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How to add more vegetables to your diet

Think of it like art: Play with flavour combinations, experiment with spices and try different colours 

Add more colour and nutrition to your meal with a variety of vegetables. (Pexels)
Add more colour and nutrition to your meal with a variety of vegetables. (Pexels)

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Do you gag if someone even mentions Brussel Sprouts? Or, plan your escape route when broccoli is on the menu? If so, it turns out you're in great company.

Disliking the taste of bitter vegetables turns out not only to be relatively common but normal as well. According to research, such as Why Do We Like Sweet Tastes: A Bitter Tale by Gary K. Beauchamp, humans prefer sweeter tastes because sweet foods tend to be less poisonous and full of glucose for energy. Bitter foods, however, could have the potential to be toxic or fatal. Before you yell, "I told you so," and drop your vegetables in the trash, I don't mean bitter vegetables. Bitter flavors are derived from alkaloids; some are stimulating and fun; others are deadly and poisonous, making it handy to have an aversion to their bitter taste.

It's a distinction worth learning because, as we know, vegetables are immensely healthy. They are full of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that make your body sing with happiness, so to avoid them means potentially not operating at your best. Vegetables are also loaded with water, making them low-calorie, so they are the perfect addition to your diet when you're trying to lose weight.

Here are some ways you can introduce more vegetables into your diet.

The first step is to try and challenge your taste buds. Challenging your taste buds means doing precisely that:

1. Pick a vegetable that makes your eyelids curl
2. Issue the challenge.
3. Pump your chest up, take a deep breath, and
4. Eat a few bites.

It may taste awful on the first few tries. But don't lose out hope - the more you try something, the more your taste preferences will start to adapt. Just think back to something you hated when you were younger but now love. Let's say you were averse to the taste of black coffee (which is a bitter flavor). Over time, the more you tried to drink it, you may have inadvertently trained yourself to drink it when there was no milk or sugar available. Now, black coffee is all you drink. This may not mean that you'll end up loving kale. However, it may make you immune to its bitter-tasting charms.

The second thing you can do is combine a bitter flavor with a sweet or salty taste. Surprisingly enough, these other flavors help "crowd out" the bitter flavor in your mouth by creating a tasty little combination for you to focus on. A personal favorite is Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of maple syrup, or perhaps sautéed with a few flecks of bacon. The added flavor will help make the bitterness more palatable.

Common sweet flavors that mix well with bitter vegetables are maple syrup, honey, berries, fruit (apples and oranges), or cooked onions.

The familiar salty flavors that add a flavor punch are soft cheeses, chopped nuts, olive oil, butter, and bacon.

You can also attempt different cooking methods for the same vegetable to see if there is one style that makes it preferable to another. For example, boiling something may leave it tasteless, however, roasting it in the oven with some sea salt and olive oil can make a delicious, crunchy flavor package that you end up loving.

Just as you can change up your flavor combinations by adding sweet or salty, you can try some new spices to see if they complement your vegetable choice.

Some common delicious spices that can add a beautiful punch to your vegetable dish are crushed red peppers, chopped fresh chiles, smoked paprika, black pepper, chopped garlic, ginger, cumin, fresh lemon or lime, vinegar, salt, capers, olives, and brie cheese.

If you can't seem to enjoy vegetables despite combining flavors or spices or changing up your cooking routine, try masking the taste entirely. You can do this by cooking and blending the vegetable until it's a puree and adding it as a base in soups or even a fruit smoothie; you can even mix it into pasta sauces.

When people think of vegetables, they tend to think of only green vegetables, which do tend to be very bitter. Dr. Rangan Chatterjee says that although the recommendation is to eat five portions of vegetables a day, he recommends eating five colors instead. Each color of the vegetable, even the bitter ones, has different vitamins and minerals that benefit your body. For example, according to Precision Nutrition's Fruit & Vegetable Infographic, green vegetables contain more isothiocyanate, which is anti-carcinogenic. In contrast, orange vegetables have more beta carotene, strengthening our immune system and eyesight. If you have a repertoire of 3-4 vegetables on repeat, it's worth spicing up your daily routine and introducing a variety of new choices from green, red, orange, purple, and white.

Also read | The bittersweet story of Indian berries


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