Life Without Limits Podcast, Episode 8: Leveling Up Your Vegetable Skills

Life Without Limits Podcast, Episode 8: Leveling Up Your Vegetable Skills

There are endless diet ads and health claims to nutrition approaches such as Keto, Paleo, Atkins, etc. But, vegetables don’t get the love they deserve, especially for all the health benefits they bring.

That’s why we had One Drop health coach, Hanna, on the Life Without Limits podcast to talk about how to buy, cook, and order vegetables so they work for your budget, your taste buds, and your overall health.

Coach Hanna, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, provided guidance around topics such as whether it’s better to eat or drink your vegetables, if baking v. steaming them makes a difference, and how to make vegetables—even the bitter ones—a star of any meal’s show.

“I would think about caramelizing onions. It takes a little time, but when you caramelize onions and mix them with lefty greens—which are super good for you but sometimes a little bitter—it adds sweetness,” she explained. “If it’s still too bitter, you can grab some cherry tomatoes, cut them in half and mix them in. And if it’s still not working for you, add some parmesan cheese and toasted nuts.”

Learn more about how to level up your vegetable skills in this episode. 



Host: This is Life Without Limits, the One Drop podcast that gives you the tools, inspiration, and support to challenge your limits. We talk with experts across all areas of health to open up more possibilities for you. Lean on us as you step outside your comfort zone to work your way to better overall health and a life without limits.

Kim Constantinesco: Welcome back to the Life Without Limits podcast where we talk with health experts to give you the information and support that helps you as you work toward your health goals.

I’m your host Kim Constantinesco. On today’s show we have Hanna, a dedicated One Drop coach who is also a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist. She is ready to talk about all things vegetables and shine the light on how we can level up our vegetable game. Hanna, thanks for coming on the show today.

Hanna: Hi, Kim. Thanks.

Kim Constantinesco: So, can we start off by talking about why you decided to become a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist?

Hanna: Yes. So, I love food. That’s the thing. I’ve always loved food, I’ve always worked in food, sold olive oil, worked at the farmers market, restaurant work, catering work, at the cooking school. So, it made sense to go the registered dietitian route, plus you do a lot of psychology as a registered dietitian, which I also like. I think people are super-interesting.

Then when we were in school, we’d go through every disease state and I learned that Type 2 diabetes is really prevalent: 1 out of every 10 people in the US as of 2020 have Type 2 diabetes and that just really knocked me on my behind.

And then I learned that what you eat can make such a big difference if you have Type 2 or Type 1 diabetes, especially vegetables, of course. And then found a great mentor named (Theresa Garnero) and I got to where I am now.

Kim Constantinesco: Well, it sounds like it was very natural for you and I know one of your primary interests in your personal life is cooking and cooking specifically with vegetables is a big passion of yours. Why do you enjoy it so much?

Hanna: Oh, yes, it definitely is. Well, as compared to something like baking or cooking chicken where there’s really specific directions you have to follow, vegetables are super-flexible. So, once you learn the basic structure of a recipe, you can usually alter it next time and that makes things a little bit more creative. But it also on an everyday practical perspective, it means you can cook on the fly.

Kim Constantinesco: Let’s jump into vegetables and as a society we’re quick to label diets, whether it’s keto or paleo or low carb, and we’re quick to label certain foods as “super foods.” But vegetables as a food group don’t get the love they deserve, in my opinion. Why do you think that is?

Hanna: {Laughter} I totally agree with you, Kim. That was definitely one of the motivations for doing this podcast. Not a lot of marketing happening in vegetables. I mean, when was the last time that you opened a magazine and you saw an attractive celebrity eating a plate of broccoli? It doesn’t really happen that much, but you’ve probably seen advertisements for soda and candy and that’s probably related to the fact that there’s more profit in those types of foods.

But I’m here to just give the vegetables the love that they deserve. So, thanks for having me on.

Kim Constantinesco: Absolutely. And why do they deserve that love? Are all vegetables good for us?

Hanna: Great question. In short, all vegetables are good for you, they all have something to offer. There are thousands upon thousands of different nutrients in each one, so if you just eat more it will kind of work itself out.

Now, there’s a couple of exceptions: one, the potato. I know the potato is very beloved and I’m not trying to knock the potato, but that I would count more as a starch.

In terms of what are some extra nutrient-dense vegetables? The darker in color the better, so leafy greens that are green or purple, those have some extra nutrition punch.

Kim Constantinesco: From the time we’re kids we’re likely told about the benefits of vegetables, like you just explained, Hanna, and that we have to eat them, yet it seems like there are so many barriers to people eating the recommended serving of vegetables each day. So, I would love to talk about some of those barriers with you and how to overcome them.

I’d love to start off by talking about the fact that vegetables are sometimes perceived to be expensive. Is this true and what are some strategies to make vegetables affordable?

Hanna: Yes. Well, I say it’s all relative. So, if you compare vegetables to a starch like rice or pasta, they’re going to be more expensive. If you compare vegetables to animal protein like fish, chicken, beef, they’re less expensive.

And if you do want to spend a little bit less money on vegetables, I strongly recommend going the frozen route. And sometimes frozen vegetables can actually be even better quality because when they are picked they get frozen right away.

So, frozen okra is a great one to keep on hand; you can stir that into soups. Maybe some frozen edamame or soybeans, you can do a last-minute snack. And then there are some vegetables that just tend to be less expensive and those are the ones that are available year-round.

So, for example, broccoli, bok choy, ginger, garlic, onion, all of those are a little bit less expensive and then the more illustrious ones like artichoke and asparagus tend to cost a little bit more because they’re not available for a very long time during the year. But there’s definitely ways to make it work.

Kim Constantinesco: That’s great to know. So, let’s say you buy them but you forget to make them and maybe they go bad. So, what’s a way to overcome that?

Hanna: Oh, yes. That happens. We’re all human. So, I want to talk about how much vegetable to eat and the best way to work out the amount of vegetable to eat is to take your plate and divide it into two and make half of that filled with vegetables.

So, if you take away anything from this podcast it’s that strategy; make your meals half vegetables. So, if you keep that in your brain and then you’re making dinners, you’re making your rice, you’re making your chicken and then you go, “Wait a minute. What else is going to be on my plate?” you’re going to go into your fridge, you’re going to see that you have some bell peppers, that you have something lying around and you’re going to cook it up.

Another thing to keep in mind in terms of making the vegetables last longer is where you’re actually getting your vegetables from. So, for example, if you are able to get to a farmers market, the vegetables at the farmers market were probably picked yesterday or the day before. If you get your vegetables from a big grocery store, they probably were picked more like two or so weeks ago and have been through a couple of different vendors.

If you’re listening to this and you’re like, “I can’t get to a farmers market,” that totally happens because they’re usually only once a week. You can think about doing something called a CSA which stands for community supported agriculture and basically what it is it’s a farm puts together a box of different vegetables and they’ll usually give you some recipes and maybe they deliver to your house or may you pick it up, but it’s a great way to get super-fresh stuff and if you have really fresh stuff then it will last longer.

And if you do want to look up a CSA, just type CSA and your zip code into Google and you’ll find one pretty easily.

Kim Constantinesco: Those are some great tips, but let’s say whether it’s from a grocery store, a farmers market, or a CSA, let’s say you or someone you know just doesn’t like most vegetables. Is there a way to make consuming them more enjoyable in terms of cooking techniques?

Hanna: Great question. This is a big one. So, maybe a person says, “When I was 10, I had boiled cauliflower and I didn’t like it.” And then they get in their head that the cauliflower is bad, but maybe it’s just time to try a different way to eat the cauliflower. Maybe roast it this time.

The reality is it’s all about trying new things. This morning—because this is something I do for fun—I just made a list of vegetables and I came up with 40 different types. The thing is you can’t like what you’re not exposed to. So, I would just recommend going back in there.

But let’s say you do that and then the person comes back or you come and you say, “No, no, no. I still – I don’t like vegetables.” Well, it’s probably related to the fact that a lot of vegetables have a very bitter flavor to them. This is something consistent in vegetables. That bitter flavor, by the way, is part of what makes vegetables so good for you.

So, what I would think about in that case is, like you said, looking at these different cooking techniques to balance out the bitter. So, number one, salt. Salt makes vegetables taste good. If you’re thinking about blood pressure, you’re worried about blood pressure, there is a lot of research showing that vegetables can lower your blood pressure; instead, adding salt is perfectly fine.

But on an individual basis if you’re worried about that, make sure to just check your blood sugar before and after eating your roasted carrots with some coarse salt.

Number two, I would think about really learning the technique of caramelizing onions. It takes a little bit of time but what it does when you caramelize onions, let’s say you want to make a pile of those leafy greens, remember, that are super good for you, so dandelion greens or chard. So, caramelize those onions and it’s going to bring out the sweetness and then you add your leafy greens.

And then to finish, if it’s still too bitter, you can grab some cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, mix those in. And then if it’s still not working for you, add some parmesan cheese. And if it’s still not working for you, add some toasted nuts. You can’t go wrong by toasting nuts and adding them to the top of any vegetable dish.

Or you can try a different cooking fat like coconut oil instead of olive oil; it’s a little bit more sweet. A great weeknight dish to get under your belt is just doing a big pot of a coconut vegetable curry. And by the way, if you learn how to make a coconut vegetable curry, it’s also a very forgiving dish.

So, if you do end up forgetting about all of these vegetables, you open our bridge, and oh my goodness, they really need to be eaten up, make a coconut vegetable curry.

And then lastly, I would really get to know citrus, like lime juice and lemon juice. I always have lemons and limes on my grocery list and, hey, if you know somebody with a lemon or lime tree, be their friend or get your tree going.

But, so, for example, I’m going to do a quick recipe for this kale salad that I’ve been making for years that even children like. So, I figure if they like it I figure it passes the litmus test. It’s going to involve the juice of one lemon, a very finely minced garlic clove, some olive oil, some parmesan cheese, of course pepper and salt and a bunch of kale.

So, grab your salad bowl. If I’m making a homemade dressing, I always make the dressing in the bowl that I’m going to eat the salad in because less dishes; any opportunity for less dishes I will take. So, throw in your garlic clove that you’ve minced up really well and then juice that lemon right on top and that lemon juice is going to break down the garlic.

Then grab your olive oil. I don’t ever measure on this; just add a couple of glugs. And then sprinkle some pepper and salt and a couple of tablespoons of that parmesan cheese. Now grab your kale and forget the knife, I’m just going to tear off the leaves with my hands; I don’t keep the stems, and I mix it up.
So, citrus. Citrus is your friend. After you roast some vegetables, put some lemon juice on top. It always kind of works out.

Kim Constantinesco: Well, my mouth is watering over here, Hanna. You just made me really, really hungry and you just described so many creative ways to work with vegetables. But let’s say, for example, your family doesn’t like vegetables. Is there, aside from some creative ways to cook it, is there a way that we can talk about veggies more positively so those people that you know might be willing to try them?

Hannah: Good question. Yes. So, first you want to lead by example. If you want to feed your child some broccoli or some green beans, you want to eat the broccoli and the green beans, too. But also, keep it mellow; don’t push it on them.

And there’s a great resource for this subject because it’s a very big subject teaching your kids how to just eat and I recommend looking up Ellyn Satter, she’s a fantastic dietitian and therapist. It’s Ellyn with a Y and then S-A-T-T-E-R. She has some great strategies.

Kim Constantinesco: Excellent. And so, let’s talk about one final barrier that I want to bring up: many people think that it’s too time consuming to prepare vegetables. What can be done in this case?

Hanna: Oh, yes. No, that is a real thing. So, there’s washing, there’s chopping. So, what I try to do is I try to find more dishes that only have one or two ingredients and don’t require chopping.

For example, a quick mushroom appetizer. I love mushrooms: they’re really filling, they’ve got lots of nutrition. So, on my shopping list I always have a small mushroom cremini or buttons or shiitake. Whatever mushroom you see, it will work.

So, if I’m starting to make dinner, it’s been a crazy day and I’m hungry and I have a lot going on, what I’m going to do is I’m going to grab the heaviest pan in my kitchen, I’m going to turn it on and I’m going to put in a slice of butter and then I’m going to toss in the mushrooms whole. Maybe get rid of the stems which you can do with your hands, and I’m just going to let them cook. I’m not going to stir them too much.

So, if something – when I used to volunteer at the cooking school I noticed that people would often stir constantly. But in this particular dish what you want is you want a little bit of crispiness on the mushrooms and so this is the perfect, get-distracted, not-too-fussy kind of a dish.

And I’m going to cook those for maybe 10 to 12 minutes total and then I’m going to finish them with some flaky sea salt because that sea salt’s going to bring out that delicious flavor and add some nice texture on my tongue.
And another thing, if you are trying to get a crisp out of a vegetable in a sauté pan, always add the salt at the end. So, what salt does is salt pulls the water out of things. So, wait until the end on that one.

Another thing you can do is keep prewashed spinach on your shopping list; you can do a million things with it, mix it into soups, whatever.

And then lastly I would just go for vegetables that don’t require peeling. So, remember I was saying a lot of vegetable preparation comes down to personal preference. So, for example, cucumbers, I always get the type like Persian or English that have a really thin skin. Then I don’t need to peel them. And I chop them up real thin. I love to keep cucumbers on hand because they can be eaten super-simple with just some salt and pepper or you can chop them up and add your favorite vinegar, some nice olive oil.

If you have some herbs lying around like mint or parsley or cilantro, that will work but you certainly don’t need to add all of these things. So, they’re super-duper flexible.

Kim Constantinesco: Vegetables made simple and you’ve heard it here first. You don’t necessarily need to stir a lot when it comes to mushrooms. Thanks for that tip, Hanna.

Let’s talk more about nutritional punch when it comes to vegetables. Does steaming them versus baking them make a difference?

Hanna: Really you should just do whatever one you like. The difference is minimal.

Kim Constantinesco: Okay, great. Talk about the microwave. What happens to nutrients in vegetables when things are microwaved.

Hanna: Yes, this a big one. So, microwaves are totally about personal preference and microwaves do not compromise the nutrients in the vegetables whatsoever. If you’re trying to keep things super-duper simple, which I often try to keep things simple in my life, get to know your microwave. You can do last-minute stuff, not make too many dishes, it doesn’t take too much time. So, I am very pro-microwave, but once again totally personal preference. Some people don’t like to use them.

Kim Constantinesco: Great to know. And then we see from New York City to California there are all kinds of juice bars, smoothie places. Talk about eating versus drinking your vegetables.

Hanna: Oh, yes. That definitely is a big trend. So, I will strongly recommend eating your vegetables as opposed to drinking them. What happens when you drink your vegetable or even your fruit is it’s going to increase blood sugar whether or not you have diabetes.

So, eat them instead of drinking them. And if you are already drinking your vegetables and you want to check this out, test your blood sugar before and after having it.

And there’s one more detail I want to add is that if you are taking meal-time insulin and you want to know which vegetables are going to have more or less of an impact on your blood sugar, raw vegetables tend to have a lower impact. So, raw broccoli versus a cooked broccoli is going to be a different outcome.

Kim Constantinesco: So, you’ve just talked a lot about how to prepare vegetables at home, how to incorporate them more into your life, but what about when you’re going out to eat or ordering takeout? What are some dishes or some cuisines that typically have a lot of vegetables in them?

Hanna: Oh, yes. Great question. Cuisines that are near the equator because you need sun to make vegetables grow. And if you are going out to eat, a little heads up, you’re probably going to have to look a little bit harder to find the vegetable dishes on the back.

So, turn the menu over and check out the side dishes. Maybe you’ll see some Brussels sprouts with some feta and mint or maybe you’ll see some baby bok choy cooked in a ginger chicken broth. Or if you’re going to a breakfast place you can always ask if they’re willing to grill up some spinach or some mushrooms for you or maybe give you some tomato slices and then you can just sprinkle some salt and pepper on top.

Or you might end up going to a restaurant that just really doesn’t have vegetables. This is absolutely going to happen and that’s why it’s always a great idea to keep the things that can be eaten raw on hand, like a whole bell pepper or the jicama or the cucumber or the celery. There’s always a workaround.

Kim Constantinesco: So, is there anything else you’d like to share here about the power of vegetables and what they can do for your overall health? Basically, what are the takeaways you’d like to leave us with?

Hanna: Really, truly, eat what you like. It’s all – so, I gave you some ideas of what I like to eat, but it’s really about what you like to eat and that might take some experimenting and eat what you’re willing to make. It doesn’t need to be fancy but it absolutely can be fancy if you like doing things up that way.

And there’s so many health benefits with vegetables: they can lower your LDL cholesterol, they can help you with blood pressure, for weight management a great thing to do is increase vegetable intake; that will help a lot. So, just go for it. Be creative, be wild, try it.

Kim Constantinesco: You’ve given us some great ideas and so I do want to ask one more question related to your personal preference and I’m going to put you on the spot and shine the light on your favorite vegetable.
So, let’s say you could only eat one vegetable for the rest of your life. What would it be and how would you prepare it?

Hanna: Good one. No question, it’s going to be purple cabbage. Purple cabbage is great raw, it’s great cooked, it’s available in pretty much every grocery store, it’s pretty inexpensive, it lasts forever in the fridge.

But from a marketing perspective, let’s get into that. It’s a beautiful vegetable, you cut that open, oh, man, you’re going to take some really nice photos. And in terms of what I like to do with it, I like to slice it up and put it on a big cookie sheet, cover it with olive oil and mix it up with my hands and some salt and then I put the oven on to 400, put that cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes or once it starts to brown a little bit then I know it’s done.
And once again, how do you know when something’s done? It’s done when you think it’s done. You are the decision maker.

And as far as raw stuff you can do with cabbage, there’s a great recipe if you are in our employer program and you got our frist issue of the quarterly magazine, Life Without Limits, there’s a great recipe for slaw on [Page] 11.

And lastly, the cool thing about purple cabbage is you can do science with it. If you add a little bit of acid to purple cabbage like lemon juice or lime juice, it’s going to turn more red. And then if you add a base to it like tap water, it’s going to turn more blue. So, if you have kids or you just think that’s neat, then, hey, it does it all.

Kim Constantinesco: How interesting. Well, Hanna, thanks so much for coming on the show. I have to say you’re probably one of the best advocates for vegetables and I hope to have you back again real soon to maybe do another episode on vegetables or another food group.

Hanna: Thank you so much for having me, Kim. It’s been a lot of fun.
Kim Constantinesco: Keep it here for more episodes of Life Without Limits as we help you take charge of your health. We’re in this together.


Host: Thank you for listening to Life Without Limits. If you like this episode, tell a friend. We’re here to help you take back your time, power, and life so you can live to your fullest potential.


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Kim Constantinesco
May 11, 2021

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