By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
May 31, 2012
- Veggie variety is the key to better health
- Shop until you have every color in the cart
- How to become a “localvore”
In nearly every issue, I find some occasion to tell you to eat more fruit and vegetables. Sometimes I worry that I sound like a broken record. Or worse, like your mother!
But I do think the reason so few of us eat enough fruits and vegetables is the same reason we didn’t as kids. Every night, it was one of the same few offerings… carrots, peas, broccoli. Maybe they were even overcooked. And they most likely stood between you and dessert.
For most of us, it was certainly no way to start a lifelong love affair with vegetables.
Today, I want to encourage you to expand your repertoire of veggies. You might be surprised at the health benefits some offer. Plus, I’ll share why eating too much of even a good thing might be a bad thing…
If you’re only eating a handful of veggies every week, you may be bored. But also, you may not be getting the full value vegetables can offer.
You might not know it from visiting the produce section at your grocery store, but there are dozens of varieties of vegetables. Each one offers its own unique blend of vitamins and plant-based phytonutrients.
These phytonutrients contain vital keys that unlock our genes, and instigate protein production and enzyme formation that keeps our bodies functioning all day long. So less variety means you have fewer keys to unlock critical functions in your body.
Plus, veggies are unrefined carbs that allow good bacteria to grow and make the short-chain fatty acids that feed the lining of the gut – and good gut health is the basis of an overall healthy body. Plus, veggies help us make B vitamins and strengthen our immune system.
Perhaps the easiest way to add variety to your phytonutrient menu is to choose by color, as foods of a certain color tend to share certain health benefits:
Red vegetables such as tomatoes (which are technically fruit), red bell pepper, radishes and radicchio contain lycopene, flavonoids and antioxidants. These nutrients have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and lower blood pressure.
Orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots, squash, pumpkin and yellow beets contain beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. Famously good for the eyes, these nutrients reduce age-related macula degeneration. They also promote collagen formation and healthy joints, fight harmful free radicals, and encourage alkaline balance.
Green vegetables – especially dark, leafy greens – are rich in fiber, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and Beta-carotene. They are perhaps the most avoided, as well as the most beneficial vegetables on the supermarket shelf. Studies have shown these nutrients can reduce cancer risks, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, improve digestion, and boost your immune system.
White vegetables such as cauliflower, garlic, onions, parsnips and turnips are considered important immune boosters. This is why just about all winter soups and other dishes begin with a garlic and onion base, and other ingredients are added from there. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers.
One way to include a wider variety of vegetables on your plate is to be sure to include every single color in your grocery cart each week. Challenge yourself to buy a vegetable you’ve never tried, or rarely eat, and find a tasty way to enjoy it. I find that trying a vegetable for the first time in the most raw form possible works best, to get an idea of its most natural flavor before it changes through cooking. From there, you can steam, wok, boil or braise until you find the taste and consistency you enjoy best.
Also, if you remember hating a particular vegetable decades ago and haven’t tried it since… you might want to give it another try. Your tastebuds change as you get older. For example, I always hated cauliflower growing up, and still, I don’t eat it cooked. But cauliflower raw with hummus is one of my favorite snack treats today.
Try everything you rejected in your youth now as an adult… especially briefly sautéed with other seasonings or herbs you wouldn’t have tried back then.
If you grew up with limited exposure to veggies, part of the problem might be that you have no idea how to choose and prepare unfamiliar vegetables. If this is you, you’re not alone.
The Produce for Better Health Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to motivating people to eat more fruits and vegetables. They have created helpful databases of fruits, vegetables and even nuts providing a picture, description, nutrition information, plus storage and cooking techniques.
Try using this database whenever you bring home a new vegetable or fruit. Or even to familiarize yourself with new options before you go to the store: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/vegetables
And if your grocery store doesn’t offer a wide variety of organic (always the best choice!) vegetables, consider joining a CSA in your area. CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and it is becoming a viable alternative in many areas across the country.
The idea is that a community bands together and each family pays a share towards a local farmer in exchange for getting a box full of fresh herbs, fruits and veggies – whatever the farmer grows and harvests that week – for the entire growing season. You can use this website to learn more about how CSA’s work and find one near you: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
In the same way that you wouldn’t want to only hear the flute section or the percussionist during an orchestra performance, your body wants a little something from every vegetable color, size and shape to have a complete diet worthy of an orchestra performance.
Heidi Michels Blanck, PhD, et.al., Improving Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: Use of Farm-to-Consumer Venues Among US Adults, Prev Chronic Dis. 2011 March; 8(2): A49.