“You must have vegetables at every meal, every day”…
This is something that I hear my clients tell me often. There is a common belief that you MUST eat vegetables all day every day in order to be healthy. Well today, I want to talk about how vegetables have been put on a pedestal for a very, very long, long time and why we need to rethink how we view them!
Let’s get this straight before we move on with the rest of the post. It’s important that I clarify that I am NOT saying that you should eat less vegetables or that they aren’t important. Vegetables are wonderful and they have so much to offer our bodies! From vitamins, to minerals, to fibre and water. I don’t think you will ever meet a dietitian who would tell you not to eat vegetables.
HOWEVER, I am going to dive into why it’s okay if you do not eat vegetables every single day. I am going to look at how some of the messages we receive about vegetables being this “ultimate health food” can be harmful to our relationship with food and our bodies.
We easily get caught up in the need to eat vegetables, and if we don’t have them, we feel guilty or feel as though we are “unhealthy”. It’s as though adding vegetables to any meal, whether it be a side salad of a slice of tomato on your burger, makes everything “healthier”. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like if you don’t see a vegetable on your plate, then your dinner is ruined or it’s not healthy enough?
Foods like fruits and vegetables are put at the top of a food hierarchy that diet culture has created. It has labelled foods as “good/bad” and associates a certain degree of value to each of these foods. The problem with this hierarchy is that it doesn’t allow us to see food as neutral and simply as FOOD. It forces us to divide them into categories and set up food rules, which can lead to cognitive distortions (sort of like thinking traps) such as:
This model recently became the face of the new Canada’s Food Guide. It was designed to provide the general public with a simple guide to balanced eating (because our old food guide was just confusing and not user friendly). It is a plate that is divided into 3 sections:
What I like about the food guide is that it puts emphasis on variety, balance and all our macro and micronutrients. However, what makes the plate model tricky is that a lot of people look at the plate and feel like every meal they eat must look like this in order for them to be healthy. If they don’t have a meal that looks this way, they start feeling like a failure. OR, some people view this as a new set of rules in order to be healthy, and start being too rigid with how they prepare and plate their meals.
The truth is that these are GUIDELINES. While we strive for balanced nutrition when we can, and include different types of foods, it’s important to remember that our plate will not always look that way and that is OKAY.
The anxiety and stress that this model and this system of beliefs around vegetables and the need to be perfect is actually hurting our relationship with food.
You’ll be fine. Honestly, if you don’t have vegetables for a day or two, you’ll be fine. It’s not the one time you forgot your vegetables that will ruin your health, it’s more the impact of never eating them for a long time that may begin to have an impact on how your body is functioning.
Think about it, if our body was that fragile, that it needed to have vegetables every single day at every single meal, we wouldn’t be here today! Most of us would not be able to live day to day because that doesn’t happen for majority of the population.
I’m from Ottawa, in North America, and our cold fall/winter months can last longer than half the year. Because of our climate, it is very difficult for us to grow any fresh produce (in general) but especially during these months. Due to this, our ancestors would go months without these fresh fruits and vegetables, and they were O-K. Our bodies are smart, and it has developed reserves of all of the different minerals and vitamins we need in order to live for a period of time without those foods without any types of health defects.
We need to consider how putting foods like vegetables on such a high pedestal can be shaming towards people who may not be able to afford this plethora of vegetables all the time. It is a privilege to be able to eat all types of foods and a lot of people are doing their absolute best to include all food groups as much as possible.
Also, some people have medical conditions or certain physical disabilities in which case eating an actual vegetable is not feasible for them. But they are just as healthy and thriving as there are other options to make sure you get the nutrients you need!
This is all OKAY! You are still a wonderful person who deserves to be here and deserves respect!
Vegetables are not the BE ALL END ALL. Whether you choose to eat vegetables or not, it does not make you a better or worse person!
If you don’t have vegetables at your next meal or for the next day, it does not impact your value as a person. It is just food that provides your body with nutrients and it’s good to include them when you can and want to.
Check out my podcast episode “Food Myths Debunked : Vegetables” To hear more about why vegetables are great but not all that!
The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment, disordered eating. Our mission is to help as many folks heal their relationship with food and their bodies so they can live happily outside of diet culture!
We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.
Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian and Founder of The Balanced Practice