You’ve seen the food pyramid. A big chunk of it is dedicated to vegetables like broccoli, carrots, beets, and celery. The problem is that most people don’t like eating veggies. So how can you eat healthy if you don’t eat vegetables?
You Probably Do Like Veggies
Compared to other animals, humans eat a wide variety of foods. Our bodies have adapted to this varied diet by developing taste preferences and aversions.
Many plant-based foods contain bitter toxins. When we eat bitter plants which aren’t toxic, our taste aversion kicks in. No wonder bitter greens like spinach are amongst the most-hated vegetables.
But our bodies can learn to like a food – especially if that food provides nutritional benefits. While it is possible to be healthy without vegetables (by supplementing veggies with lots of organ meat, fermented foods, and supplements), it is a lot easier to just start eating veggies.
Tips for Learning to Like Vegetables
You can find a great article on how to like vegetables here. Here’s a recap of the tips:
- Try a vegetable at least 10 times before you decide whether you like it or not.
- Try the veggie 10 different ways. For example: Spinach juice, spinach soufflé, spinach wraps, spinach salad, and spinach dip.
- Experiment with texture. Some veggies are better crisply fried or roasted whereas others are great in purees. Microwaving and boiling tend to destroy the texture of vegetables, so avoid these cooking methods for veggies.
- Eat fresh produce. Veggies from cans or frozen have mushy textures. Fresh is always best!
- Learn what you like: You don’t have to like all vegetables. Find a few healthy ones that you like and eat them often.
Do You Really Need to Eat Vegetables?
If you want to eat healthy without eating vegetables, you will have to substitute another food in place of the veggies. These foods should contain the nutrients you’d normally be getting from veggies.
Roger Wilcox is one advocate of vegetable-free eating. He says that,
“There is insufficient evidence that vegetables are necessary for healthy living, provided you get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber from other sources. In other words, if you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber from non-vegetable sources, the remaining health benefits of vegetables are marginal.”
Not everyone agrees with this stance though. Mark Sisson holds that you don’t need a huge amount of vegetables to be healthy, but you do need some.
However, it is clear that you need an alternative for vegetables to be healthy. Read about why in this post What Happens if You Don’t Eat Vegetables?
Nutrients Found Mostly in Vegetables
If you don’t eat vegetables, you’ll have to be extra careful to get these nutrients which are mostly found in vegetables and not always in meat, dairy, or grains.
Fiber is essential for helping to move waste through our digestive tract and keep the bowels clean. We are now also learning how important fiber is for balancing our gut flora.
If you aren’t eating vegetables, you’ll have to get your fiber from whole grain and seed sources such as:
- Whole grain bread and pasta
- Psyllium husk
- Flax seed meal
Lycopene is a phytonutrient which is best known for its anti-cancer properties. It also has numerous other benefits such as being an antioxidant, countering brain damage, and lowering blood pressure.
Tomatoes are the most common source of lycopene (which are technically a fruit not a vegetable). If you aren’t eating tomatoes, you can get lycopene from:
- Goji berries
- Tomato sauce
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is important for vision, immune health, and cell growth. Most of the common sources of vitamin A are from veggies, such as carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and peppers.
If you aren’t eating these vegetables, then you’ll need to get your vitamin A from:
- Beef liver
- Black-eyed peas
We don’t hear much about the nutrient betaine, but it is important for liver health. It is also involved in protein synthesis and thus important for aiding in muscle gain and weight loss.
The best source of betaine is spinach and leafy greens. Luckily, betaine deficiency is rare in the West because it is found in wheat bran products (which we tend to eat a lot of). If you aren’t eating whole wheat or vegetables though, you risk deficiency.
Non-vegetable sources of betaine include:
- Wheat bran
- Turkey breast
As an electrolyte, potassium helps maintain balance between cells. It acts much like a conductor for the body to send signals, regulate fluids, and contract muscles.
Most dietary potassium comes from vegetables like beet greens, carrots, spinach, and broccoli. In the US, it is estimated that 95% of people are not eating enough veggies to meet potassium requirements.
Non-veg sources of potassium include:
- Black beans
We aren’t as familiar with magnesium because it doesn’t do “one” thing in the body (such as how calcium is known for strengthening bones). Magnesium does a variety of jobs in the body, including regulating over 300 enzyme systems for protein synthesis, blood sugar, blood pressure, and muscle function.
According to one USDA study, 57% of the US population is deficient in magnesium. Symptoms include infertility, migraines, anxiety, fatigue, and weakness.
If you aren’t eating lots of leafy greens, get your magnesium from:
- Black beans
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
Vitamin K is finally getting the attention it deserves. The fat-soluble vitamin prevents blood clots. The body also converts it to another form, vitamin K2, which is responsible for bringing calcium to the bones.
Without enough vitamin K, calcium can harden in the arteries. The result is blood clots, poor bone density, and heart disease. Dark leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach are great sources of vitamin K.
If you aren’t eating veggies, you’ll need to get vitamin K from:
- Lacto-fermented foods
- Fermented dairy, such as kefir
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
If you aren’t eating vegetables, you’ll have to get the nutrients listed above from another source. Unfortunately, most of the best vegetable alternatives aren’t exactly people’s favorite foods. For example, most people in Western cultures don’t eat a lot of organ meat.
- Organ Meat: Organ meat is a great way to get minerals like iron, zinc, and copper. You’ll also get lots of vitamins. Organ meat is one of the only non-vegetable sources of vitamin A.
- Fish and Fish Oils: Fish is a great choice for people who don’t like vegetables. Unlike many other animal products, fish contains healthy fats which can help reduce inflammation (which a diet high in red meat and/or low in vegetables can cause).
- Seeds: Seeds are nutritional powerhouses. Since they are the precursors to vegetables, it is no surprise that they contain many of the same nutrients found in veggies. Look for creative recipes such as using seeds in pasta sauce. Or just snack on seeds.
- Nuts: Compared to seeds, nuts tend to be richer in protein but lower in vitamins and minerals. However, nuts still provide a lot of the phytonutrients and nutrient synergies that the body needs to be healthy.
- Fermented Foods: Fermentation gives foods many enzymes, healthy bacteria, and some nutrients. For people who don’t eat vegetables, perhaps the most important reason to eat ferments is vitamin K2. It is crucial for carrying calcium to where it’s needed in the body.
- Whole Grains: Compared to processed grains, whole grains contain large amounts of fiber, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Simply switching from white to whole grain can drastically improve your nutrition.
- Dark Chocolate and Tea: These are rich in phytonutrients.
- Spices and Herbs: While many of these are technically vegetables, most people don’t have an aversion to them. Even small amounts of spices and herbs can go a long way in helping you meet your nutritional requirements.
Supplements as a Vegetable Replacement
They are called supplements because they are supposed to add to your diet. No pill can replace the balanced nutrients provided by vegetables.
Supplements can help you meet your nutritional needs though. If you aren’t eating vegetable nutritional alternatives such as organ meat or kefir, supplements might be the only source of a specific nutrient.
It is still easiest, cheapest, and healthiest to just start eating vegetables. Don’t give up – there is sure to be at least one way that you like eating kale! But if you need a bit of help nutritionally, you can check out these Vitamins for People Who Don’t Eat Vegetables.