You're really missing out if you don't eat vegetables. Vegetables are filled with essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, folate, vitamins A, C and K and many others. They help fill you up without a lot of calories, and they may also help lower your risk for cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a substance similar to fat. The two main types of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. LDL is considered bad cholesterol, while HDL is beneficial, helping to keep LDL levels in check so your arteries don't get clogged. Your body makes all of the cholesterol you need, so you don't need to get it from your diet. Veggies don't contain cholesterol -- only animal foods do. While eating a lot of saturated fat is more likely to raise your blood cholesterol, dietary cholesterol has a small effect on blood levels as well. Consuming too much cholesterol makes it more likely you'll get heart disease.
Vegetables and Cholesterol
A study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in February 2004 found that the more fruits and vegetables participants ate, the lower their low-density lipoprotein levels. Vegetables appear to have a bigger benefit than fruits, according to another study published in the "Journal of Horticultural Science & Biotechnology" in 2009. This study compared apples, other fruits and vegetables to see which were most beneficial for lowering total cholesterol levels.
Adding More Veggies to Your Diet
It doesn't have to be difficult to add more veggies to your diet. Include one or two with each meal. Add spinach or broccoli to a frittata for breakfast, or throw a handful of spinach or kale into your smoothie in the morning, for example. Snack on carrots and bell peppers dipped into hummus, and add green leafy lettuce, shredded carrot or cucumber slices to your sandwich at lunch. Any time you make soup, pasta sauce or stews, throw in some extra veggies. Add shredded veggies to meatloaf, and replace some ground meat with cooked dried beans the next time you make chili or other dishes made with ground meat. If you aren't a big fan of veggies, try pureeing them before you add them to these foods so they aren't as noticeable. You can even add carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin or zucchini to baked desserts.
You won't get any heart-health benefits from your veggies if you fry them in tons of oil or drown them in cheese sauce. The healthiest way to prepare veggies is to steam them, since boiling tends to leach nutrients out into the cooking water. Eat a variety of vegetables with different colors every day -- the different colors of fruits and vegetables are associated with different kinds of nutrients.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.