Why we eat vegetables. Part One
(Or why we should eat vegetables but because we want to eliminate shame and guilt from this next 100 days we won’t say should!)
The cornerstone of the Nature RX100 Nutrition plan is vegetables – lots and lots of veggies, all varieties of veggies, and then even more veggies. Why? Because they are nutrient dense in almost every way you can define nutrients and low in calories and so are a critical part of the nutrition plan for people on a path toward greater wellness and health.
Likely all of us experienced as a child being commanded to eat our vegetables when it was the last thing we wanted to do. Perhaps it was a Mom, Dad or Grandmother. Perhaps all three. All of us can recount times we enlisted help from the dog or our napkins to make those vegetables disappear anywhere except down our throats. Perhaps as adults, some of us still are reluctant to eat our veggies unless they are well dressed, smothered in sauce or deep-fried. I also suspect some of you will never eat some vegetables prepared certain ways – I will never eat steamed (frozen) broccoli ever again. John does not eat celery.
We are not going to command you to eat your vegetables and threaten dire consequences for what the morning will bring but we will tell you why they are so nutritious for us. We will encourage you to try new vegetables and new ways of preparing them so they become a delicious cornerstone of your diet. Hopefully we will also offer delicious, simple ways to prepare them so you look forward to eating your veggies.
Just like your parents told you as a kid, veggies do contain vitamins. A vitamin, as defined by Wikipedia, is “an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts”. In other words, we need them but we can’t make them ourselves and must obtain them from our food. They can be hormone-like in function, anti-oxidants, or cofactors in enzymatic reactions. We can buy vitamins pills as supplements but the jury is still out on whether that is as effective as getting vitamins from our food, despite the business boom that suggests otherwise. Remember plants are organisms too and are producing these compounds for very functional reasons, not just for our consumption. If what plants are making works for them, maybe it will work well for us too.
Veggies contain minerals and minerals, like vitamins, are essential to our health: Calcium for our bones and muscles, Magnesium for proper enzyme function for starters, Iron for effective oxygen transportation to all our cells. Then there is selenium, copper, manganese, zinc – all helping to keep our cells and systems running at their optimum. Like vitamins, we can’t make minerals and only our diets will provide these elements. Vegetables are one great source for dietary minerals.
Veggies also contain a category of compounds called phytonutrients. Examples would be flavanoids and antioxidants; Lycopene and resveratrol are likely specific examples you have heard about recently. Over 8000 phytonutrients have been identified although the exact function of all of them has not yet been defined. Phytonutrients are not macronutrients like protein or fiber. They are secondary metabolites produced by plants (vegetables and fruit!) and likely, play a critical role in maintaining health and wellness that only time and research will further reveal.
In 1990, the World Health Organization recommended a minimum daily intake of 400 gram of fruits and vegetables. This was translated to 5-a day campaigns for those of us adverse to the metric system. People who ate at least 400g of fruit and vegetables a day (not including the starchy vegetables like potato and cassava) seemed to suffer less from cardiovascular disease and (some) cancers. Note that this is not a cause and effect proof that vegetables prevent cancer and heart disease, just a strong association.
A study in England, made possible by their socialized health system, showed a “robust” inverse association between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality. The more vegetables and fruit eaten, the more benefit seen and the longer people lived (up to 7 portions was tracked). More evidence to suggest that the more vegetables and fruit we eat, the healthier we will be.
None of this is news to us – we have been told to eat our vegetables since we were kids. What I find interesting is that we are only just beginning to understand the wealth of specific health benefits vegetables provide. It isn’t just the fiber or the low calorie density or even the vitamins. Vegetables are chock-full of nutrients, some yet to be chemically identified or their functions understood. So eat your vegetables – as many varieties as you can and as many servings that you enjoy. Maybe try a new vegetable every month. If you are on the Nature Rx100 plan, aim for at least two thirds of your food consumption by volume to be vegetables. Most important, eat them because they taste good.
To help you enjoy a diverse variety of vegetables, here is a recipe that includes a number of vegetable families.
Black Bean & Corn Salad: Celebrating Vegetables
- 1 bag frozen corn, thawed briefly
- 2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
- 1 small box Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- Red onion (⅓ of large onion), diced
- Red cabbage (¼ of medium head), diced
- 2 bunches cilantro, leaves crudely chopped
- Juice from 2 limes
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, diced
- 1 T honey or other sweetener of choice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt & pepper to taste
- ¼ cup olive oil
Combine lime juice, olive oil, honey, chipotle pepper, garlic, salt and pepper and mix with fork or use a narrow mouth mason jar fit with blender gizmo and blend briefly to emulsify. Toss with remaining ingredients. If you prefer a less spicy salad, substitute ½ t cumin for chipotle pepper.
Note: Trader Joe’s carries frozen corn that has been roasted that goes well in this salad
Add pumpkins seeds at serving to boost nutritional profile
Why We Eat Vegetables, Part 2 to come: Enhancing Athletic Performance & Recovery