Finally, veggies are no longer an afterthought on Americans’ dinner plates, as an explosion of culinary creativity shows how versatile, easy to make, and delicious they can be.
Not so long ago, professional chefs and harried moms alike seemed to lavish most of their culinary efforts on the item at the center of their dinner plates-the-inevitable hunk of meat. Vegetables were an afterthought, perfectly adequate for a side dish but rarely the centerpiece and certainly not the most exciting part of the meal. But after years of playing supporting roles, veggies are starting to share the spotlight and, in some venues at least, are even becoming the new divas of dinner.
This quiet revolution can be seen in the growing number of popular veggie-centric cookbooks, restaurants, diet plans, and gorgeous supermarket displays that transform the produce section of many groceries into a garden of delights. (Eatatly, a New York City market, even has a “vegetable butcher,” who will do the chopping for you on demand .) The reason for this new push is no mystery. “research has consistently shown that people who eat larger proportions of fruits and vegetable-particularly vegetables-are healthier,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.
You don’t need to be fully vegetarian or vegan to reap the health benefits. But you do need to consume more vegetables -not spinach pasta or veggie chips but actual whole vegetables. The key is just to flip the ratio of foods in your diet. “Instead of an 8-ounce steak and a 4-ounce portion of vegetables, serve 4-ounces of beef and 8-ounces of veggies,” advises Michael Pollan in the new edition of his best seller FOOD RULES. Equally important, eat fewer processed foods while increasing those vegetable servings. As Pollan puts it: “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was make in a plant, don’t.”
Restaurants have gotten the message and are amping up their veggie options-and many are finding that it’s good for the bottom line. When Andrew Weil, MD (a member of Prevention’s editorial advisory board), opened True Food Kitchen in Phoenix in 2008, his restaurant partner and CEO, Sam Fox, was doubtful that the veggie-rich venture would succeed. Now there are three additional locations-in Scottsdale, AZ; Santa Monica, CA; and Newport Beach, CA -and plans to open four more this year in San Diego, Boston, Denver, and Houston. “Sam says he’s never seen anything like it,” says Dr. Weil. “There are diners who come in 4 to 5 times a week. People come up to him on the street and hug him.”
Of course, it’s one thing to let a chef do all the work and quite another to do your own washing, peeling, and chopping. But with grocery stores stocking more pre-chopped fresh and ready -too-cook frozen veggies, raising your vegetable quotient has never been easier. The simplest approach, says Mark Bittman, author of FOOD MATTERSand HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING VEGETARIAN,is to change the proportions of ingredients in dishes you cook anyway. “Make frittatas with more vegetables and fewer eggs,” he suggests. “Instead of cassoulet that’s heavy on meat and light on vegetables, [prepare it with lots of beans and veggies and just a little meat for flavor and texture.”
Or, if you’re willing to put in a touch more effort, you can turn your veggies into gourmet fare. “The range of possibilities is far greater with vegetables than with meat,” says Daniel Patterson, chef-owner of the trendy restaurant Coi in San Fransisco. “I could give you 500 flavors of plants. You can’t get 500 flavors of meat.
Not every product that boasts “spinach” on the label is even remotely like a serving of the real thing. Basic rule: If it doesn’t look like a vegetable, it probably isn’t.
* SUN-DRIED TOMATOES WRAPS / The tomatoes provide little more than coloring. And watch out for sodium levels, which can soar. “If you want vegetables, stuff your wrap with them, but don’t expect to get them in the wrap itself, says Karen Anse, RD.
* PIZZA / No joke: In 2011 Congress rules that pizza counts as a veggie in school lunches, since a slice has about 2 Tbsp of tomato paste. But with all that crust and cheese (refined carbs and saturated fats), most pizza is not ideal.
* VEGGIE CHIPS / Don’t be misled by photos on the bag. Check to see if real veggies are near the top of the ingredients list. They probably aren’t. And since they’re dehydrated and not as filling as the real thing, you ear more calories.
*SPINACH PASTA / Manufacturers hope that spinach’s health halo will lead you to buy their pasta. But read labels carefully before you do. Put a product back if the Nutrition Facts panel doesn’t boast 25% of your vitamin A and 2 g of fiber.
Ref: Prevention Magazine /April 2012