Even though there is much controversy about which foods are "good" or "bad," I think that we can at least agree on the importance of one food group: vegetables and fruits. Kind of indisputable, right? WHY are these food groups so good for you?
One reason is that they contain micronutrients with phytochemicals and antioxidating properties. Phytochemicals, which profoundly enhance the physiological effects on the body, act as antioxidants to destroy bacteria, thus preventing chronic diseases (Whitney & Rolfes, 2016).
Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes (all plant-based foods) are also more nutrient dense than animal products – in other words you get more bang for your buck. The percent calories for fat is lower (no saturated fat by the way), and most of these foods contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates all in one package in the appropriate amounts/ratios for our bodies.
Athletes ask the valid question about their higher protein requirements. Well, if you are eating more food and taking in extra calories because you are working out and expending more energy, then you are likely eating more protein too! Thus you are naturally, by default, increasing your protein intake.
Plus, if you think about it, protein deficiency is not what we are worried about these days. If you are consuming enough calories, you are typically getting enough protein - unless you have an eating disorder or a specific health condition. How often in everyday conversation do you hear of people – in developed countries – dying of protein deficiencies?
Protein deficiency is not a likely cause of death in our country. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a specialist in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods, says we have a problem of OVERnutrition, not undernutrition. We are more concerned about heart attacks and cancer – the risks of both conditions being dramatically reduced and manipulated through our diets and other lifestyle factors.
I offer the following research not to insist that anyone radically change their diets right this minute, but rather to show the vast benefits of increasing vegetable/plant-based food intake. The Adventist Health Study (2) concluded that vegetarian diets are associated with lower BMI values, lower prevalence of hypertension, lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome, lower prevalence and incidence of diabetes mellitus, and lower all-cause mortality. Furthermore, analyses also showed possible moderate reductions in the rates of certain cancer outcomes for some vegetarians (Orlich & Fraser, 2014).
↑ That is just the summary ↑ - the 30,000 foot view - of this incredible observational study with a cohort of ~96,000 participants. I may write more about these findings in a future post and delve deeper into the methods and results. Epidemiological research is one of my greatest passions!
Wrapping things up...
Wherever you are in your eating habits, let's start with small changes. When meal planning, try to incorporate at least five fruits and vegetables each day. One technique to support an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption is to spend most of your time at the grocery store along the perimeter sections. Why? This is usually where we find the produce and fresh foods. Consistent consumption of these fresh foods will positively energize us, and keep us on track!
~On a related note, if you are looking for a few more quick tips to healthy eating, check out this article I co-authored with one of my professors in grad school.
Give ♡ to your body,
This post is inspired by a presentation I attended at American University held by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. The presenter was Dr. Stephen Neabore, who specializes in the prevention and treatment of acute and chronic diseases.
Orlich, M. J., & Fraser, G. E. (2014). Vegetarian diets in the Adventist Health Study 2: a review of initial published findings. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100 Suppl 1(1), 353S–8S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.071233
Whitney, E. & Rolfes, S.R. 2016. Understanding Nutrition. Stamford: Cengage Learning.