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"Eat your vegetables" is oft-repeated advice at the dinner table, but how many times do you hear it at breakfast? While vegetables are not typically at the forefront of Americans' minds when it comes to the first meal of the day, it can be an ideal opportunity to improve your health and start the morning off right.
Studies have linked breakfast consumption to lower risk of chronic diseases, better weight management and improved mental performance. However, research supports that it's not just any breakfast that yields these rewards -- the greatest benefits come with a breakfast packed with nutritious, high-fiber foods, which may include whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits--and vegetables.
Eating vegetables offers vital nutrients that lower the risk of developing numerous ailments, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other diseases of aging. And we need to add more vegetables to our daily diets: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that US adults consume only 1.6 daily servings of vegetables -- well below the recommended intake set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Breakfast might be the ideal time to introduce our daily vegetables.
In many populations throughout the world, vegetables and plant-based whole foods are staples of the morning meal. For example, the Japanese often start their day with miso soup, rice, green tea, seaweed, and pickled vegetables, and in South India and Sri Lanka, a typical breakfast might be upma, a hot breakfast porridge combined with seasonings and vegetables, such as carrots, tomatoes and peas. Many countries have lower levels of chronic diseases than we do in the U.S., which may be a result of the eating habits predominant in these cultures. Applying the plant-based culinary habits of these ethnicities to the American breakfast plate may help us live longer and healthier lives.
Chef and dietitian Cheryl Forberg, RD, believes breakfast can set the stage for healthy eating during the rest of the day. "If we skip breakfast and maybe even push back our lunch, we lose sight of our body's natural hunger cues. By the time we do eat, we're extra hungry and it's easy to eat too much, too fast, and choose the wrong things," says Forberg. And this can result in unhealthy blood sugar levels, diabetes, and weight gain, she adds.
One reason we don't get enough vegetables is that many of us consider them merely a side dish to dinner. Incorporating vegetables at breakfast is a wonderful and delicious way to boost nutrition and improve health. "Breakfast doesn't always have to be 'breakfast foods'; you can mix carrots and rutabaga into warm quinoa, or enjoy a baked potato with broccoli and leeks," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, a Cleveland-based dietitian. She also recommends adding vegetables to omelets, smoothies, and sandwiches. In order to make vegetable consumption in the morning easier, try slicing up fresh vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, radishes, tomatoes, and avocado, the night before and storing them in an airtight container.
WAKE UP TO VEGETABLES FOR BREAKFAST
Follow these tips to include more vegetables on your breakfast plate
--Excellent eggs. Take an example from the Turkish and add tomatoes, pepper and onions to your morning scramble, omelet or frittata. Experiment with other vegetables, such as greens, mushrooms, zucchini and asparagus.
--Spread swap. Instead of topping your whole grain toast, waffles or pancakes with butter or syrup, try pumpkin butter for a boost of fiber and vitamin A.
--Better Benedict. Instead of traditional eggs Benedict, serve the dish Florentine style, with mounds of steamed spinach or over a roasted Portabella mushroom.
--Savvy sandwich. Top a whole wheat roll, English muffin or slice of bread with a thin piece of cheese, or hummus and vegetables, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and roasted eggplant. Or make your own version of a burrito: fill a whole grain tortilla with brown rice, beans, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and a sprinkle of cheese.
--Veg out your muffin. Improve your whole-grain homemade muffin by adding pureed pumpkin or shredded carrots of zucchini. Make a big batch and freeze the extras for a quick vegetable-packed treat on the run.
--Hash in a hurry. Flavor morning potato has with chopped vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, asparagus, parsnips, turnips and fennel -- or use up your leftover vegetables.
--Toss and go. Why wait until lunchtime for your salad? Toss together dried fruit, toasted nuts and whole grains with vegetables such as greens, asparagus and avocado. Top with a poached egg for a yummy, protein-rich sauce.
--Grain goodness. Whole grains, which provide slow-burning carbohydrates and protein, are a great way to start the day; they offer a blank canvas to which you can add steamed vegetables and avocado.
--Super smoothie. Add fresh greens (kale, spinach or arugula) or avocado, or cooked sweet potatoes or beets to your morning smoothie to kick up nutrients without sacrificing flavor.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)