It seems like just yesterday that mom told us to eat our vegetables. Well guess what? She was right! Throughout my years of practice, I have become increasingly open to various nutritional paths, recognizing that maintaining a healthy balance is indeed possible whether one’s dietary pattern is vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, even paleolithic. And why is this? Because in each of these diets, vegetables are the common denominator.
Having experimented with various plant-based diets, and even recruiting family members to do the same, I was both intrigued and encouraged recently to learn the compelling story of Terry Walhs, MD, (www.terrywahls.com) who suffered from a debilitating diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and overcame being wheelchair dependent by making changes to diet and functional medicine. At the center of her dietary regimen was – you guessed it – vegetables: Nine cups a day, divided into three groups.
Here’s a glimpse of Dr. Walhs’ daily diet:
- 3 cups of sulfer-rich/cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, mushrooms and onions;
- 3 cups of raw leafy greens (can you say vitamins?!), keeping in mind that two cups of raw greens are the equivalent of one cup cooked;
- 3 cups of deeply-colored vegetables and antioxidant-rich fruits (please note that those that are white inside do not count!).
Dr. Walhs’ dietary decisions are confirmed further by a study published earlier this year in England (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140331194030.html) that shows eating seven or more portions of fruits and vegetables each day can reduce our risk of mortality by 42 percent! So, since we know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, how exactly do these greens work their magic? It’s all about phytochemicals and phytonutrients, the chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants, that that can control metabolic pathways in humans, such as inflammation, oxidation, cell cycle control and detoxification. Taken a step further, the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute are currently focusing research on a number of these phytochemicals in their anti-cancer initiatives, with initial work suggesting that the protection provided by these glorious greens not only works against cancer cells, but also protects against cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions such as macular degeneration, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension.
Of course levels of phytochemical compounds in fruits and vegetables vary and are influenced by a variety of factors including farming methods, climate, geographic conditions, maturity at harvest, storage and processing. As you might assume, organic produce often contains a higher level of these compounds because these plants produce an abundance of phytochemicals to protect themselves.
And so, as the leaves turn and our children return to school, perhaps we should educate ourselves as well. I encourage you to think out of the box (or out of the ground, so to speak) about our fall bounty and take the Veggie Challenge! Here is my SCORE card, also known as a few easy steps to get started:
- Set a goal for your daily veggie intake;
- Consider adding veggies at breakfast;
- Organize, prep and prepare veggies ahead of time so they’re simple to incorporate into meals or make an easy grab-and-go alternative
- Rethink your plate! Cover at least half of it with veggies
- Eat your veggies first – you won’t regret it (and you’ll make Mom so happy!)