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So far we’ve looked in depth at the three macronutrients — carbohydrate , proteins and fats — as the basis of good nutrition. Now let’...

Vital Vegetables and Fruits



So far we’ve looked in depth at the three macronutrients — carbohydrate, proteins and fats — as the basis of good nutrition. Now let’s shift gears and take a look at a group of foods that really should
have their own distinct classification — vegetables and fruits. Plant foods should make up the bulk of your dietary intake because they contain vitamins, minerals and, just as important, phytonutrients.
And, there are thousands of phytonutrients that scientists believe may have an even more important role than vitamins in promoting health and preventing disease. Fruits and vegetables also contain
small amounts of protein and essential fatty acids, and are a key source of fiber and prebiotics, which are both essential for good health, as we will learn in the following chapter.

 Generally fruits are foods that contain a seed within, whereas vegetables have a separate seed. Both contain some carbohydrates, some high enough for those who are carbohydrate intolerant to avoid.
These include most potatoes, corn, watermelon, pineapple and dried
fruits.
Some foods that are technically fruits are usually thought of as vegetables — these include avocados, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash and other fruits that are not sweet. But basically, vegetables
and fruits are all plant foods that should make up the bulk of the diet.
Most people don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits, and there are very, very few who eat too much of this good thing. I often recommend as a general guideline that people try to eat at least 10 servings
of vegetables and fruits per day. Many of these should be raw, and most, if not all, should be fresh.
What is a serving? Traditionally many have considered a serving to be a half-cup. More recently, however, many dietary guidelines have recommended different approaches for measuring servings. For instance, a serving of lettuce might be a cup and a half; a serving of carrots might be one medium carrot; a serving of broccoli is one medium stalk, and a serving of asparagus is five spears. Using guidelines like these will help you to eat more vegetables than using the traditional
half-cup serving.



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Vegetables: The Main Course


Many people think of vegetables as a tedious side dish. But it’s best to consider vegetables part of a main dish. This may require adjusting the way you think about your meals. Think first what your maincourse vegetable will be, and then make your other foods the side
dishes — usually some sort of protein or an unrefined carbohydrate. In this way you can make vegetables the bulk of your diet. Experiment in creating other types of meals around vegetables. For
instance a vegetable omelet with onions, red and yellow peppers and zucchini makes a meal out of eggs at breakfast. A vegetable-based organic-chicken soup with garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, and even
green beans and yellow squash, is a bowl full of nutrition for lunch.
Even Mom’s meat loaf can be adjusted to include half vegetables — start with chopped onions, red or yellow bell peppers, zucchini, fresh parsley and garlic, and then add freshly chopped meat and at least
two whole eggs, and season with sea salt and spices of your choice. In choosing your vegetables don’t overlook cooked greens. Some of the most neglected vegetables, such as kale, mustard greens, rapini,
Swiss chard, collards and the common spinach, are also some of the most nutritious. These bitter leafy vegetables are full of valuable phytonutrients, as well as a host of vitamins and minerals. Once you get used to the idea of cooking greens, some meals just won’t seem complete without them — truly, cooked greens can be served as a delicious bed for just about any protein food, from beef to fish. Greens can simply be steamed and served with a little butter or extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. Or, add other vegetables to the mix, such as leeks, chopped white onions, mushrooms or red and yellow peppers.
Cook your greens until they are slightly tender, but be careful not to overcook, lest you lose the vital nutrients. Just when they turn bright green is about right.


Choose a Rainbow of Colors


In addition to eating enough vegetables it is important to eat a variety of these foods as well. The reason is that different vegetables containvarying amounts of specific nutrients. For instance a serving of leaf lettuce supplies a high amount of beta carotene but only a small amount of vitamin C, while a serving of Brussels sprouts contains high levels of vitamin C with a small amount of beta carotene.
One of the easiest ways to ensure that you eat enough variety in vegetables is to use the “rainbow” technique. Choosing vegetables in a rainbow of colors will help ensure a variety of nutrients. For example, carrots and winter squash, which are orange, are high in beta
carotene, which is converted by the body to vitamin A. Many green vegetables are high in vitamin C   a serving of broccoli, for example, is very high in vitamin C. In addition to orange and green vegetables, consider purple eggplant and cabbage, red peppers, white, green and
red onions, white cauliflower, yellow summer squash, brown mushrooms and many others. Each of these colorful vegetables contains its own unique set of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.


A Salad a Day


In reaching your goal of 10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, it’s important to make sure much of this is raw. In fact, each meal should contain some raw food. Salads, large and small, can easily provide this raw food. Your salad can be a snack, a side dish or, with
some added protein, it can be a meal in itself. Salad is a low-stress food, with no cooking involved and minimal cleanup. The base for a great salad, of course, is something green — fresh lettuce, spinach or even young kale. Buy organic and buy often, but avoid iceberg lettuce as it has one of the lowest overall nutritional values of all vegetables.
The little bags of baby greens are fine so long as you eat them quickly. You can also buy whole heads of green- or red-leaf, Romaine, Bibb and endive lettuces. Then, for a few days of really quick salads, clean a whole head of lettuce, dry the leaves well (spinning works great) and refrigerate them in an airtight container with a piece of paper towel. Your lettuce will be ready to go when you need it.
Use a variety of raw vegetables such as carrots, chopped red and yellow peppers, purple cabbage, tomatoes and avocados. Separately, these can be used for meals that don’t contain a salad. In addition,
steamed and chilled green beans and asparagus also liven up a salad. Chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, piñon nuts, gourmet olives, capers and artichoke hearts make a salad even more exotic.
To make your salad into a true meal, add some protein. Lightly grilled tuna, wild shrimp, sliced beefsteak, hard-boiled eggs or shredded goat cheese are some options. Of course, a great salad requires a delicious dressing. My healthy salad dressing is great (recipe follows),
but simple extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar is fine too. Always use your own homemade dressing and avoid the additives that come out of a bottle.
The best way to add fruits to your diet, including berries, is to use them as they are — as a snack, a healthy dessert, or made into recipes such as smoothies. Some of these are discussed in the chapter on
snacks. Fruits are also a delicious part of a salad; for example, an arugula salad with sliced pears and goat cheese, or an apple walnut salad with greens.


Phil’s Healthy Salad Dressing


Mix in a glass jar with tight-fitting lid:
• 8 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves finely chopped garlic
• 2 ounces or more apple-cider vinegar
• 1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
• 1/2 teaspoon mustard
Option: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, or sour cream.
Use other good-quality oils for variations in taste.
Shake well before serving. Refrigerate.


The Bitter Truth


It’s now clear that naturally occurring substances known as phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, found in vegetables and fruits, may be more important to good nutrition than vitamins and can help prevent and treat cancer and other diseases. Their actions halt the production of cancer-causing agents in the body, blocking activation of these chemicals, or suppressing the spread of cancer cells that already exist.
The vegetables and fruits researchers think are most capable of preventing cancer and other diseases, including heart disease, are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, citrus
fruit (not the juice), grapes, red wine, green tea and others. The more bitter, the better.
How many times have you heard that if something tastes good then it must not be good for you, or vice-versa? While this is a gross generalization, many people avoid eating bitter-tasting vegetables
and fruits, which are particularly high in the natural disease-preventing phytonutrients that cause their bitterness. In general, the more bitter the taste, the more rich the food is in these phytonutrients.
For plants, these bitter-tasting substances — the healthy phytonutrients — serve as natural insect repellents and pesticides. Some are even toxic to small animals like birds, mice and rats, including some compounds in cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Generally, higher
amounts of bitter-tasting phytonutrients are found in sprouts and seedlings than in mature plants. This provides young plants with a type of natural protection from being eaten at an early stage of life,
before the chance of reproduction. But you would have to consume pounds and pounds of vegetables daily to ingest toxic amounts of
phytonutrients.
Despite the therapeutic and nutritive value of phytonutrients, the food industry is solving the so-called “problem” of bitterness in fruits and vegetables by removing these healthful chemicals through genetic engineering and selective breeding. Unfortunately, our culture has associated bitterness with bad taste instead of health promotion. Now
many agricultural scientists, who want foods sweeter, are changing our food supply for us — they are literally removing the healthy components from certain foods in order to sell more food products. And they are succeeding. Canola oil, for example, contains significant reductions of phytonutrients due to selective breeding. And transgenic citrus is now a reality — it’s sweeter, but it’s also free of
limonene, the bitter substance that can help prevent and treat skin cancer.
 Cancer researchers propose that a heightened sense of bitterness might be a healthy trait, allowing people to select foods with the highest phytonutrient content. This view contrasts with the food industry’s practice of measuring the content of these bitter phytonutrients merely as a way of developing new non-bitter, phytonutrientdeficient
strains. So while some nutrition scientists propose enhancing phytonutrients in foods for better health, the standard industry practice has been to remove them for better taste. Indeed, the lower
amount of bitter compounds in the modern diet reflects the “achievement” of the food industry. The irony is that as agricultural scientists remove more phytonutrients from plants, farmers have to use even more chemical pesticides to protect their crops; thus consumers are
left with the double-whammy of vegetables and fruits with less nutrition and more harmful pesticides.
In addition to bitterness, an astringent taste is also associated with healthy phytonutrients. These tastes can actually be quite attractive.
Consider a fine aged Bordeaux wine or a high-quality green tea.
Unfortunately, these are exceptions and sweetness is a dominant taste preference, or perhaps “addiction” is a better word.
You can get more phytonutrients into your diet by eating foods that have a natural bitter or astringent taste. Zucchini and other squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, melon, citrus and many other vegetables
and fruits, along with almonds and many types of beans, contain natural phytonutrients, as do red wine, green tea and cocoa.
Eat as much of as many types of vegetables and fruits as you can, both cooked and raw. Making these healthy vegetable choices is just another journey on the road to optimal health and human performance.
In addition to variety, the highest quality vegetables and fruits may be those that are organically grown, as discussed in the next chapter.


Making Wise Protein Choices


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