You’ve heard it before, but it’s something that most of us can’t argue with: eat fruits and vegetables. It’s the soundest nutritional advice that doesn’t require a fancy dietary approach or book to follow.
Eating fruits and vegetables helps ward off chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. That said, there’s emerging research about fruits and vegetables to make your plant-based meals even smarter and more impactful.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Choose variety.
A lot of people get locked in a food rut and eat a few foods consistently rather than a wider sampling. While a single food might have health merits, it’s much better from a nutritional perspective to shake up your routine with plant-based foods.
The complexity of different phytonutrients (or nutrients found in plants) from several plant foods working together is going to be superior compared with overdoing it on any one fruit or vegetable.
Researchers found that women who ate 8-9 servings of fruits and vegetables from 18 different botanical families compared with just 5 botanical families reduced damage to their DNA after just 2 weeks. It wasn’t the amount, but the diversity of what they were eating that made the difference.
Takeaway: It’s important to get a rainbow of colors everyday in your meals. Get out of food ruts and start moving along the spectrum of health!
2. Cook vegetables rather than eat them raw.
One of the most popular questions I get is whether to eat vegetables raw or cooked.
Raw food might be good for some nutrients like vitamin C, but many people find it surprising that a majority of plant-based antioxidants and nutrients require some gentle cooking to make them active and accessible to the body.
I’m not talking lots of high-heat cooking, but subtle steaming (about 1-2 minutes) to the point that the vegetable turns a beautiful, vivid color, inviting you to eat it.
Nutrition researchers found that steaming led to a greater percentage of antioxidant activity in foods like green pepper (467% greater antioxidants), cabbage (antioxidant increase of 448%), carrots (antioxidant increase of 291%) and asparagus (antioxidant increase of 205%), compared with their raw forms.
Takeaway: A little heat with your veggies brings out their best protection for you.
3. Make good partnerships.
There’s something to be said about the synergy of putting certain foods together — they’ll taste more flavorful and you’ll get bigger health benefits from the foods you’re eating.
For example, when grilling meat, include spices like turmeric and rosemary in marinades or hamburgers. They’re concentrated sources of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents that protect against the formation of reactive, cancer-causing chemicals.
Put a slice of lemon into your green tea to preserve the antioxidant-rich catechins. One of my favorite combinations is turmeric with black pepper and oil. It’s the optimal cooking trio to amp up the action of anti-inflammatory turmeric!
Takeaway: Get to know the food combinations that are synergistic for truly “smart” eating.
4. Expect the unexpected.
When certain foods become known for various qualities, I call them “food legends”. One great example is the banana. When I mention banana, you might think of its claim to fame is its potassium content. However, an avocado has more than double the potassium of a banana (and 14 grams of fiber).
Another example is the tomato, known for its relatively high lycopene amount (lycopene is a phytonutrient important for heart, prostate and immune health); however, research showed that lycopene was approximately 2.6 times more bioavailable from papayas than from tomatoes.
Kale, the darling of the health field, has become relatively famous for its high levels of lutein (lutein is a phytonutrient that helps with vision). Indeed, kale has a good amount of lutein, but parsley has the same amount, if not a tad more.
Takeaway: Don’t take “food legends” at face value. There might be better food superstars to be explore.
5. See the larger potential of plants.
We used to think of plant-based nutrients as antioxidants. We still do, but now we know more about the role phytonutrients play in working to trigger activities within the cell — like gene expression.
In other words, what we eat changes the destiny of our DNA.
Takeaway: The plant foods we eat “become” us by changing DNA expression and how organs function, so get a wide sampling of phytonutrients from different sources on a consistent basis.
Yes, we all know we need to eat our vegetables, but what’s even more exciting is all the recent research that makes it even more enticing to do so! Take these tidbits into your next plant-based meal to start eating smarter for health and healing.