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posted: 9/5/2011 1:00 AM

Vegetables simply good for you

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Eating a variety of fresh foods is the first step in ensuring your body is getting sufficient nutrients from your diet. This is especially true with vegetables.

Remember all the times we were told as a kid to eat our vegetables? We know they're good for us, but are vegetables really that important? If vegetables are neglected and constantly replaced with other less nutritious foods, your body will be missing out on many valuable nutrients and chances are you'll be consuming too many calories. Both of these could lead to diminished health and weight gain. Get your vegetable intake back on track by practicing the following tips.

Use a blender. Smoothies are a great way to make a quick breakfast or snack. A well-blended fruit and vegetable smoothie tastes great and is even better for you. Try a combination of one medium carrot, one cup baby spinach, cup blueberries, half a banana, a few ice cubes and water. Pair that with a couple eggs and you have a great breakfast that will take you much further than a bowl of cereal or breakfast bar will.

Include a vegetable in at least one of your daily snacks. Cherry tomatoes, snow peas, baby carrots, celery and peppers are a great grab-and-go snack that add nutrients without adding a lot of calories. Pair them up with some hummus, peanut butter or a few cheese cubes to add more flavor.

Have a side salad with your lunch. Rather than having a fried appetizer or bread, try eating a fresh salad with a variety of vegetables as a healthy alternative. Cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, zucchini, onions, arugula and romaine taste great in a fresh salad. Be aware of the dressing and stick with something simple, such as olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Choose vegetables rather than having a starch like rice or potatoes. Two servings of vegetables along with a quality protein source is a well-balanced meal that doesn't load you down with calories at the end of the day when you're least active. When choosing your two vegetables, choose two different colors -- such as broccoli and squash. The more color variety, the better.

Learn how to cook and get creative. It's amazing how many great dishes include vegetables, you just have to take the time and learn the skills to create healthy options. Foods such as meatloaf, burgers, meatballs and casseroles can have vegetables like grated zucchini, chopped spinach or diced peppers baked right into them. Baking, grilling or cooking vegetables can really bring out the natural flavor and make for a great meal. For example, asparagus grilled on a cedar plank with a bit of olive oil and salt/pepper will really wake up your taste buds.

So start adding more vegetables to your daily diet and know that you're one step closer to taking control of your health.

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• Joshua Steckler and Mark Trapp are co-owners of Push Fitness, a personal training studio in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning and nutrition. Contact them at