Eat your fruits and vegetables.
You’ve heard it all before, and it’s something that most of us can’t argue with—as much as we’d like to! Of course, it’s the soundest nutritional advice out there and doesn’t require a fancy dietary approach to follow. I don’t think anyone could argue with the recommendation to eat plants several times a day. Solid science exists to show that eating fruits and vegetables helps ward off chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
There is some emerging research surfacing about fruits and vegetables to make your plant-based meals even smarter and more impactful.
Here’s what you need to know:
1) Choose complexity: Many people get lodged in a food rut and start eating a certain fruit or vegetable consistently. While a single food might have health merits, it is much better to get a wider sampling of plant-based foods in the diet. The complexity of different phytonutrients from several plant foods working together is going to be better than overdosing on any one fruit or vegetable. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006 found that eating a high botanical diversity of fruits and vegetables decreased damage to DNA after just 2 weeks.
Takeaway: It’s important to think in terms of getting the rainbow variety of different colors every day in your meals. Get out of food ruts and start moving along the spectrum of health!
2) Cook vegetables, but not too much: One of the most popular questions I get is whether to eat vegetables raw or cooked. For most of you, the knee-jerk reaction would be to say that raw is the superior preparation method of the two. Raw food might be good for some nutrients like vitamin C; however, many people find it surprising that a majority of plant-based antioxidants and nutrients require some gentle cooking to make them active and accessible by the body. I am not talking lots of high-heat cooking, but subtle steaming (about 1 – 2 minutes) to the point that the vegetable turns a beautiful, vivid color, inviting you to eat it! In fact, a group of nutrition researchers found that steaming led to a greater percentage of antioxidant activity in foods like green pepper, cabbage, carrots, and asparagus, just to name a few.
Takeaway: A little heat with your veggies brings out their best protection for you!
3) Make good partnerships: There is something to be said about the synergy of putting certain foods together. Yes, they may taste more flavorful that way, but there are also synergies that are more medicinal. Grill meats with spices like turmeric and rosemary in the hamburger patty or on top of the meat. Those spices are very protective against the formation of reactive, cancer-causing chemicals. Try adding a slice of lemon into your green tea to preserve the antioxidant-rich catechins. And one of my favorites: the anti-inflammatory spice, turmeric, together with black pepper and oil is the best cooking trio and amps up the action of the king of spices, turmeric!
Takeaway: Get to know the food combinations that are synergistic for truly smart eating.
4) Expect the unexpected: We get into what I call food stereotypes, where certain foods become known for various qualities. When I mention banana, you likely think of potassium. However, an avocado has more than double the potassium of a banana (975 milligrams in a whole avocado vs. 422 milligrams in a banana)! An added bonus of that avocado is that it also has more fiber than some people get in an average day—4 grams! Another food stereotype is the tomato it has become known for its lycopene content (a phytonutrient important for heart, prostate, and immune health); however, research published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2013 showed that lycopene was approximately 2.6 times more bioavailable from papayas than from tomatoes. As well, kale, the darling of the health field, has become somewhat famous for its high levels of lutein (a phytonutrient that helps with vision). Indeed, kale is fairly decent in lutein, but parsley is at the same level and even a tad higher, as shown by recent nutrition research. Somehow, parsley seems to get lost in the dust, and kale gets all the attention when it comes to lutein!
Takeaway: Don’t take food stereotypes at face value. There might be better food superstars to be exploring in your everyday eating!
Yes, we all know we need to eat our vegetables, and what’s even more exciting is all the recent research that makes it even more enticing to do so! Take these 4 tidbits into your next plant-based meal to start eating smarter and in the full-spectrum way, or pick up a copy of Whole Detox to learn more about the power of plants!