Doctor’s Tip: Mom was right — eat your veggies
Food guidelines throughout the world emphasize eating more vegetables. Yet according to Dr. Greger (nutritionfacts.org website, “How Not to Die” book), 9 out 10 Americans don’t eat the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables, 98 percent don’t reach the minimum for orange vegetables (two servings a week), and 99 percent don’t reach the minimum for whole grains. So the standard American diet is indeed sad, and it’s no wonder we have such a high incidence of preventable ailments such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many forms of cancer.
The reasons vegetables are so necessary for optimal health:
1. They have fiber that holds them up, whereas animals have bones. Fiber has many health benefits, including slowing the rate of absorption of glucose, thereby preventing rapid rises of blood sugar, which in turn prevents type 2 diabetes.
2. Vegetables have powerful nutrients that help prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and by increasing production of nitric oxide, which makes arteries dilate and makes the lining of the arteries (endothelium) healthier and more resistant to plaque buildup.
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3. There’s more and more evidence that things like vegetables that make your arteries healthy also keep your brain healthy as you age.
4. Vegetables have phytonutrients (phyto means plants) that protect against cancer. Out of the billions of cells in our bodies, mutations occur daily in some of them. Plants have properties that combat mutations when they do occur and thereby help prevent cancer (animal products including dairy and eggs don’t have this effect and can even cause cancer).
5. Vegetables have high levels of antioxidants. Oxidation in our bodies contributes to cardiovascular disease, aging and cancer, so it’s important to eat foods that contain lots of antioxidants (fruit, berries and whole grains also have them).
6. Vegetables are not calorie-dense, so we can eat a lot of them without getting full or fat, versus high-calorie-dense foods such as oils, meat, dairy and sweets.
7. Vegetables feed health-promoting bacteria that populate our intestines.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D., is a leading expert in nutrition and has written several books, including “Eat to Live,” “The End of Diabetes,” “Super Immunity” and, most recently, “The End of Heart Disease.” I had the opportunity to attend a series of lectures he gave in Aspen in late March.
He has developed the concept of nutritarian eating, which refers to nutrients per calorie, meaning that every calorie you put in your mouth should have maximal nutrients. He has the following mnemonic for the foods you should eat every day: G-BOMBS, which stands for Greens, Beans, Onions (especially red ones), Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds. Mushrooms, by the way, should not be eaten raw due to a toxin that is destroyed by cooking.
Dr. Greger has his daily dozen:
1. Beans, which actually refers to legumes (beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas and split peas): 3 servings a day (a serving = ¼ cup of hummus or ½ cup of cooked legumes or tofu or tempeh, or a full cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils).
2. Berries: 1 serving a day (½ cup of fresh or frozen or ¼ cup of dried berries).
3. Other fruits: 3 servings a day (1 serving = a medium-sized fruit such as an apple or orange, or a cup of cut-up fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit).
4. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, arugula, bok choy, brussels sprouts, mustard greens, radish, turnip greens, watercress: 1 serving a day (½ cup chopped vegetables or ¼ cup of sprouts or 1 tablespoon of horseradish).
5. Greens such as beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard or cruciferous greens (above): 2 servings (1 serving = 1 cup raw or ½ cooked).
6. Other vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, sea vegetables, snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes/yams, tomatoes, zucchini: 2 servings a day (1 serving size as noted above).
7. Flaxseed: 1 serving (1 tablespoon a day of ground flaxseed — keep refrigerated).
8. Nuts: 1 serving a day of walnuts or almonds or pecans or peanuts — chestnuts and coconuts don’t nutritionally count as nuts. (1 serving = ¼ cup of whole of halved nuts or 2 tablespoons a day of nut or see butter).
9. Herbs and spices such as basil, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin and others are loaded with health-promoting properties and you should eat a variety every day (no salt though).
10. Whole grains: 3 servings a day (a serving = ½ cup of oatmeal or non-white rice or quinoa or buckwheat or corn kernels, 1 tortilla or slice of bread, 3 cups of popped popcorn). Note that on the food label the total carbs to fiber ratio should be 5:1 or less if you’re buying, say, bread or tortillas.
11. Beverages: 5 servings a day of water or unsweetened iced tea or other non-soda drink (a serving = 12 oz.). Note that you get lots of additional water with the food you eat if you eat lots of veggies.
12. One “serving” of exercise a day, as discussed in other health tip columns.
In future health tip columns I will discuss in more detail the health aspects of particular vegetables as well as fruits and whole grains. In the meantime, it is important that you eat a variety of veggies because different vegetables often have different phytonutrients.
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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