considered vegetables. From culinary point of view, vegetables are less sweet, more savoury and are served as part of the main dish while fruits are sweet and tart and are served as desserts or snacks.
It is a well know fact the eating vegetables is healthy. The Expert Committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research, taking into consideration the nutrient requirements and health benefits of fruits and vegetables, has recommended that every individual should consume at least 300 grams of vegetables and 100 grams of fresh fruits every day. But are we actually eating the recommended amount of vegetables? Inadequate consumption of vegetables leads to a host of health problems like weight gain, constipation, diverticular disease, lowered immunity and nutritional deficiencies disorders like anaemia.
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits helps meet the body’s needs for key nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidant plant chemicals that have beneficial effects on health. It is not only the quantity of vegetables that is eaten which is important, variety too is important since no single vegetable can provide all the essential nutrients to meet the body’s requirements.
Here are some of the health benefits of eating vegetables:
Healthy and glowing skin: With the exception of root vegetables, all other vegetables have high water content that helps remove toxins and hydrate the body thereby producing a healthy glow to the skin. The green leafy vegetables and yellow orange vegetables such a carrot and red pumpkin contain beta carotene which gets converted into vitamin A in the body and helps maintain the health of the skin. These vegetables are also rich in vitamin C, which functions as a powerful antioxidant protecting the body cells and tissues from damage. If one does not eat enough vegetables and raw salads the skin becomes dull, patchy and prone to wrinkling.
Weight management: People who do not eat enough of vegetables are at an increased risk of being overweight or obese. Most vegetables have a low starch content but high fibre and water content. Fibre plus water has appetite suppressing properties that helps one feel satiated thereby reducing the intake of food and calories, which in turn helps one manage weight.
Prevents constipation: Constipation is one of the most common bowel complaints caused as a result of eating inadequate amounts of vegetable. Vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fibres which promote optimal gut health. In the colon, insoluble fibre absorbs water and binds the waste materials together, thus increasing the bulk of stools and making them easy to eliminate, thereby preventing constipation and other disorders such as diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Soluble fibre on the other hand has a prebiotic action as it is fermented by the colonic bacteria and promotes the growth of probiotic bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the large intestine, which increases resistance to invading pathogens.
Athletic performance and recovery: Proper nutrition is important for athletic performance. The juices of specific vegetables like beetroot, tomato and watercress have been shown to boost endurance and speed up recovery. Studies have also shown that 100 per cent tomato juice reduces exercise-induced stress on the body by as much as 84 per cent.
Reduces risk for chronic disease: Researchers have shown that diets rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems and have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.
To be continued…
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist and author with 21 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)