Rethink Vegetables & Fruit

The overarching goal in the nutrition section of this website is to challenge you to rethink the commonly held beliefs that so often determine our relationship with food. We all know that vegetables are healthy for our bodies. They provide potassium, fiber, folate and lots of vitamins. They help reduce the risk of chronic illness and protect against high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, among other benefits. But before we extol fruits and vegetables as the answer to all dietary ills, we should consider a few other pieces of information.

Pound for pound, vegetables actually contain fewer nutrients than animal protein. While it’s important to eat your veggies for a plethora of great reasons, don’t forget to eat plenty of fats and pasture-raised animal products. In the past, I was obsessed with getting “enough” greens and would eat huge salads full of raw veggies and then wondered why I was bloated and gassy all the time. Raw vegetables are difficult to digest (especially if you have any sort of compromised gut function) and so I prefer to eat cooked vegetables, including starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash, which can be deeply satisfying and help you stay balanced and get enough carbohydrates if you aren’t eating grains.

Raw cultured vegetables are a wonderful addition to any diet and a great way to eat your veggies because they are already partially “digested” from the fermentation process. They help digestion immensely by populating your gut with beneficial bacteria, and just a few tablespoons a day can have great benefits and improve your good gut bacteria, which benefits everything from your immune system to healthy skin. Just make sure they aren’t pasteurized and contain only vegetables and salt, with no sugar added. If you are new to cultured products, start by eating just a teaspoon a day and build up to more.

Another great way to get your greens without having to eat a ton of produce is juicing. Green juice is very energizing and helps balance out the animal products one consumes. Unfortunately, juicing is expensive and time consuming, but if you can manage it, it’s very beneficial to your diet. Just make sure that you use good quality produce (and skip the fruit juice, as it contains a ton of sugar that hits your system without the fiber to slow it down). Check out this podcast with Chris Kresser for more on juicing.

Pound for pound, vegetables actually contain fewer nutrients than animal protein. While it’s important to eat your veggies for a plethora of great reasons, don’t forget to eat plenty of fats and pasture-raised animal products.

When it comes to fruit, we also need to question some of the doctrine that’s commonly accepted as fact. In truth, most people overestimate the benefits of eating fruit and, therefore, eat too much of it; fruit contains a lot of sugar, even if it is natural. While eating fruit is a good idea, I rarely have more than a couple servings a day, and when I do it is often in smoothies, so that I consume it with fat, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. However, in The Paleo Cure, Chris Kresser says, “3 to 4 servings of fruit a day is fine for most people” (pg. 127). As a side note, berries have less sugar than other fruits and contain pectin which is very beneficial for our gut health.

Eating organic fruit and vegetables is ideal, but unfortunately this certification process is expensive and, therefore, not all farmers apply for it even if they aren’t using pesticides. My parents in Canada run farm, use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but aren’t certified organic because of the cost involved. Talk to your local farmer and find out specifics about their practices. Pesticide exposure has been associated with health issues from cancer to hormone problems to skin issues, as well as lung and eye irritation. Remember, it isn’t just about your own exposure. By supporting growers that use pesticides, you are contributing to the toxic exposure of farm workers and those that live around the farms, like small children.

Buying local is not only good for the environment (e.g. less polluting transportation) but it also means that the fruit and vegetables can be picked ripe, rather than picked early and transported to the stores (sometimes after having been gassed with ethylene to ripen them). Unfortunately, the longer something is on the vine or in the ground, the more time it risks exposure to pests or destruction by weather conditions, which is why things are often picked unripe. If you buy from a farmer you trust, you can avoid cleaning the produce so thoroughly, which means you can “eat more dirt.” In the past we used to get a lot of beneficial microbes by consuming dirt that was attached to the food we ate. Now everything is so thoroughly washed that we miss out on this. When we go to the farmers’ market, my son loves gnawing on a (dirty) carrot. Yay for microbes!

Sea vegetables are actually algae but are a great addition to your diet and a good way to get the important mineral iodine. The most commonly known sea vegetable is nori, the seaweed used to wrap sushi. This link from Dr. Axe gives some more information on why eating sea vegetables is a good idea.

Action Steps:

  • Buy organic and local whenever possible
  • Eat cooked vegetables for better digestion
  • Incorporate cultured vegetables and green juice
  • If it’s from a trusted source, don’t wash it, so you can get the beneficial soil microbes
  • Eat plenty of fat with your vegetables to help absorb the nutrients

Tips from my kitchen (and the kitchens of those I admire):

  • The Environmental Working Group tests produce for pesticides and has come up with a list of the “Clean Fifteen” and the “Dirty Dozen.” The Clean Fifteen are the fruits and vegetables that tested lowest for pesticides, whereas the Dirty Dozen tested the highest. You can check out the complete list here.
  • Here’s a great guide for finding the vegetables you need
  • Here are two great lists of farmers’ markets in the following San Francisco areas: Mill Valley  and San Francisco and Sanoma County.
  • Cooking vegetables doesn’t have to be complicated. Either cook them in a yummy, saturated fat (bake, roast, fry etc) or boil or steam them, adding butter or olive oil after. And don’t forget the sea salt to bring out the flavor. Always add fat to your vegetables as the fat helps you absorb the vitamins and minerals, as well as help satiate you. Your mantra: fat doesn’t make you fat!
  • Use nori (the seaweed used for sushi) to make hand rolls with canned fish, like sardines, for a quick and easy lunch without the need for bread. I also love arame sprinkled on salads with nutritional yeast and olive oil.
  • Make natural gelatin jigglers: juice enough apples to make just over 2 cups of juice, set aside 1/2 a cup and sprinkle with 3 tbsp of grass-fed beef gelatin and warm the rest of the apple juice. Once the 1/2 cup has absorbed the gelatin, use a whisk to mix it with the warm liquid and then pour in a 8×10 glass dish to set in the fridge for about three hours.
  • Buy berries in season, lay them out on a cookie tray or pie plate and once frozen put them in bags or glass jars to keep in the freezer.
  • Fresh raspberries over organic vanilla ice cream is a delicious treat
  • Make meal planning simple by picking a protein, like steak or chicken, and paring it with a cooked vegetable or two slathered in butter with a side of cultured vegetables.