Let's say you are given the choice of a thick, juicy steak for dinner or a heaping plate of yellow squash, spinach and other brightly colored vegetables. What will it be?

If you're a hard-core meat eater, there's no contest. But if you don't like vegetables, the sad truth is that you are depriving yourself of proven health-promoting nutrients that help fight everything from heart disease to cancer.

Surprising: Even though nutritionists recommend that we eat three to five servings of vegetables each day, only 21% of men are meeting that goal. And the average woman isn't doing much better-just 31% consume that many veggies in their daily diets, and that's largely because women tend to eat more salads (mostly lettuce) than men do.

Why don't we eat more vegetables? Americans have traditionally been big meat eaters with vegetables thrown in only as side dishes. And some people just don't like the taste of vegetables. Fortunately, there's a way to conquer one's aversion to veggies-and gain the amazing nutritional benefits of these foods.

A Taste Explosion!

It's old news that boiling vegetables is not the way to go-too often, you end up with veggies that are limp, mushy and relatively tasteless.

What's a better choice? Steaming brings out the natural flavor of fresh vegetables and gives them the kind of crunch and texture that greatly increases their "mouth appeal."

But there's an even better alternative that gives vegetables the meaty texture that meat lovers crave. And by choosing ingredients carefully, you also can make the veggies more aromatic and flavorful. To make veggies more appealing, try...

Roasting or grilling. If you roast or grill your veggies, their natural sugars will caramelize, which kicks up the flavor. For roasting, in particular, it helps to toss them in an aromatic oil such as pumpkin oil (this oil provides a hearty, full flavor that appeals to most meat lovers).

Good choices for roasting or grilling: Carrots...leeks... onions... butternut squash... potatoes (whole or wedged)... peppers (sweet and hot)... turnips and other root vegetables... tomatoes, eggplant and other vine-grown veggies.

What to do: Mix two cups of coarsely chopped veggie chunks with one tablespoon of cooking oil, such as pumpkin oil. You can place veggies on cookie sheets or racks lined with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. For root vegetables, roast at 400°F for about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring at the halfway point. For the last five to 10 minutes, you can add more fragile vegetables, such as thin asparagus or cherry tomatoes.

If grilling, use a veggie grill basket or wrap vegetables in foil packets. Start with four to five minutes of direct heat. Add another four to five minutes if needed.

Spice It Up!

Herbs (preferably fresh to provide maximum flavor) and spices are great ways to not only make vegetables taste delicious but also add even more disease-fighting nutrients.

Flavorful, health-promoting herbs: Rosemary... sage... tarragon... and basil.

Best spices to try: Cinnamon... cumin... and peppercorns.

For the die-hard meat lover, you also can add a saucy, bold flavor to your veggies by using condiments that are commonly associated with meat-for example, try some Worcestershire sauce on mushrooms such as baby portabellas.

Other good condiments: Horseradish, Pickapeppa sauce or any hot sauce of choice.

Where To Shop

One of the best ways to boost your veggie quota is to shop at local food co-ops, farmers' markets or "pick-your-own" farms for a wide selection of in-season locally grown vegetables and fruit.

Resource: To find a farmers' market near you, check the USDA's website at www.usda localfooddirectories.com.

Irresistible Quesadillas

Black bean quesadillas are a great way to slip in veggies.

What to do: Spread refried black beans (or canned black beans that have been rinsed and drained) on a whole-wheat tortilla. Cover with corn (frozen, thawed and drained), chopped onion and/or green/red bell peppers... salsa... and shredded cheddar cheese, and top with another tortilla. Heat flat in a skillet until hot, turn over and heat again until the cheese has melted. Cut into wedges and serve with guacamole.

Helpful: Add a little chili powder or cumin to the beans to perk up the flavor!

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