Most diet advice out there is about guilt. Guilt about eating junk food. Guilt about too many calories. Guilt about not eating enough (insert important-and-recently-discovered-to-be-deficient nutrient here). Guilt about eating sugar or fat or salt or meat or grains or dairy or whatever ingredient is fashionable to demonise this week. Maybe it is guilt about wasting food or guilt about its carbon footprint. All this blaming yourself gets tiring to the point that after a while you give up and find some Doritos to comfort-eat.
So I’m going to give you a piece of advice that is about the opposite of guilt. It is about revelling in food. Adoring it. It’s about joy, pleasure and love and it is guaranteed (*guarantee may not be guaranteed) to help you lose weight. As a bonus, this awesome piece of advice also lowers the environmental footprint of your diet.
Are you ready?
Here it is: Learn to Love Vegetables.
Sure, it sounds like the same thing your Nana told you when she boiled the broccoli into a bitter and insipid grey-green. But this is different – I promise. This isn’t about shutting up and swallowing. This is about truly delighting in what you eat.
So let’s talk vegetables
Basically we are talking about plants that are grown in the ground (not on trees) and are pretty well un-processed when we pick them up at the shops. These guys are serious powerhouses of nutrition. The leafy green ones are top of the list. Kale might be in fashion at the moment, but any leafy green will give you a range of important vitamins like C, E, A, K and a range of the B group ones including folate which is super-important if you are planning babies anytime soon. Chomping down leafy green veggies will also give you a dose of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and dietary fibre. But don’t stop at the green ones. Try red ones. Orange and yellow ones. What about purple ones? If you eat a whole rainbow of vegetables you’ll get all the different plant-based nutrients and anti-oxidants that you need for good health.
‘Like’ isn’t enough – you have to LOVE them
But the benefits of vegetables are old news. Our mums have been telling us to eat them for the last fifty years. What I’m telling you is that it’s not enough merely tolerate them. If this advice is really going to work you have to LOVE them. Mild enjoyment isn’t going to cut it. You have to adore them, rejoice in them and revere them above any other food. Loving vegetables means you treat them well. It doesn’t necessarily mean you chomp through them raw. Instead, it means you find ways to treat them to bring out their best. Little bit of butter? Pinch of salt? Adding a few of these so-called ‘naughty’ things won’t matter because you’ll be packing out most of your diet with plants. If you love vegetables you’ll want to have them first. You’ll prefer them over other not-so-fabulous foods. If you love them they’ll be the very centre of your meal, not the afterthought. Now, don’t get touchy about this. Loving vegetables doesn’t necessarily mean that you go completely vegan. But it might mean that you don’t insist on meat for every meal. It might mean that you fill up first on the plants and just have the meat as a garnish.
Educate your palate
These days, our diets are so packed out with modern convenience foods that it is difficult to re-imagine them in a way where they are filled with vegetables. We also eat lots of meat. Australia in particular chows down on more meat per capita than almost everyone else in the world bar the US. So we have to LEARN to love vegetables again. We have to learn the feeling of being satisfied without the particular feeling of fullness that meat gives you. We have to learn how to prepare vegetables in a way that brings out their flavour and makes them taste amazing. We have to re-learn the cooking skills that allow you walk into a grocer or farmers market and find a complete meal of separate ingredients. We have to get better at knowing what’s in season in order to find the best tasting stuff. Nutrition Australia, after spending the last few years dealing with fad diets – that might just work because cutting out, say, sugar or going paleo means that you start eating more vegetables – have cunningly redesigned their food pyramid to reflect just this. Fruits and vegetables are now the whole bottom level of the food pyramid and recommended basis of a healthy diet.
Good for people and the planet
However, I promised this sensational piece of dietary advice wasn’t just going to save your health. I dug deeper and said that if you learn to love vegetables you will save the planet as well. So let me explain how this way of eating is more environmentally sustainable. Firstly, with vegetables you usually buy them in a fairly unprocessed state. You do the processing (in the form of cooking) yourself, cutting out large steps in the processing/packaging value chain that can be quite polluting and carbon and water intensive. There are exceptions to this (tinned and frozen products, for instance) but they are still less processed than most snack foods. On most measures vegetables are also more environmentally sustainable than animal products which is why a lot of talk about sustainable eating revolves around cutting out meat. Also, vegetables break down easily in compost. You can’t possibly deal with your own food waste if what you buy is highly processed – it just can’t break down. Also if you learn to love vegetables, you might even be inclined to grow some of them yourself and supplement your grocery purchases with items you’ve grown using less environmentally intensive techniques.
Lots of people beat themselves up about their food and think the path to good human and environmental health is about glumly denying yourself the good things in life. But vegetables provide you with a way to revel in happy-food feelings…you just have to learn to love them properly.