We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, that’s not news. But science is only now revealing the deeper truth of that statement and what, exactly, is in each one that is such a benefit to us. We could focus on all the things you must eliminate from your life to be healthy, but I much prefer to focus on what you can add. Where else in life is it really true that more is better? The good news is that vegetables are low in calories, high in water, and delicious just as they come out of the ground. You can’t eat too much or too many. The one caveat is that fruit has more sugar and thus more calories and should be enjoyed in abundance without overdoing it.
Vegetables and fruit can be grouped by colour and coded by which antioxidants they contain and what they can do for you. Here’s your crib sheet.
- Red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and strawberries contain lycopene and anthocyanins to protect your heart, memory and urinary health.
- White fruits and vegetables like onions, leeks and garlic contain sulfides and allicin to protect your heart and keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
- Blue fruits and vegetables like blueberries and purple cabbage contain phenolics to protect your joints and brain.
- Yellow or orange fruits and vegetables like oranges and squash contain carotenoids to boost your immunity and protect your vision.
- Green fruits and vegetables like spinach contain lutein and indoles to protect your bones, teeth and eyes.
They all contain fibre, minerals and vitamins. In addition, they contain antioxidants, which are the tools the plant uses to protect itself from predators and drought. Learning how to deal with its environment forces the plant to armour itself. This armour becomes the antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal agents that do us so much good when we ingest them. They have protected the plant from its external environment which, in turn, helps us protect our internal environment. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” goes for vegetables and people. There is no scientific consensus over what is better for us, organically grown or conventionally grown food. The full and specific definition of organically grown depends upon the country of origin and the crop being discussed. For our purposes, let’s define organic as “grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides and grown in soil rather than hydroponically( in water).” Everything else is conventional. Deciding upon which way to go is a personal choice that depends upon your access to these foods, your finances, and your priorities. The issue isn’t that conventionally raised foods contain pesticides ? which can often be washed off ? though that’s part of it; it is that they can contain fewer phytonutrients (plant compounds that have beneficial health effects).
Think of it this way: the more nutrients that the soil can give to the plant, the more the plant has for you. In addition, the harder that the plant has to struggle to survive and grow, the stronger it will be and it can pass on that strength to you.
When figuring out the benefits of a fruit or veg, you have to consider two things: what kind of soil was it grown in and what kind of treatment it received to get it to market. The soil itself might be depleted in nutrients that the plant needs to make strong antioxidants and fertilizer may have been used to supply missing nutrients . A commercially and artificially fertilized plant may look almost the same but it may be different on the cellular level. Fungicides may have been used to combat mould, so the plant did not have to make the necessary phytochemicals. It is these chemicals that are helpful to our bodies.
Having fully armed, experienced plants in your salad bowl so you can build stronger cells to deal with life’s illnesses and deficiencies is the goal. Of course, conventionally raised vegetables are good for you; the benefits of these still exist and in spades! For my money, I buy organic greens whenever I can and as much other organic produce as I can when it’s on sale or close in price. The dark leafy greens are the power-packed workhorses of the vegetable family, and if I could have only one organic green it would be spinach. It cooks quickly, works as a salad and is affordable and available.
Eat as many vegetables of as many colours as humanly possible each and every day. Aim for one huge salad at lunch every day this week. If you have to pack it, you may need two or three containers to hold the amount of salad I mean by “huge.”