The Veggie Factor Adding the right amount to your diet single-handedly fights stroke, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. We make it easy. By Cynthia Sass, R.D., Prevention 1 | 2 | Next > Your grandma said it best: "Eat your veggies." This one simple rule is the most powerful and important way to fight aging, according to research from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. But to get the maximum anti-aging protection and disease prevention, you need to not only eat the right number of servings per week, but also include variety, and lots of it. More on this in Health & Fitness That's the main message behind an often overlooked but critical recommendation within the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines report: the ideal "vegetable schedule." This new research reveals that eating about 14 cups of vegetables per week, from a wide range of veggie groups, raises blood levels of many protective antioxidants. In addition to their well-documented ability to fight and reduce the risk of disease, antioxidants may help preserve your long-term memory and learning capabilities, even as you get older. Numerous studies also link a higher veggie intake to a reduced risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. That's why the strongest recommendation from the USDA's report is a greater consumption of a wide variety of vegetables—advice that's mirrored by every major health organization, including the American Heart Association, American Institute for Cancer Research, and American Diabetes Association. Convinced, but still struggling to work all this produce into your real-life diet? Then follow our three-step plan, which includes a breakdown of the five essential veggie "groups," a cheat sheet for quick reference, and seven days of actual meals. You'll be fulfilling your 14-cup quota in no time. Easy ways to sneak in veggies Cut 100 Calories Easily The Healthiest Foods In the Supermarket Balance Your Meals to Lose Weight Swap noodle soup for bean or lentil Use salsa or marinara sauce for dipping Serve chicken or fish over a bed of corn or wilted greens instead of rice Add mashed beans or chopped mushrooms to lean ground beef or turkey Trade half your pasta portion for chopped veggies The ideal veggie schedule Your goal: 14 cups a week That might seem like a lot, but it's easier than it sounds. Researchers have divided the entire vegetable spectrum into five "groups" (yes, beans are a veggie!) and broken down your exact weekly needs. Dark greens You need: 2 cups per week Spinach; broccoli; romaine; mesclun; collard, turnip and mustard greens Payoff: Better lung health, stronger bones, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation and a healthier brain. Orange vegetables You need: 1 ½ cups per week Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin Payoff: Better vision, blood sugar control, and lung health; high in cancer-fighting carotenoids. Beans You need: 2½ cups per week Pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, edamame, chickpeas, tofu Payoff: Lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, breast and colon cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Starchy vegetables You need: 2½ cups per week White potatoes, corn, green peas Payoff: The nutrients in this group range from vitamins A, C, B6, and folate to potassium and magnesium, and each vegetable is rich in unique antioxidants, such as cancer-fighting isoflavones in peas and blood pressure– lowering kukoamines in potatoes. Wildcard You need: 5½ cups per week Artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, wax beans, zucchini Payoff: This eclectic group ensures a broad spectrum of nutrients and antioxidants that protect every system in your body, including beta-carotene in bell peppers and quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory, in onions. One week at a glance Monday Lunch Tuesday 1 c greens Wednesday 1/2 c orange veggies Dinner 3/4 c starchy veggies 1/2 c beans Thursday 1 c greens & 1/2 c beans 1 1/2 c wildcard Friday 1c wildcard 1c beans 3/4 c starchy veggies Saturday 1 c wildcard Sunday 1c wildcard 1 c orange veggies 1 c starchy veggies & 1 c wildcard 1/2 c beans Eat like this! Here are 14 meals that incorporate all five vegetable groups into a perfect 7-day veggie "schedule." Next to every vegetable, look for its category so you can make substitutions. Once you get the hang of it, adding more vegetables to your meals will be a breeze. Salmon Spinach Salad Toss 1 c baby spinach (dark greens) with 1 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. Top with 3 oz drained canned wild salmon, ½ c pink grapefruit wedges, and 1 Tbsp chopped walnuts. 230 cal, 19 g pro, 16 g carb, 3 g fiber, 10 g fat, 4 g sat fat,* 37 mg chol, 585 mg sodium Smoky Turkey Sandwich Spread 1 tsp spicy mustard onto a toasted whole grain English muffin. Fill with 2 oz lean smoked deli turkey and ½ c sliced apples. Pair with ½ c baby carrots (orange vegetables) and ¼ c garlic hummus for dipping. 380 cal, 22 g pro, 57 g carb, 8 g fiber, 8 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 20 mg chol, 1,078 mg sodium** Black Bean Taco Salad Combine ½ c rinsed and drained canned black beans (beans) with 1 Tbsp lime juice, 2 tsp olive oil, and 1 tsp chopped cilantro. Top 1 c torn romaine (dark greens) with beans, 2 Tbsp reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, and ¼ c sliced avocado. 292 cal, 12 g pro, 27 g carb, 11 g fiber, 18 g fat, 4 g sat fat,* 10 mg chol, 589 mg sodium Zesty Roast Beef Wrap Spread a whole wheat wrap with 2 Tbsp plain fat-free Greek-style yogurt, ½ tsp horseradish, and 1 tsp chopped chives. Fill with 2 oz lean roast beef. Serve with 1 c sliced red bell pepper (wildcard) and ¼ c garlic hummus for dipping. 349 cal, 24 g pro, 39 g carb, 8 g fiber, 11 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 26 mg chol, 880 mg sodium** Shrimp & Artichoke Salad Chop 4 lg cooked shrimp and combine with 1 Tbsp mayo, 1 tsp lemon juice, and ¼ tsp black pepper. Fold in 1 c frozen and thawed quartered artichoke hearts (wildcard). Serve with 4 whole grain lower-sodium crackers. 315 cal, 13 g pro, 30 g carb, 14 g fiber, 17 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 48 mg chol, 296 mg sodium Chicken Pasta Salad Slice 1 c grape tomatoes (wildcard). Combine with ½ c cooked and chilled whole grain penne, 3 oz chopped grilled chicken breast, 3 sliced fresh basil leaves, and 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil. 395 cal, 31 g pro, 27 g carb, 3 g fiber, 18 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 72 mg chol, 70 mg sodium Bunless Turkey Burger Mix 4 oz raw extra-lean ground turkey with ½ c rinsed, drained, and mashed canned kidney beans (beans); 1 Tbsp fresh parsley; ¼ tsp each onion and garlic powder; and 1/8 tsp chili powder. Form into patty and grill or cook on stovetop. Serve burger on a bed of ½ c cooked brown rice. 343 cal, 38 g pro, 44 g carb, 10 g fiber, 3 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 45 mg chol, 509 mg sodium Cajun Chicken Grill 3 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast seasoned with a mixture of 1 Tbsp olive oil, ¼ tsp black pepper, and 1/8 tsp each cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Serve on a bed of ¾ c corn (starchy vegetables). 316 cal, 24 g pro, 23 g carb, 3 g fiber, 16 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 49 mg chol, 73 mg sodium Cranberry Edamame Wild Rice Salad In large bowl, combine 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar, 2 tsp olive oil, and ¼ tsp black pepper. Toss with ½ c cooked wild rice, ½ c fresh or frozen and thawed shelled edamame (beans), 2 Tbsp fruit juice-sweetened dried cranberries, and 2 Tbsp chopped walnuts. Serve at room temperature. 405 cal, 14 g pro, 41 g carb, 7 g fiber, 22 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 34 mg sodium California Stir-Fry Combine 2 Tbsp 100-percent orange juice with 1 Tbsp white vinegar, 1 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1 tsp soy sauce. Set aside. Sauté ½ c chopped onions (wildcard) in 1 Tbsp peanut oil until translucent. Add ½ c each sliced mushrooms and asparagus pieces (wildcard) with ginger sauce. Continue stir-frying 3 to 5 minutes until crisptender. Add ¼ c mandarin orange sections and 1 Tbsp slivered almonds. Serve with ½ c cooked brown rice. 354 cal, 8 g pro, 43 g carb, 6 g fiber, 18 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 450 mg sodium Southwest Chickpea and Tuna Salad Combine 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp sunflower oil, and 1 tsp minced garlic. Add 1 c rinsed and drained canned low-sodium chickpeas (beans) and 3 oz rinsed and drained chunk light tuna in water. 414 cal, 37 g pro, 48 g carb, 10 g fiber, 7 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 53 mg chol, 407 mg sodium Green Peas Supreme Toss ½ c cooked whole-wheat linguine with 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 oz chopped Canadian bacon, and ¾ c frozen and thawed green peas (starchy vegetables). Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp Parmesan. 425 cal, 24 g pro, 34 g carb, 7 g fiber, 22 g fat, 5 g sat fat,* 36 mg chol, 995 mg sodium** Stuffed Sweet Potato Bake or microwave 1 medium (6 oz) sweet potato (orange vegetables). Split potato and scoop out inside, leaving skin intact. In small bowl, whip potato with 3 tbsp 1 percent milk, 2 Tbsp blue cheese, 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, 1 ½ tsp chopped fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp dried), and ½ tsp minced garlic. Stuff skin with mixture and serve. 369 cal, 9 g pro, 47 g carb, 7 g fiber, 16 g fat, 4 g sat fat,* 15 mg chol, 315 mg sodium Prosciutto Dill Potato Salad Combine ¼ c fat-free plain yogurt with 1 Tbsp fresh dill and 1 tsp Dijon. Add 1 diced hard-boiled egg, 1 c cooked and cubed red potatoes (starchy vegetables), 1 c cauliflower (wildcard), and 1 oz prosciutto. 339 cal, 25 g pro, 40 g carb, 5 g fiber, 8 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 234 mg chol, 1,007 mg sodium** *Strive to limit your saturated fat intake to less than 18 g per day. **Strive to limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day.