You know you’re supposed to be eating enough veggies. But I bet you aren’t! 84% of Americans don’t meet the recommended 4.5 cups of veggies a day. Most of us eat on the run which makes eating veggies challenging. But if you understand why it’s SO important to increase your intake of vegetables, you might make more of an effort. Read on to get the low down on the health benefits of vegetables.
Nutrients in vegetables
Vegetables are low in calories and carbs and rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and disease- fighting phyto-chemicals. They are also an excellent source of antioxidants which help neutralize harmful free radicals. This prevents oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease and diabetes. The nutritional content of vegetables depends on the specific vegetable. Your best bet it is to eat a rainbow color of veggies to obtain an array of nutrients.
The Health benefits of vegetables
Your grandmother was right when she told you to increase your intake of vegetables. The health benefits are endless. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Decreases inflammation Chronic inflammation is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease metabolic syndrome, NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis – to name a few. It’s believed that the Western diet (high in fat, sugar and processed foods and low in fiber) – play a role in increasing chronic inflammation. A traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, which contains an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, fatty fish and healthy fats has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Vegetables are a important component to this diet. It’s e
Choose: Green leafy vegetables including kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C—all of which help protect against cellular damage. Opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season when possible.
- Improves health of the gut microbiome
Our gut microbiome plays a huge role in health. It regulates overall health, immune system, metabolism, energy, body weight, mood, food choices, nervous system, heart health, risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, mental health, allergies, etc. A healthy gut is one that contains a good balance of bacteria as well as diversity. It’s believed that modern lifestyles and the Western diet (high in fat, sugar and processed foods and low in fiber) – play a role in the reduction of good bacteria and overall diversity. Foods high in fiber, especially certain types of fiber and resistant starches called prebiotics, play a major role in keeping our gut bacteria in balance. Many vegetables are an excellent source of prebiotics. Eating healthy plant foods can alter your gut bacteria for the better in a matter of a few days!
Choose: a variety of veggies especially prebiotic rich veggies including Jerusalem artichokes, onions, chicory, garlic, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens and kale, mushrooms, asparagus, eggplant, radishesand sea vegetables like seaweed, spirulina and other marine algae. See my previous post on prebiotics to get the full list. Also choose probiotic rich fermented veggies as well as sauerkraut.
- Aids in weight management
This one isn’t a shocker! Vegetables help in weight management by several mechanisms: -Low in calories and carbs. Compare a cup of rice for 240 cal/45gm carbs to a cup of cauliflower rice for 25 cal/5 gm carbs.
-High in fiber and water so they keep you feeling full longer.
-Take up a lot of room in your stomach to keep you feeling full.
-The fiber contains prebiotics and feed the “good” bacteria in the gut. Certain kinds of bacteria can aid in weight management whereas others may lead to weight gain.
Choose: all kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw – especially the non-starchy ones.
- Decreases risk of type 2 diabetes
New research suggests that the more plant foods you eat, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. This is believed to be due to the antioxidant action which reduces insulin resistance and/or inflammation. The review which included nine nutrition studies (including more than 300,000 people), showed a ~ 30% drop in risk of type 2 diabetes — for people who ate “healthy” plant-based diet, including veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts and whole grains. These foods contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. Keep in mind that this review included “healthy plant-based diets”. So while vegetables were an important component, they weren’t the only component. Other studies have shown magnesium rich veggies to aid in decreasing risk of type 2 diabetes.
Choose a variety of vegetables, especially magnesium rich leafy greens
- Decreases risk of heart disease and stroke
Vegetables contain a wide variety of plant compounds that play an important role in heart health, including decreased cholesterol, improved blood vessel functioning, lowered blood pressure and decreased inflammation. This review showed 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day lowered risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% and risk of premature death by 31%.
Choose: variety of veggies to get all the health benefits for heart health. Of special importance:
-Green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower), and green and yellow vegetables (such as green beans, carrots, and peppers). These are high in carotenoids, which act as antioxidants and free your body of potentially harmful compounds. They’re also high in fiber and contain tons of vitamins and minerals. Kale also has some omega-3 fatty acids. Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function.
-Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.
-Veggies high in soluble fiber including okra, eggplants, carrots, asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli help to lower LDL cholesterol.
- Lowers blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, refers to the pressure of blood against your artery walls. Over time, high blood pressure can cause blood vessel damage that leads to heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Hypertension is sometimes called the silent killer because it produces no symptoms and can go unnoticed — and untreated — for years. Eating vegetables (and fruit) has been proven to help lower blood pressure.The benefits come from fiber, vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. The potassium is especially important as it balances out the negative effect of salt, which helps to lower blood pressure. Vegetables are an important part of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Following the DASH diet for two weeks can lower your systolic blood pressure (the top number of a blood pressure reading) by 8-14 points. The DASH diet recommends 4-5 servings of veggies a day.
Choose: leafy greens, which are high in potassium, include: romaine lettuce, arugula, kale, turnip greens, collard greens, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard
- Decreases insulin resistance
Many studies have found that eating a diet rich in plant compounds is linked to higher insulin sensitivity. In particular, colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in plant compounds that have antioxidant properties Antioxidants bind to and neutralize molecules called free radicals, which can cause harmful inflammation throughout the body. In addition, several studies have found a link between high soluble fiber intake and increased insulin sensitivity. ReferenceVegetables decrease insulin resistance in several ways:
-Rich in fiber and antioxidants, both of which improve insulin resistance.
-Non-starchy vegetables have a minimal effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.
-May aid in weight management
-Improve the health of the gut microbiome.
-Are a major component of the Mediterranean Diet, which is linked todecreased insulin resistance.
Choose a variety of colorful vegetables including tomatoes, spinach, red, green, red and orange peppers, greens such as spinach, collards, and kale, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. For veggies high in soluble fiber, see section above.
- Improves bone health
Vegetables play an important role in bone health. Not only can they be a good source of calcium, they also provide other nutrients important for bone health including magnesium, potassium, Vitamin K and Vitamin C. In addition, fruits and vegetables can help to have an alkalizing effect on the body. Acid-forming foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, and cereal may increase calcium losses in the body. Plant foods have an alkalizing effect. This relationship may explain the reported beneficial influence of fruit and vegetables on bone health. The detrimental effect of dietary acidity on the skeleton is relatively small, but a small effect may have a large impact over time. Reference: Keep in mind, if you don’t consume dairy (or products like fortified nut milks), it can be difficult – but not impossible – to meet your calcium needs through plants. In addition, certain greens like spinach and beet greens, while high in calcium, also contain oxalates which decrease calcium absorption.
Vitamin K rich: include certain dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens and Brussels sprouts.
Potassium rich: includes tomato products, spinach,
Magnesium rich: includes spinach, beet greens, okra, tomato products, artichokes, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens and.
Vitamin C rich: includes red peppers, green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts,.
- Supports eye health
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants that defend your body against unstable molecules called free radicals. Eating lutein and zeaxanthin-rich foods reduces the progression of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Choose: kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli, peas, carrots. Red peppers and squash are also sources.
- Improves brain health
MIND diet stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean Diet. The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, looked at more than 900 people between the ages of 58 and 98 who filled out food questionnaires and underwent repeated neurological testing
– It found participants whose diets most closely followed the MIND recommendations had a level of cognitive function the equivalent of a person 7.5 years younger
– Alzheimer’s disease decreased by 35 to 53 percent by following the MIND diet.
Choose: Six or more servings of a week provide the greatest brain benefits – especially kale, spinach, broccoli, collards and other greens are packed with vitamins A and C and other nutrients.
You’ve probably heard the quote “Food is Medicine” by Hippocrates. Well then, I’d say vegetables are one of the most potent natural “medicines” you can consume.
Hope this post convinced you to eat more veggies! Stay tuned for my upcoming on ways to get in more vegetables as well as ways to make them less boring.