assortment of colorful vegetables at the market

Vegetables Come in All Shapes and Forms

a bowl of freshly washed leafy greens

Broadly speaking, a vegetable is defined as any edible part of a plant. One such part which is popular in Asian cooking is the green leafy vegetable. They are extremely low in calories (many have less than 30 kcal per 100 grams) and are a good source of fibre. When choosing, go for dark-coloured leafy greens as they contain more phytochemicals which are beneficial for the body.

In addition to leaves, the flowers (example, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes), roots (such as carrots and radishes), stems (like asparagus and celery) and pods (including edamame, long beans and snow peas) of plants are also eaten. There are also vegetables which come from the fruit part of the plant. These include the bitter gourd, cucumber, eggplant, and lady's fingers.

In addition to shapes, vegetables also come in a multitude of colours. These colours are the result of phytochemicals[1] and indicate several interesting properties. For example, the orange colour of carrots and capsicums are a result of carotenoids. These vegetables are high in vitamin A, which helps in the immune system. Red vegetables such as tomatoes are a result of the compound lycopene, which has strong antioxidant properties. And, green vegetables are high in folate and iron.

By being creative with how you plate your colourful vegetables, you can add spark to your children’s food, while providing them with optimum nutrition. Check out these interesting ideas for dressing up a kid’s bento.

Related: Smart Ways to FIll Up on Fruits and Veggies

Different Ways of Consuming Vegetables

brocolli, carrots, mushroom and baby corn

Salads are a fresh and healthy way to enjoy your greens, but be mindful about the amount of dressing you use, and aim for the non-fat or low-fat variety. It is interesting, however, to note that oil-soluble vitamins such as carotenoids and Vitamin K are best absorbed with some dietary fat. A few drops of olive oil or canola oil in your salad will therefore aid in your body’s absorption of these nutrients, as well as make it taste better.

Besides eating vegetables raw, cooking your veggies can also bring on added benefits. Studies have shown that the process of cooking helps to break down tough outer layers and the cellular structure of many vegetables, making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.

As a rule of thumb, the lesser the exposure to high heat and water, the better for veggies to retain their nutrients. Microwaving, steaming and sautéing are generally safe bets for cooking your vegetables. Blanching (placing your vegetables into boiling water briefly) is another good option. Remember not to boil your vegetables for too long as water soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C, B1 and folate can leach into the water. The exception to this rule is carrots, which display increased levels of beta carotene after boiling.

Related: Make Your Vegetables Delicious!

Fulfilling your Nutritional Needs

a bowl of fish soup filled with a mixed of assorted vegetables

The recommended intake of vegetables is two servings per day. This should be consumed while keeping in mind My Healthy Plate guidelines: fill a quarter of your plate with whole-grains, a quarter with proteins, and the remaining half with the recommended two servings of fruits and vegetables per day for a well-balanced meal.

Here are some tips to increase the amount of vegetables in your daily diet:

  1. Choose at least two types of vegetables with your economic rice.

  2. Request for a bigger portion of vegetables. For example, in your fishball noodles, your nasi padang, or your mee goreng.

  3. Snack on carrot and cucumber sticks for a healthier break.

  4. When presented with options for side dishes, go for the vegetable option. For example​, choose a salad over fries or garden vegetables over baked beans.

  5. Buy enough vegetables to share with the family. One person needs at least 150g of raw vegetables for a serving. Check the packaging weight to plan the amount of vegetables to buy.

One serving of vegetables looks something like this:

  • A quarter of a 10-inch plate of cooked vegetables

  • 150 grams of raw leafy vegetables

  • 100 grams of raw non-leafy vegetables

  • ¾ mug* of cooked leafy vegetables

  • ¾ mug* of cooked non-leafy vegetables

*250ml mug

Finally, do pair your daily two servings of vegetables with two servings of fruits. As a general guideline, your fruit and vegetable intake should consist of a variety of colours for maximum nutritional impact. By eating widely, you will be able to benefit from the different vitamins and minerals which may not be found in just one fruit or vegetable. Replacing high-calorie foods with fruit and vegetables can also help you to maintain a healthy weight.



References

  1. European Food Information Council. (n.d.). Colours of fruits and vegetables and health [Website].
    Retrieved August 2016 from http://www.eufic.org/article/en/show/spotlight/rid/colours-of-fruits-and-vegetables-and-health/

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