Reasons To Include More Vibrant Vegetables In Your Life

carrots

Food has always been regarded as medicine in cultures throughout the world. People reached for plants, vegetables, and even animal proteins to cure ailments. Food was the first source people went to before seeking other kinds of treatments. With the advantages and brainwashing of convenience food, we  forget what is essential for us to maintain and improve health. As pointed out by many scientists and doctors, our health became complicated with the introduction of packaged and processed foods, overproduction of wheat, corn, and soy, and the industrialization of meat, poultry, and dairy.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of highly processed meats and wheat. Americans are over-consuming food with little nutritional benefits and not consuming enough of whole foods- mostly vegetables. The SAD diet has no room for fresh, whole foods and has lead to the rise of Western Diseases– breast cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The dependency of processed foods is also giving rise to allergies and sensitivities to foods like wheat and diary.

All of us need to eat more vegetables for good health, weight loss, and reversing diseases. I am not advocating vegetarianism. What I am saying is that the more vegetables and plant-based foods you consume daily will have the most positive impact on your health. The best possible sources of obtaining micronutrients that your body needs to function healthily come from plant-based foods. Vegetables are grown on a farm, not manufactured in a lab, and do not require a degree to figure out that they are good for you.

Plant foods are complex systems and are the best sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. These nutrients have hundreds of roles in the body. Our body uses them to make hormones, send nerve impulses, maintain bone and teeth strength, bolster the immune system, prevent cell and tissue damage, increase digestion and absorption, and maintain a normal heartbeat.

Examples of minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium.  Minerals are mostly found in plant foods and are essential for healthy minds and bodies. Minerals are not vulnerable to heat and cooking does not destroy them. It is much easier to obtain minerals from food than vitamins. Vitamins are easily destroyed due to heat and storage duration. Examples of vitamins include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, and carotenoids. Vitamins and minerals depend on each other to be useful. For example, vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption from food. Similarly, too much of one nutrient can cause a deficiency of another nutrient, since they can interfere with each other’s function. Though, this is rarely the case when you eat varied, whole foods.

Vegetables come in a vibrant array of colors, not just green. These colors signify the type of vitamins and antioxidants are present in them. Purple foods have the antioxidant anthocyanins, which is prevents aging, boost memory, and fights off diseases like Alzheimer’s. Red foods include strawberries, pomegranates, and tomatoes. These foods are known to prevent cancer, reduce pain and inflammation, and lower blood pressure.  Orange foods include pumpkins, bell peppers, and carrots. These foods are high in vitamin C and beat-carotene, which help support the immune system, delay cognitive aging, and rebuild collagen in the skin. In order to ensure you are getting all of these different nutrients, you have to eat a variety of foods. Sticking to just a few vegetables throughout the year will make you loose out on the benefits other plant-based foods offer. Eating a varied, vibrant diet is the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

peppers

It is pretty difficult to overdose on micronutrients that come from whole, unprocessed foods since they contain low levels.  We only need miniscule amounts of them, hence the name micronutrients. On the contrary, supplements may contain fillers and additives, and come in high dosages that can be harmful. Many supplements also contain contaminants such as arsenic and mercury. Our body stores certain nutrients and releases them as needed, thus toxic levels can build up. Dietary supplements are unregulated and do not have to go through testing for safety. Supplements are not intended to replace whole foods, but support people with certain conditions who just cannot get all the nutrients. It is wise to talk to a doctor or nutritionist before taking supplements. Whole foods are complex and contain many nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that a pill cannot provide. Vegetables are also a lot more affordable than quality supplements.

Pesticide exposure is linked to many health concerns and should not be overlooked. Though, the health benefits of vegetables outweigh the alternative of not eating them at all. Nutrient deficiencies from the lack of vegetables are also the cause of many health issues. Fresh, whole foods are often replaced with processed foods when they are eliminated from the diet, causing more health troubles. I recommend choosing food from sustainable farms. If you are not sure about where or how the food is grown, opt to buy organic, local, and/or seasonal. Local and seasonal food is usually sprayed with less or no pesticides, since they do not have to travel as far. Of course, the best way to learn and ensure you are getting high-quality food is to shop at the farmers market or join a CSA. You can ask the farmers directly about their farming practices. Buying 100% organic produce may not always be possible, but you should at least try to get organic for the vegetables (and fruits) that have the most pesticide residue. You can download the list onto your phone.  If none of these are options for you, start your own vegetable garden. Do what you can to feed yourself and your family more fresh vegetables.

Vegetables should be the star of your plate, not cast off to the side. So what are you waiting for?

radish

This is part one of a three-part series on vegetables. Next week, I will discuss simple ways to eat more vegetables and include a protein-balanced vegetable recipe. 

October: Unprocessed and No-Single Use Challenge Updates!

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On October 1st, I joined over 350 people on the October: Unprocessed challenge.  Basically, in this challenge we have pledged to give up processed foods for the month. Processed foods are foods that have ingredients that you wouldn’t keep in your kitchen to make food or ingredients that were created in a laboratory. Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients. “It doesn’t mean that you have to be able to make the food — but that the food could be made in a home kitchen by someone who knows what they’re doing.  If it needs high-powered, industrial equipment, or could only be made in a laboratory, then it’s out, ” Andrew  Wilder explained.

At the same time, I pledged to consciously reduce the amount of  new single-use plastic I bring into my life, inspired by Fake Plastic Fish. Single use disposable plastics are product packaging that is used once and discarded. Bags, wrappers, containers, utensils, cups, bottles,  containers, etc. I now question every item that comes in plastic and it’s potential long term benefits or harm. Do I need toothpaste (cap is plastic)- yes, do I need chips from a plastic bag- no!

I am 20 days into both challenges and here is what I have learned so far:

1. If I am not eating fresh homemade meals or using store bought products (ie pasta sauce, soy sauce) to make my meals, I must read the ingredients label carefully. There are  a lot of hidden, unnecessary ingredients in prepackaged/prepared foods. For instance, when you pick up a loaf of bread, you assume the ingredients are just water, flour, yeast and salt. However, if you read the ingredients label you might find 10 other ingredients. Real bread usually comes in a brown bag fresh from the bakery, not pre-sliced in a plastic bag. Therefore, by choosing whole foods over processed/pre-packaged food, I am avoiding plastic.

2. Breakfast is the toughest part of the unprocessed food challenge. I love cereal. I survived exams in college on cereal alone. Sadly, most breakfast cereals are fortified with crap. Even though over the years  I cut out processed cereals, it’s really hard to completely avoid processed ingredients. I started examining what other cultures eat for breakfast. I found that Persians eat feta cheese, dates, flatbread, and nuts; South Indians eat savory dishes such as upma and dosas, Koreans eat rice, soup, and eggs, and Jamicans eat ackee, callaloo, and mackeral. All of these foods are whole foods- whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seafood, and meats. We stopped eating cereals and started eating non-quick oatmeal, upma (Satish grew up with it), eggs (standard for us), and fruits. Cereal comes in a plastic bag inside of a cardboard box. I haven’t bought cereal in the the last 20 days and thus have not introduced new plastic in the form of cereal. Healthier Plant = Healthier Body.

3. We eat a lot more fresh fruit, nuts and dried fruit. Fruits for breakfast with nut butters and cheese, fruits for in between meals, and fruits to satisfy the sweet tooth. Fruits do not come in plastic packages, unless if you shop at Costco or Trader Joe’s.

4. No power bars. We only ate power bars when we were 0n the road or lazy. Well 99.5% of the power bars out there are fortified and have unnatural ingredients. Though, Lara Bars are made with only whole food ingredients and don’t claim any health benefits on their packaging. We decided to forgo all power bars due to packaging. It’s easier to eat fruit, which doesn’t come in any packaging.

5. Plastic is everywhere! The barrista will put a straw into my drink faster than I can blink my eye. I have told a bartender that I didn’t want the thin black straw in my drink, yet he mechanically put it in my glass. I have not forgot my reusable grocery bags once! Nor have a succumbed to buying plastic water bottles when thirsty. I carry by stainless steel bottle or use the water fountain.

6. When at the grocery store, I only shop around the perimeter. This is because all whole food ingredients are usually lined around the perimeter of the store and the processed foods are conveniently located in the center. Yogurt, cheese, and milk caps all come in plastic and I have not found alternatives yet.

7. I have started questioning more details whens dining out or grabbing food to go. Does the restaurant make their own sauces or use an industrial sauce? Where do the poultry/seafood/meat come from? Will the “doggie bag” be placed in cardboard to go box or a plastic container? Does the restaurant use disposable utensils or steel utensils? Does the restaurant recycle and compost materials?

8. We are saving money. Fruit and vegetables are cheaper than ice-cream, chocolate, and chips, and they can be used in many ways. We eliminated these items completely and were able to save money on our weekly grocery bill. Also, produce seems to have gotten cheaper at the Farmer’s Market. Last month, I paid $3/pound of heirloom tomatoes, this month I have paid $2/pound. Non-heirloom varieties are even cheaper!

9. Eating unprocessed foods and avoiding single-use plastics almost go hand-in-hand. I have failed several times on these challenges but I am not quitter. First of all, I broke down and had a cupcake made by Elizabeth Falkner at the Blog Her Food 2010 Conference. Dessert is my biggest weakness, but I have been strong and resisted 95% of the time. That is an achievement for me. I have also switched to Mascovado sugar, which is completely unrefined.

This is just a short list of the major changes/observations  I have made on this challenge. Again, I was never big consumer of processed foods to begin with but this challenge has made me more consciously aware.

Plastic collected during week 2: all could have been avoided.

If you just discovered October: Unprocessed, go here to find out more and take the pledge. Don’t worry if you missed the start date! You can start your 30 days today, or simply join in for the rest of the month.

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