Over on Nourishing Gourmet, there’s a challenge to eat 4 cups of vegetables a day for 10 days in celebration of her new salad cookbook, starting August 26, tomorrow.  I’m planning to join in, at least on the produce part!

Most Americans do not eat enough vegetables, or even fruit, and vegetables are incredibly important for good health. As I’ve muttered before, high vegetable consumption protects against various common health problems, including:

    • high blood pressure
    • obesity
    • heart disease
    • diabetes
    • selected cancers
    • macular degeneration (progressive blindness)
    • osteoporosis
    • constipation (yeah, not so appealing, but very common)

Do you really need more convincing? Well, let’s go with the arguement that they taste great and this is certainly the time of year to enjoy fresh and flavorful produce. Fortunately, my garden patch is plodding along and producing a generous amount of kale, collard, beans, rainbow chard, and even a few little unknown sprouts (unmarked; should have written that down…) so as long as I pick up a few carrots and onions, I’ll be in good shape. I might round that out that a trip to the farmer’s market for a few peppers and maybe some sweet corn or a head or two of fennel.

How will I eat four cups of produce? First, maximize my use of lunch containers. I will either pack half my large container (4 cups) with steamed/raw vegetables or a vegetable-based mixture like a stir-fry or I will take a baggie of sliced raw vegetables to nibble on throughout the day. For suppers, I will focused on mixtures that are 2/3 vegetables or eat an appetizer of a salad like Vegetables^3. Because lettuce isn’t very nutrient-dense and I don’t particularly enjoy it, I generally only eat it in the late spring when it’s the only thing growing in the garden. This time of year it’s often a bit bitter and I’m happy to pass it up in favor of more nutritious darker greens. With some conscious effort in terms of harvesting and shopping, the four cups should be easy to slip in.

On the other hand, it’s unusual for an American with normal digestion and intake* to have low protein intake. Americans can generally improve the quality of their protein– much of the protein consumed is grain-fed (less favorable fat profile) meats and often accompanied by rather a lot of salt or added oil or fat. Lean proteins are often the best choice. Personally, I like to eat plently of legumes, a bit of tofu, a little fish, some eggs, nuts/seeds, and then an occassional serving of meat or poultry. Nonethheless, it is a good idea to spread your protein throughout the day. Protein can be very satisfying and filling as well as stabilizing blood sugar. If you don’t already eat protein with each meal, try it.

*Diseases and illness can and do lead to low protein intake. Some examples might include eating disorders, cancer patients suffering with side effects from treatment, or any condition with a decreased appetite or gastrointestinal illness. Talk to your medical provider if you are concerned about your intake.