Vegetables are a nutritional cornerstone for your overall health. This post from Mercola.com highlights why you need to eat more vegetables and how to boost their nutritional value even further.
Low in calories, high in fiber, and with almost all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, vegetables are a nutritional cornerstone. While many think vegetables equate to a few leaves of lettuce and some tomatoes, there’s a wide variety of veggies available, and you can use them in a number of different ways.
In addition to eating them raw in a salad, many can be lightly steamed or cooked, and you can boost your consumption by juicing them, or add them to stews and soups. Homegrown sprouts and fermented vegetables are other options that can significantly improve your diet.
Fermenting is one of the best ways to turn ordinary vegetables into superfoods. The culturing process produces beneficial microbes that are extremely important for health as they help balance your intestinal flora, thereby boosting overall immunity.
Fermented foods are also some of the best chelators and detox agents available, meaning they can help rid your body of a wide variety of toxins, including heavy metals.
Since most veggies aren’t very calorie-dense, they should ideally constitute the bulk of your diet by volume. Tragically, very few actually get a healthy amount of veggies in their diet. As noted by Time magazine,1 vegetable consumption has actually declined over the past five years.
“About half of the total U.S. population eats less than 1.5 cups of vegetables a day. And a whopping 87 percent don’t reach the recommended minimum goal of 2 to 3 cups a day.”
More Reasons to Eat Vegetables
If you are in the majority who’s skimping on veggies, you’re really missing out on major health benefits, including the following:2
|Healthy glowing skin||
Courtesy of their higher water and phytochemical content, vegetables help produce that healthy “glow.”
As noted in the featured article, a “study3 from St. Andrews University concluded that people who ate three additional daily portions of produce for six weeks were ranked as better looking than those with lower intakes.”
The cause for this improvement? The carotenoids pigments that give vegetables their red and orange colors also improve the color of your skin, rendering it more rosy and glowing.
Many vegetables are also known for their anti-aging benefits, helping firm your skin and combat wrinkles.
Low in net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) and high in fiber, eating plenty of vegetables can help you lose and manage your weight in more ways than one.
Simply cutting net carbs and increasing your fiber intake may actually help you achieve results rivaling more complicated diets.
Previous research has demonstrated that fiber has appetite-suppressant qualities that helps you feel more satiated, thereby preventing unhealthy snacking.
Fiber also helps improve metabolic markers such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar; helps protect your heart and cardiovascular health, and appears to reduce mortality from all causes.
|Improves gut health and keeps you “regular”||
Constipation is one of the most common bowel problems, impacting nearly 1 in 5 Americans at any given time.
It’s uncomfortable, and can cause bloating and painful cramps.
The fiber and water in vegetables can help prevent this scenario, and promotes optimal gut health in general by nourishing beneficial gut bacteria.
|Athletic performance and recovery||
Nutrition is imperative for athletic performance. Specific veggies shown to boost endurance and speed up recovery include beetroot juice, tomato juice, and watercress.
As reported in the featured article, one study “found that drinking 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice daily for six days helped men cycle up to 16 percent longer than they did with a placebo beverage.4
Meanwhile 100 percent tomato juice has been found to reduce exercise-induced stress on the body by as much as 84 percent.”5
|Improves energy, mood, and psychological well-being||
Vegetables help boost energy levels, especially if you cut out net carbs and processed foods at the same time.
Juicing tends to be particularly potent and quick-acting in this regard.
Recent research shows higher vegetable intake can also help you feel calmer and improves your mental well-being.6
Eating fruits and vegetables was also related to greater self-reported curiosity and creativity — traits associated with happiness.7
|Reduces risk for chronic disease||
Vegetables help reduce your risk for many chronic diseases, includingdiabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
In one recent study, eating just over one extra serving of leafy greens a day reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent.8
Part of this benefit is due to the fiber content.
The fiber in vegetables is broken down into health-promoting short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by your gut bacteria, and SCFAs have been shown to lessen your risk of inflammatory diseases.9
|Boosts healthy immune function||
Researchers have discovered10 that a gene called T-bet — which is essential for producing critical immune cells in your gut — is activated by leafy green vegetables.
These immune cells, called Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), reside in the lining of your digestive tract, and ILCs are thought to be essential for:11
The Health Benefits of Purple Foods
Vegetables contain an array of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds that are very difficult to get anywhere else. Plant chemicals called phytochemicals can reduce inflammation and eliminate carcinogens, while others regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce, get rid of old cells, and maintain DNA integrity. Many of the benefits associated with vegetables are due to the natural pigments in the food.
While it’s advisable to eat all the “colors of the rainbow,” purple foods tend to stand out above the crowd, courtesy of their potent antioxidants called anthocyanins.12 Research has linked anthocyanins to a reduced risk for a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological dysfunction and decline.
They also help prevent obesity and diabetes, in part by inhibiting certain enzymes in your digestive tract, and by supporting healthy blood sugar control. They also have potent anti-inflammatory effects, which helps explain their protective effects against chronic disease. Deep red and blue foods — including all berries and cherries — are also loaded with beneficial antioxidants. Vegetables high in anthocyanins include:
- Red onions
- Purple cabbage
Cruciferous Veggies Are an Important Part of an Anti-Cancer Diet
Vegetables are also a key component if you want to reduce your risk of cancer.13,14 Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, appear to be particularly important, and have been repeatedly shown to help prevent certain cancers by inhibiting cancer cell growth and promoting apoptosis (cell death). According to Olga Azarenko, a scientist at the UC Santa Barbara laboratories, whose research shows how the healing power of these vegetables works at the cellular level:15
“Breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, can be protected against by eating cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage and near relatives of cabbage such as broccoli and cauliflower. These vegetables contain compounds called isothiocyanates which we believe to be responsible for the cancer-preventive and anti-carcinogenic activities in these vegetables.”
Broccoli, and even more so broccoli sprouts, contain the highest amounts of isothiocyanates. Other vegetables containing isothiocyanates include the following:
The isothiocyanates in these vegetables sparks hundreds of genetic changes, activating some genes that fight cancer and switch off others that fuel tumors.16 According to one recent study,17 “research suggests that cruciferous vegetables are not only an important source of nutrients, but perhaps a key to eliminating cancer as life threatening disease.” Besides breast cancer, studies have confirmed the protective benefits of these vegetables for other types of cancer as well, such as:
- Bladder cancer – Researchers found that the higher the intake of cruciferous vegetables, the lower the risk of bladder cancer in men by as much as 50 percent18
- Lung cancer – Researchers found that men with detectable amounts of isothiocyanates in their bodies had a 36 percent lower chance of developing lung cancer over 10 years19
- Prostate cancer – Just a few additional portions of broccoli each week was found to protect men from prostate cancer20
- Liver cancer — Recent research suggests eating broccoli three to five times per week can lower your risk of liver cancer, and help prevent the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)21,22,23
The ‘Trick’ to Maximizing Sulforaphane in Your Broccoli
One naturally occurring isothiocyanate known for its potent anti-cancer activity is sulforaphane, which is formed when you chop or chew broccoli (this combines its precursor glucoraphanin and the enzyme myrosinase). Once swallowed, gut bacteria help release some of broccoli’s sulforaphane so your body can benefit, but it’s a tricky proposition because sulforaphane is attached to a sugar molecule with a sulfur bond.
In order for the sulforaphane to be released, an enzyme in the broccoli breaks off the sugar to release it. However, the sulforaphane can be easily inactivated by a sulfur-grabbing protein.
Researchers have found that one of the best ways to maximize sulforaphane your body can use is to heat the broccoli for 10 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (or steam it lightly for three to four minutes until it’s tough-tender).24 This was just enough heat to kill the epithiospecifier protein, which attaches to the sulfur and greatly depletes the amount of bioavailable sulforaphane.
Another option is to eat broccoli sprouts. Fresh broccoli sprouts are FAR more potent than whole broccoli, allowing you to eat far less in terms of quantity. Tests have revealed that 3-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain anywhere from 10 to 100 times the amount of glucoraphanin – the precursor to sulforaphane – found in mature broccoli.25
Luteolin — Another Important Anti-Cancer Compound
Luteolin is another important anti-inflammatory plant compound found in certain vegetables, including celery, peppers, and carrots. It’s previously been linked with lower rates of age-related memory loss in mice,26 but more recently, researchers discovered it may also slow the development of breast cancer27,28 – particularly cancer caused by hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
According to the researchers, benign lesions in breast tissues may turn into tumors if they receive a “trigger” such as progestin, which attracts blood vessels and “feeds” the lesions, allowing them to expand. When this occurs, the breast cancer cells “take on stem cell-like properties, which can make them harder to kill,” the study’s lead researcher stated.
However, when breast cancer cells were exposed to luteolin in the lab, their viability markedly decreased. Not only did the blood vessels feeding the cells significantly decline, but their “stem cell-like properties” were also reduced, resulting in an anti-tumor effect. The researchers then tested luteolin on mice with breast cancer and similar benefits were observed.
Sprouts, a Living Food With Amazing Health Benefits
If you struggle getting enough vegetables into your diet, try juicing, and add sprouts. Sprouts are exceptionally packed with nutrients, including antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage, so in terms of volume you can get away with eating far less.
The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids increase dramatically during the sprouting process. Sunflower seed and pea sprouts tend to top the list of all the seeds that you can sprout and are typically each about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables you can even harvest in your backyard garden.
The quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds and grains also improve when sprouted because minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable. Sprouts can also contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, allowing your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats from other foods.
Sprouts support healthy cell regeneration, and have an alkalinizing effect on your body that is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic). Abundantly rich in oxygen, sprouts also help protect against viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment.
Sprouts are the ultimate locally-grown food, and can easily be grown in your own kitchen, so you know exactly what you’re eating. Another boon is their low cost. Sprouts-as-medicine.com29 is a good source for things relating to sprouts: their health benefits, recipes, and how to grow your own.
The British verticalveg.org30 is another. The latter gives helpful growing tips for each month of the year. One of the benefits of sprouts is that you can grow them year-round, even when it’s cold and dark. The article 6 Easy Steps to Sprout Heaven31 teaches you how to grow your own sprouts, from start to finish. Some of the most commonly sprouted beans, nuts, seeds and grains include:
|Broccoli: known to have anti-cancer properties, courtesy of the enzyme “sulforaphane”||Alfalfa: a significant dietry source of phytoestrogens. Also a good source of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, and K||Wheat grass: high in Vitamins B, C, E and many minerals||Mung bean: good source of protein, fiber, vitamin C and A|
|Clover: significant source of isoflavones||Lentil sprouts: contain 26 percent protein, and can be eaten without cooking||Sunflower: contains, minerals, healthy fats, essential fatty acids, fiber, and phytosterols. It’s also one of the highest in protein||Pea shoots: good source of vitamins A, C and folic acid and one of the highest in protein|
My Most Recommended Vegetables List
My recommended list of vegetables (below) provides a guide to the most nutritious vegetables, and those to limit due to their high carbohydrate content (think: starch is “hidden sugar”). Organic and locally grown vegetables are ideal for maximizing nutrition, limiting pesticide exposure, and increasing freshness. Avoid wilted vegetables, as they lose much of their nutritional value once they wilt.
Again, juicing is a great way to boost your vegetable intake. When you drink fresh-made green juice, it is almost like receiving an intravenous infusion of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes because they go straight into your system without having to be broken down.
|Highly Recommended Vegetables|
|Avocado, very high in healthy monounsaturated fat||Fennel|
|Beet greens||Green and red cabbage|
|Brussels sprouts||Lettuce: romaine, red leaf, green leaf|
|Chinese cabbage||Peppers: red, green, yellow and hot|
|Use sparingly due to high carbohydrate levels|
|Vegetables (or commonly perceived vegetables) to Avoid|