This is tragic, given high vegetables intakes are associated with better health, including a lower risk of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
For every extra 200 grams of vegetables and fruit eaten each day, there’s an 8 per cent reduction in the risk for heart disease, a 16 per cent risk reduction for stroke and a 10 per cent reduction in risk of dying from any cause, according to research using data from 95 individual studies.
When the researchers drilled deeper into specific types of vegetables and fruit, they found that eating more apples and pears, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables (like bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radish, swede, turnip, and watercress), green leafy vegetables and salads were all associated with a lower risk for heart disease and death.
They also found a lower risk of getting any type of cancer among those with the highest intakes of green-yellow vegetables such as carrots, corn, pumpkin, zucchini, green beans and cruciferous vegetables.
Across the globe, about 7.8 million deaths are attributed to low intakes of vegetables and fruit.
But in a country like Australia, you’d think it would be easy to eat your greens, as well as a range of other vegetables.
Reasons for not eating them include not liking the taste, a perceived lack of time or cooking skills, and lack of access to fresh produce.
These are all barriers to boosting our vegetable intakes — so let’s check them out in more detail.
If you hate vegetables, it could be because you have inherited “super-taster” genes.
About 20 per cent of the population are supertasters and rate cruciferous vegetables as tasting up to 60 per cent more bitter compared to non-tasters, who make up about 30 per cent of the population.
What they are “tasting” is a naturally occurring chemical called glucosinolate that is released more when vegetables are cut, cooked or chewed.
Being a super-taster probably offered a survival advantage in ancient times, because it would have meant you were better able to detect poisonous substances (which tend to be bitter), and work out which plants were safer to eat and which to avoid.
The good news is that repeated exposure to these bitter tastes means you do learn to like them over time.
If you hang around with others eating lots of vegetables, or if your parents and household members eat a lot of vegetables, then you will end up eating more too.
True supertasters will like vegetables that are not bitter more, including beans, beetroot, carrots, corn, eggplant, lettuce, onion, peas, pumpkin and sweet potato.
If vegetables are off your menu because of how they taste, it is worth a rethink on the way you’re preparing them.
How you cook vegetables can improve their taste and for super tasters, can mask the bitterness.
Try some of these fast and easy tricks at home:
- Add a “decoy” flavour. Piperine is the ‘hot’ taste in black pepper. Adding it, or chilli or other spices, distracts your taste buds from noticing the bitter taste of vegetables.
- Mask the taste by using cheese sauce. Make it fast by dissolving a heaped teaspoon of cornflour into a half cup of reduced fat milk in a microwave-proof jug. Cook on high for 30 seconds, stir and add a cheese slice broken into pieces, and cook for another 30 seconds. Stir again, cook for another 30 seconds, then stir until the melted cheese is fully dissolved and the sauce thickens.
- Cook briefly by stir-frying, microwaving or steaming, so they’re still a bit crunchy.
In some regions of Australia, getting good quality fresh vegetables at a reasonable cost is a major challenge. Prices of vegetables can be more than double the cost of supermarkets in cities.
This is where modular farms — small indoor farms the size of a shipping container — could potentially help in terms of access and freshness.
A modular farm can be placed just about anywhere from a busy city to a rural community, with the caveat that these farms still need water, although the amount is conservative. However, the power usage is high because they need to run lights 24 hours a day.
Another way to improve your access to a regular supply of vegetables, if distance or affordability is a concern, is by using canned and frozen varieties.
For canned vegetables, choose the salt-reduced varieties where possible. Frozen vegetables on the other hand, are frozen within hours of being harvested and can be even “fresher” that what you buy at the supermarket.
And if you live within a reasonable distance of a market, you could set up a local co-op and take turns to buy in bulk direct and distribute to the members. The Sydney Food Fairness Alliance have a guide to setting up a food co-operative.
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