A paleo / AIP “diet” (in ““ as this is a long-term way of eating, rather than a short-term diet aimed at weight loss) consists of a lot of vegetables with a side of meat. The vegetables should really be the star of your meals.
We all know very well that the recommended guidelines are “5 a day”. Often, however, people consume most of their “5 a day” as fruits. Which isn’t ideal, as fruits still contain a lot of sugar - despite being “whole fruits'“ and therefore containing fibre (any processed fruit products, such as fruit juices, do not count as your “5 a day” sorry!).
In terms of vegetables, there is actually no limit to how much you can eat, so start with 5 and increase your intake week by week. 8 to 12 portions a day is ideal. Vegetables are a real power house when it comes to health. They give you: Fibre, Phytonutrients, Vitamins, Minerals, look at this chart - I do not believe there are any other food that can give you such a long list of nutrients.
It won’t surprise you to hear though, that it’s not just about quantity, it is also about quality and below are a few guidelines when it comes to vegetables:
Ideally you want organic vegetables. This will minimise your exposure to toxins such as pesticides and herbicides (toxins really do cause chaos with our health, and can be the root causes of so many chronic diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, cancers, hormonal issues, Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons, etc.). It will also increase the nutrients in the vegetables, which is the main reason you are consuming vegetables.
Colours: eating the rainbow; ideally, you want to eat as many colours as possible every day, to maximise your nutrients intake. Different colours = different phytochemicals, vitamins & minerals. Dr Chatterjee has created a lovely rainbow chart, which is a nice way of helping you with this objective. And guess what, your kids will love joining in, give them some stickers and have a daily competition! https://drchatterjee.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Rainbow-Chart.pdf
Seasonal & local: by eating seasonally, you will increase the amount of nutrients available in the vegetables, because they’re fresher. And local helps the environment by reducing food miles and again, it will increase nutrients, as it is less time from field to plate. It also helps a local farmer. You can achieve this by: visiting farmers’ markets, subscribing to an organic box (my favourite is Riverford), or shopping at your local green grocer, rather than the supermarket.
Now, as for cooking… I’m pretty sure this is well known advice and I do not wish to teach you how to “suck eggs”, but DO NOT boil your vegetables, you will lose a lot of the nutrients in the water you’ll then discard. The only (obvious) exception is soup.
My cooking method of choice for vegetables is Roasting.
It is absolute amazing for several reasons:
it’s highly effective: the vegetables taste beautiful, as water evaporates and the flavours are more concentrated. It is also a good method for retaining nutrients (not far off steaming)
it’s highly efficient: it takes little time to prepare (essentially, chop the vegetables in the shape you want and pop it in the oven with the fat of your choice - it only needs a couple of checks and to turn the vegetables over, so to ensure even cooking) and it can also be done in advance (Tip: roasted vegetables re-heat very well or alternatively, you can prep your veggies and store them ready to be roasted on the day).
it’s versatile: you can vary the flavours with spices, herbs or other vegetables or fruits (like onion, garlic, lemon zest, etc.) and it works more or less for any vegetables
it’s easy: unless you forget your vegetables in the oven, it’s unlikely you will burn your vegetables (unlike the pan-fry method). I have done it, but that’s purely because I’ve gone off to do other things… so avoid this by putting a timer on!
Is there a recipe? Not really, it’s more or less a method, which varies a little bit depending on the vegetables. It works for any root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, beetroots, etc.), brassicas such cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or even squash family vegetables (butternut squash, pumpkin, courgettes, etc). It works well for nightshade vegetables too (aubergines, peppers, tomatoes), but these are excluded from my diet.
So here are some guidelines:
Prepare the vegetables as you wish: make batons / chips or cubes with your root vegetables, florets with your cauliflower or broccoli, cut your cabbage in quarters or eighth segments, slice your courgettes or your pumpkins (Tip: for sweet potatoes, I usually keep the skin on, I find it avoids the potatoes turning to mush - I also love the crisp you get from the skin)
Add the fat of your choice (goose fat, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil): it will help your body digest and use some of the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables and it will also enhance the flavours (fat is what allows you to “taste” the food). I usually make sure there’s enough fat to cover the vegetables, but they are not swimming in it
Season & flavour your vegetables: spices (cumin, fennel seeds, paprika, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon etc - most of these are not AIP), herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, etc.), citrus fruit zest (lemon, orange), sweetener (such as honey or maple syrup, great to add some caramelised flavours - in moderation as it’s still sugar!), other vegetables such as allium vegetables (onion, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots) or mushrooms
Pop in the oven at 180 degrees celsius
Cooking times vary based on the vegetables and also how crispy / golden you like your vegetables. But here are my starting points, but I usually end up increasing the length to get my veggies more golden: (Tip: because of these cooking times, I usually stagger when the vegetables go in)
Cabbage: 25 mins
Broccoli & Cauliflower / Fennel / Courgettes: 35 mins
Root Vegetables & butternut squash: 60 mins
I’d love to hear about your favourite way of consuming vegetables. Soon I’ll add some more posts, including stir fries, leafy greens vegetables skillets and soups!
IIN qualified health coach, foodie, mum of 2, wife of 1, ex corporate advertising executive, RA warrior