Stop Hating Vegetables in Five Steps

I have conversations about plant-based diets every single day. Most people I chat with recognize the value of moving to a diet that includes a higher concentration of nutrient-rich plant foods. Many express a desire or even a resolve to eat more fruits and vegetables, and then the discussion moves on to which foods to try, easy vegan recipes, etc.

But there's one type of person who puts up a roadblock that seems seems to occlude all further suggestions or discussions: the vegetable hater.

"That sounds healthy, but I could never do it because I hate vegetables."

These people may be so extreme as to take the tomato and iceberg lettuce out of their hamburger buns. They may get a fraction of a serving of vegetables from time to time in the form of ketchup or fried potatoes, but that's about it. They will often make jokes about how they won't touch any food that has any green in it whatsoever. (Their bodies are not laughing.) They may tolerate or even like some fruit.

These people are tough, but they can make progress if they have even the slightest willingness to increase their health. Share these five steps to recovering from vege-phobia with the vegetable haters you care about.

1. Face Your Vegetable Loathing Head-On
The first step in most 12-step programs is to admit you have a problem. If you're to chip away at your resistance to eating the most nutritious foods on the planet, you will have to start in a similar way. Ask yourself why you hate vegetables, and write down your answers. Then try to look at your answers objectively, and come up with strong rebuttals for each. If you write, for example, "I don't like the flavor of vegetables," your rebuttal may be something like, "There are many vegetables I haven't tried, so I can't be sure I don't like the flavor of all vegetables." If one of your answers is "My mom forced me to eat vegetables when I was a kid," your rebuttal might be "I'm an adult now and it's time for me to start making dietary choices that will promote my long-term health." Once you have nullified all your objections to vegetables, it will be possible to adopt the attitude of openness that will allow you to change your outlook on vegetables.

2. "Vegucate" Yourself
"If you open up your mind, something might fall in." I can't remember where I first heard this, but I like it. In learning to love vegetables, you can take this adage one step further by purposely filling your newly opened mind with knowledge about vegetables that affirms their value. If you read up on broccoli, you'll find that it's rich in both vitamin A and K, and that together these vitamins help remedy vitamin D deficiency, a problem that is epidemic in the US and results in depression, fatigue, and increased incidence of cancer. Broccoli also helps lower cholesterol. The high level of beta carotene in carrots acts as an anti-oxidant, which prevents cell damage, therefore slowing the aging process. Eating carrots also promotes beautiful, healthy skin; it prevents acne, dry skin, and uneven skin tone. I recommend buying Dr. Fuhrman's Nutritarian Handbook as a resource packed with specific information on food's role in disease prevention, plus nutritional ratings for all types of vegetables, fruits, and other foods. This research can help you stop thinking of food as a way to get high and start thinking of it as a way to get well.

3. Move Away from Processed Foods
When people don't eat vegetables at all, it leaves big gaping holes in their diets that are often filled with processed and packaged foods. These processed foods usually have high concentrations of sugar, salt, and fat; they're literally lab-engineered to mesmerize your taste buds and bring your "yum" threshold to a level that natural foods can't touch. Take Denny's "Grand Slamwich," for example. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Nutrition Action newsletter, the "breakfast" sandwich contains 1,320 calories and two days' worth of sodium and saturated fat thanks to its processed meats and cheese. That's without the oily hash browns it comes with. If you regularly eat foods like this, there is no way that a simple vegetable can compete. By turning to whole foods and ones with short ingredients lists and cutting sodium, sugar, and fat, you can reset your taste buds so that they'll be more sensitive to the subtle and delicious flavors of vegetables.

4. Mix Up Your Flavors
If your idea of incorporating vegetables in your diet is plopping a heap of steamed spinach onto the corner of your plate, no wonder you hate them. Even vegetable lovers would agree that that's a pretty lame way to eat your vegetables. Instead, try making salads that include a smorgasbord of different vegetables, plus chopped fresh and dried fruit, seeds, and nuts. Make vegetable soups from scratch, and throw in whole wheat pasta or brown rice. Make your own kale chips. Buy -- and use -- a juicer. And experiment with spice, advises Nick Valencia, a local plant-based health coach. "Learn about herbs and spices, smell and taste different varieties, and learn what flavors you like so you can start incorporating these natural flavors into your foods." Adding fresh basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary or mint to a salad or stir fry can make a huge flavor impact. Curries, different varieties of pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and countless other spices can all enhance the flavor of a vegetable dish. And don't underestimate the pungent punches that garlic, ginger, and onions can pack.

5. Seek Support
So you've followed steps 1 through 4 and you've successfully stopped hating vegetables. Hell, you've even eaten a few servings. Good job, but now's not the time to quit. Just like anyone recovering from a compulsive and negative behavior, you're going to need support to make your new veggie-loving lifestyle stick - and to continue to make progress toward an increasingly plant-based diet. If you know healthy people who consistently eat a plant-rich diet, call them to talk about organic farmers' markets, veg-friendly restaurants, and new recipes. If you don't, check out online communities or approach a professional like Nick Valencia to create a long term plant-based nutrition plan. Without reinforcement, you're likely to slip into your old, vegetable-bereft ways, at the risk of your good health.

Did you teach yourself to love vegetables? Please tell us about it in the comments section below. 

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.