Child-Feeding Expert andVictoria BC Dietitian (Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Answers Is It Okay To Feed Young Children Spicy Food. Babies and Spicy Food too.Read More
Victoria BC Dietitian (Dietician Nutritionist) Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD Shares Key Information You Need to Make Sure That You and Your Child Are Taking the Right Vitamins (and Other Supplements).Read More
I’m often asked my opinion about what vegetable is the healthiest. I also hear the “best-Mommy” contest that happens on the playground where each parent tries to one-up each other bragging about what weird & healthy veggie their child loves. It goes something like this:
“My Johnny loves carrots.”
“MY Suzie loves broccoli.”
“WELL, MY Nicolas loves kale.”
“Guess what. MY Olivia loves Brussels sprouts. Eats them like candy. Can’t get enough of them.”
You get the picture.
I understand why people ask me about veggies. And why parents feel pressured. The amazing powers of specific vegetables often are the subjects of headlines. It makes a great sound-bite. It’s a great way to sell newspapers & magazines.
But as is often the case, that which makes a great sound-bite isn’t always what’s true. Because it’s been pulled out of context, the sound-bite ends up being only partly-true.
Science’s understanding of exactly what it is in veggies that’s so good for us is crude. We’re constantly learning of new healthy nutrients. For example, when I was studying human nutrition as an undergraduate in the late 1990’s, I was taught that white veggies didn’t have any healthful substances. They may provide flavor and crunch, but they were nutritional zeros. However, we now know that onions, garlic, and their other cousins such as leeks, have healthful nutrients like antioxidants.
While science is constantly discovering new nutrients, what’s found again and again (and again) is that the people who eat the most veggies are the healthiest. Period.
I also like to balance current science with the tried-and-true. And, when I look at traditional diets around the world, I see that human beings have survived and thrived eating all sorts of plant foods.
Let me be clear. I’m not denying that dark green veggies (like kale) and brightly-coloured veggies (like carrots and purple cabbage) are really healthy. They’re fantastic choices! What I’m saying is to not consider veggies such as cucumber and celery as empty junk. While they’re today’s zeros, who knows if they will be tomorrow’s super-stars. And, they’re healthier than most processed foods which kids typically eat if they’re not eating veggies.
So don’t stress if your picky eater doesn’t like today’s super-star veggies.
When it comes to veggies, it’s about quantity. And, variety.
Instead of relying on the magic of any one vegetable (and trying to force your picky eater to eat it), enjoy a wide variety of veggies. Introduce your little one to many different veggies (and repeat those introductions, and repeat, and repeat…). Be a veggie variety role model yourself. Encourage your little one to enjoy the wide, wide world of veggies in all colours of the rainbow. Together explore all the different tastes and textures.
And celebrate when your little one eats ANY veggies - whether it’s kale chips or that French Breakfast radish that the Farmer convinced him to try at Saturday’s Farmers Market, or…
So, what’s my answer when I’m asked what’s the healthiest vegetable? Answer: The one that you’ll eat (because it doesn’t matter how healthy any veggie is – if you won’t eat it – it can’t do you any good).
Photo credit: Keenan Loo on Unsplash
Looking for a healthy snack?
Need something kid-friendly?
This recipe is nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, and no-sugar-added.
It contains fibre-packed, protein-packed lentils and pumpkin seeds.
Oh, and it's delicious!
They're perfect for packed-lunches for kids. And, as an afternoon snack for us adults too.
Need a finger-food version for your baby? Simply cut them into smaller pieces. Easy.
Lentil Coconut Energy Bites Ingredients:
- ½ cup cooked green lentils (or lentils from a can)
- ½ cup of pureed pumpkin seeds
- ⅓ cup of dry oats
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 4 dates
- ¼ cup of chocolate chips (optional)
- ¼ cup of coconut flakes unsweetened (to roll in)
Lentil Coconut Energy Bites Steps:
- Cook the lentils in a pot with water for ~25-30 minutes on medium heat
- In the meantime, puree ½ cup of pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth
- Add in fresh dates and continue to puree
- Once you reach a paste-like consistency, add in dry oats, cinnamon, vanilla extract and cooked lentils.
- Transfer into a bowl and add chocolate chips
- Roll into small balls (should make about 9-10)
- On some parchment paper, sprinkle ¼ cup of coconut flakes and roll in the lentil coconut bites
At a workshop that I led last week, I was asked whether it was worth eating lettuce because it doesn’t have any nutrient value. I knew that this would be a great so-called nutrition “truth” that I can bust for you too.
All over the internet, in books, even in grocery stores, you’ll see vegetables ranked based on a score of nutrient value. But just because these scores are popular, doesn’t mean that you should believe in them.
You see, I am a true scientist. A true scientist understands what we know, and acknowledges what we don’t know. The real truth is that the scientific understanding is in its infancy regarding exactly what it is in each and every vegetable that is healthy. We know of many vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. But there are likely tens, hundreds, thousands more that we haven’t yet discovered. And that’s just the nutrients that are healthy for our bodies. We’re also discovering more and more about the many roles that our gut microbiome has on our health. Science has even more of a rudimentary understanding of what it is in vegetables that makes our gut bacteria happy.
Let me share a few examples to illustrate my position. When I did my undergraduate degree in nutrition from arguably the best nutrition school in in Canada during the mid-90’s, I was taught:
- There is no nutritional value in onions and garlic. Their only role was to provide taste. Now we know that there are health-promoting phytochemicals in onions and garlic. Onions and garlic certainly do count in your daily servings of vegetables.
- Nothing about phytochemicals. That’s because the whole class of phytochemicals had not yet been discovered. All that science knew at the time was vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- That the gut microbiome simply helped digest food. It didn’t play any other role in human health. Now we’re learning that it may be linked to depression, heart health, obesity, food allergies, and a wide range of other health conditions.
Now I want to be really clear here. I’m not telling you that vegetables aren’t healthy. Vegetables certainly are healthy. In fact, I want about half of what you eat to be vegetables. I just don’t want you to buy into these various rankings of the “best” vegetables. Also, I don’t want you to buy in to the idea that certain vegetables have no nutrient value. Yes, even iceberg lettuce.
Instead of thinking that a vegetable has no nutrient value. I recommend thinking that science has not yet discovered what’s healthy about this vegetable.
So how do you apply my message? Eat lots of vegetables. Make vegetables be about half of what you eat. As wide a variety of vegetables as you can get. Eat any and all the vegetables that you enjoy. And, try new veggies often. Eat them raw sometimes. Eat them cooked sometimes. Because our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are raw. And, our bodies better absorb some nutrients when the veggies are cooked.
Photo credit: Petra Cigale on Unsplash