I’m not talking about smoking or curfews or anything else related to your teenage years. No, my subject is the longstanding advice most mothers give their children, “Eat your veggies.” The reasons remain as sound as ever. Vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients, as well as of fiber. And for those reasons, they are an integral part of following the Atkins Diet. And they always have been. Dr. Atkins was a vocal promoter of the nutritional benefits of vegetables.
However, I can tell from the frequent questions we get from the Community about how much veggies to eat that somehow this message has not come across as loud and clear as it should. I suspect in part this is because some of you are taking your advice about veggie consumption from older Atkins books, rather than The New Atkins for a New You, published last year, which calls for more vegetables in your meals. So let’s look at the differences between the advice in the 2002 edition of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (NDR) and the new book, which relied on the most recent nutritional research.
How Many Veggies?
That was then. According to NDR, Phase 1 called for 1 cup of cooked vegetables selected from a long list of what we now call foundation vegetables each day, as well as two cups of salad vegetables (also now known as foundation vegetables). Or you could have 3 cups of salad vegetables.
This is now. In The New Atkins, we recommend that 12–15 grams of the daily 20 grams of Net Carbs (more on that below) consumed in Induction come from foundation vegetables. This translates into approximately 6 loosely packed cups of salad greens and up to two cups of cooked vegetables per day, depending upon the carb counts of individual veggies. One-half cup of cooked zucchini tallies 1.5 grams of Net Carbs, compared to half a cup of cooked leeks, which logs in at 3.4 grams of Net Carbs. You get to eat substantially more vegetables, meaning more variety. However, you do have to check out the carb count of the veggies you are selecting and keep track of your intake over the day.
The Introduction of Net Carbs
It’s important to explain that we haven’t just increased the amount of carbs from vegetables you can have. Instead of counting grams of carbs (what we now call total carbs), in 2003, Atkins embraced emerging nutritional research and coined the term Net Carbs as a more accurate way to calculate carb intake. (This new concept was introduced in another book, Atkins for Life, published that year.) With the exception of a few foods like cream, for example, the Net Carb gram count is always lower, as you’ll understand in a moment. The research made clear that not all carbohydrates behave the same way in our bodies. Fiber, a form of carbohydrate, actually passes through the body with no or minimal impact on blood sugar levels, so there is no need to count grams of fiber. And remember, when blood sugar levels are moderated, you’re less subject to cravings—particularly for sweet and starchy foods.
Vegetables are particularly good sources of fiber, along with nuts, seeds, berries and other fruit and legumes, so the new way of calculating carb intake yielded a bonus. You could get more artery-scrubbing fiber without raising blood sugar levels and also get more micronutrients from the veggies. For example, half a cup of steamed cauliflower contains 3.6 grams of total carbs, but after you subtract the 2.2 grams of fiber, you’re left with a relatively modest 1.6 grams of Net Carbs. It’s a win-win situation.
Veggies Fill You Up
Among the vegetables with the highest fiber count are leafy greens such as spinach, watercress and lettuce, artichokes, Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family and turnip and other bitter greens, but even veggies like bell peppers, green beans and asparagus are valuable sources of fiber. The high fiber content of most vegetables makes them satiating. In other words, they fill you up, helping blunt your appetite until the next meal or snack. Speaking of snacks, vegetables are a super mid-morning or late-afternoon snack, as long as you have them with some protein or fat—think blue cheese dressing, cheese, chicken strips, sliced turkey or sour cream—to moderate their impact on your blood sugar.
Learn to Like Them
Now that I hope I’ve clarified how much of your carbohydrate intake should be in the form of veggies—most of it—I’d like to talk about the dirty little secret many of us have: we don’t really like vegetables—or like only a few. Here’s my four-part way to change your attitude if you’re presently of that mind:
1. Experiment. There are such a huge variety of veggies out there, most of which are fine from Day One on Atkins. You may have just not found the ones you can claim as your own yet.
2. Stop overcooking. The first step to making veggies taste better is to not overcook them. Simply steam fresh vegetables until they’re tender but not overdone and add a splash of olive oil or a pat of butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir-fry several vegetables together—how about red bell peppers, scallions and Chinese cabbage?—and add some meat, shrimp or poultry for a quick meal. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of most vegetables—try green beans and asparagus for starters. Or grill vegetables such as zucchini or eggplant alongside chicken or burgers. They take on a lovely smoky flavor. Thread bell peppers, onions, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes on skewers and grill them by themselves or with lamb or beef kebabs.
3. Get creative with salads. If you’re stuck in a rut of romaine and tomatoes, salads can get pretty boring. Instead, shake things up by trying different greens like Boston or Bibb lettuce, radicchio, arugula, watercress, baby spinach and endive. Take it up a level with olives, cheese, avocado, nuts or seeds. Or drizzle oil and vinegar over cooked green beans, asparagus and other leftover veggies. For a one-dish meal, just add some protein. I could eat a different salad every day for the rest of my life and never tire of them. Again, the recipe database is full of great recipes.
4. Take shortcuts. I think many people don’t bother with salads because they regard the prep time involved as too time consuming. If that’s the case, there are many ways to save time, starting with stopping by a salad bar on the way home. You can also buy prewashed, precut greens and other cut up veggies. Or wash and spin enough salad greens for three days at a time, wrap them in clean dishtowels and seal in zipper plastic bags. Just pull out what you want for each meal, tear into bite-size pieces and return the bag to the fridge. Jarred marinated artichoke hearts or roasted peppers in brine are quick and tasty additions to almost any salad.
I hope that I’ve gotten you all enthused about vegetables and comfortable with how many you can have from the get-go on Atkins. Most Americans don’t eat anywhere near the number of servings of vegetables recommended by the USDA. On Atkins, you can be sure you’ll be getting at least five servings a day of these nutritious foods.
Share and Share Alike
How do you feel about vegetables? Are you eating as many as you should? Do you enjoy them? What are your favorites and what tips do you have for serving them? Are you in the rut of eating the same ones day after day? Please share with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like me to discuss in this blog.