Stealthy, Healthy Vegetables
Many people love vegetables. But if you're not a big fan, researchers from Pennsylvania State University have an idea how to sneak vegetables into your diet: purée them into other foods.
Why eat vegetables? Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and other healthy plant compounds. A high intake is linked to decreased risk of many chronic diseases (including eye diseases). Vegetables are also low in "energy density," meaning that they have relatively few calories for a given weight. Because people tend to eat a consistent amount of food (by weight) every day, eating low-energy-dense foods means you get fewer total calories, which helps in weight control. Vegetables are low in energy density because they are high in water, usually low in sugar and practically fat-free. Their fiber also helps fill you up.
A sneaky study. In the study, which included 41 adults, Dr. Barbara Rolls and colleagues manipulated the amount of vegetables in entrees (adding various combinations of puréed carrots, squash and cauliflower to bread, macaroni and cheese, and chicken casserole) to produce three levels of energy density—75 percent (the most vegetables), 85 percent, and 100 percent (fewest vegetables). The participants ate the meals for three days, with a different energy density level each day. And they could eat as much as they wanted, plus unlimited side dishes.
The results? Besides eating more vegetables (obviously), when people ate the higher-vegetable/lower-density meals, they got fewer calories—350 fewer calories a day than when they ate the lowest-vegetable/highest-density meals. They rated these meals just as filling, too—or even more so. And they found few, if any, differences in taste or texture. Actually, the more carrot purée added to the bread, the more they liked it.
A win-win. If you tend to shun vegetables, sneak vegetables into dishes, in place of higher-calorie ingredients, to improve your diet, and you may eat less, too. All it took was two extra servings of vegetables a day to substantially lower total daily calorie intake in the study. Add puréed broccoli, peppers, spinach or carrots to pasta sauces, bread or muffin mixes, meatloaf and other sweet or savory dishes.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (November 2011)