Doctor’s Tip: Other veggies in the daily dozen
The current health tip columns are reviewing Dr. Michael Greger’s daily dozen, foods we should be eating every day for optimal health, from his book “How Not to Die.” In the last column I reviewed greens, which Dr. Greger calls the food with the most nutrients per calorie.
However, different plants offer different benefits, so we should be eating a variety every day, and “other vegetables” follows greens in his daily dozen list.
Dr. Greger’s favorite “other vegetables” are artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes/yams, tomatoes, zucchini and sea vegetables (e.g. seaweed used in sushi, miso soup and other Japanese delicacies). He recommends eating 2 servings of some of these daily, a serving being 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables, ½ cup of vegetable juice or ¼ cup of dried mushrooms.
I have written before about the importance of “eating the rainbow,” because intense color (and flavor) is associated with a high level of antioxidants and other plant nutrients. Mushrooms are an exception because they are not colorful but have a high level of an antioxidant called ergothioneine, one of the few that get inside of mitochondria (the microscopic power plants within your cells, where DNA is especially vulnerable to free-radical/oxidative damage). The caution with mushrooms, especially morels, is that they contain a toxin which is destroyed by cooking. It’s best not to eat them raw.
Sweet potatoes (aka yams) are intensely colored and are a super food, one of the healthiest things you can eat, especially if you include the skin which has even more antioxidant power than the orange part. They are also one of the foods with the best nutrients per-dollar ratio. White potatoes are much less healthy, so buy purple or blue potatoes instead.
A study published in the journal Food Chemistry pitted 34 common vegetables in the lab against eight different types of human cancer cells. They found that breast cancer cells stopped growing when cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green onion, leeks and garlic were added. Radishes were 100 percent effective in halting growth of stomach cancer but were not effective against pancreatic cancer. Orange bell peppers were useless against stomach cancer but suppressed prostate cancer cell growth by 75 percent. The take-home message according to the researchers was “a diversified diet, containing several distinct classes of vegetables is essential for effective prevention of cancer.” In particular, cruciferous vegetables (discussed in an earlier column) and Allium vegetables (garlic, leeks and onions) are important.
What’s the best way to cook vegetables? Deep-fried foods of any kind have been associated with higher cancer risk per Dr. Greger. Deep frying vegetables causes formation of the carcinogen acrylamide (in meat including chicken it is heterocyclic amine carcinogens). Dr. Greger points out that “the excess lifetime cancer risk attributable to the consumption of french fries in young children may be as high as one or two in 10,000, meaning about 1 in 10,000 boys and girls eating french fries may develop cancer” that they otherwise would not have gotten.
The most antioxidant loss occurs when vegetables are boiled and pressure-cooked, and griddling (cooking in a thick frying pan with no oil) and microwaving resulted in the least. Bell peppers are best eaten raw. Artichokes, beets and onions, carrots and celery are resistant to antioxidant loss no matter how you cook them. Cooking tomatoes and green beans releases nutrients when cooked by any method except boiling that you don’t get eating them raw.
The bottom line is eat large portions of a variety of vegetables every day for optimal health, and don’t get too hung up on whether to eat them raw or cooked, and how to cook them, as long as you don’t fry them.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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