As we pass by Janus this time of year, many of us participate in another ancient ritual: making New Year’s resolutions. You know what I mean: those vows to yourself that “go in one year and out the other.” Personally, I learned from my own failures ages ago and no longer make a list of impossible dreams. Professionally I don’t usually recommend them either, unless you plan to do one thing at a time and take it slow and steady.
But I am going to go out on a limb this year and recommend a resolution for you. Yes, all of you: the undergrad on a meal plan, the grad student on a budget, the average Joe or Jane having your average day. I’ll include myself in this wide net because I know we can all do better on this one. Here it is, the one size fits all New Year’s resolution:
Eat more vegetables.
I suspect I lost some of you right there, but wait. I’m not the only one who gets excited about vegetables. Author Garrison Keillor actually said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.”
I don’t know if I’d go that far and I suspect you wouldn’t either, but hey, at least you’re still reading. Seriously, though, if we could all do this one thing our health, individually and collectively, would improve by an exponential bushel factor this year.
The word vegetable means “capable of life or growth; growing, vigorous,” as derived from Old French “vegetable” meaning “living, fit to live,” and directly from Medieval Latin vegetabilis “growing, flourishing,” from Late Latin vegetabilis “animating, enlivening,” from Latin vegetare “to enliven,” from vegetus “vigorous, enlivened, active, sprightly,” from vegere “to be alive, active, to quicken,” and well, you get the idea. Vegetables are life.
If you haven’t heard by now that vegetables are good for you, you must have been living in a deep fryer, but I’ll summarize anyway. Vegetables provide essential nutrients and fiber and help keep your inflammation down and your bowels moving. A diet rich in vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer and lower your risk of eye and digestive problems. It can also have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.
So there’s the “why” in a nutshell. The harder part is “how.” I think that simple suggestions work best so here are three:
1. Prioritize your veggies. Put them up front and center on your list. Whether you are trolling the bins at La Posada, excavating your own fridge, or perusing the grocery store, reach for the vegetables first. Planning a meal? Decide which vegetables (plural if possible) you will eat before you make other decisions or plans.
2. Maximize your veggies. Vegetables rate the prime real estate, the biggest share of the plate. So pile them on. Some experts suggest that veggies should cover half your plate. Try it. Relegate meats and starches to the suburbs on the edge.
3. Vary your veggies. Don’t get stuck in the carrot rut or the lettuce habit. Pick a variety of kinds and colors, try something new, branch out. If you stick to this principle you won’t have to count nutrients or vitamins. When it comes to garden colors, rainbows rock.
The ancient Romans also believed in vegetables, by the way, and even the famous and controversial politician Cato had something to say about it, advising that vegetables should be eaten with vinegar if raw, with olive oil if cooked. But what do politicians know about cooking? Raw, cooked, green, yellow or purple — it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. If you eat more of them, you won’t regret it.
As the other famous author, Unknown, said, “Let my words, like vegetables, be tender and sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”
Happy New Year and Bon Appétit.
Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling and UNM Center for Life. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered, and questioners will remain anonymous.