Paging Dr. Frischer: Vegetables

"Eat your vegetables!" Growing up, we all heard this. We were taught that they are the cornerstone of a good diet. What is the scientific basis for such a claim?

I’ll make this easy for those of you who may be in a rush, and provide my conclusion right away: I urge you to eat a variety of fresh vegetables every single day. There is simply no better food group that so perfectly matches our nutritional needs. The nutrients in vegetables are vital to our health and maintenance; they can help to reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

We are fortunate to live in a country and during an era where, for most, calories are abundant – in fact, far too abundant. Vegetables as a group are very low in calories, with about 50 or fewer in a cupful, making it quite difficult to gain weight even if we overeat. In comparison, legumes
(like beans, peas, and peanuts…yes, peanuts are legumes) have about 250 calories per cup, and fruit ranges from some 50 calories per cup of watermelon, to 400 calories for dried fruits. Nuts and seeds contain a whopping 750 calories or more per cup.

Vegetables are very high in vitamins and minerals. Here are just a few examples of how this benefits us:

■ The B-vitamins act as enzymes and coenzymes for energy production.

■ Vitamins C and E provide antioxidant properties that fight free radicals and assist the immune system.

■ The carotenoids (found in most brightly colored vegetables and fruits) also act as antioxidants.

■ Calcium and phosphorus are critical to bone health, nerve function, and blood pressure.

■ Potassium helps to maintain electrolyte balance, nerve transmission, and blood pressure.

■ Biotin, choline, and folic acid are necessary for liver, heart and neurologic function.

■ Phytonutrients are chemicals that help protect plants from germs, fungi, and other threats. Studies are linking them to the prevention of a variety of human diseases as well.

Note that vitamins B and C are water soluble, and are not stored in the body. This explains why three to five *daily* servings of vegetables are recommended. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, and can be stored in the body for later use.

Vegetables help to maintain a healthy intestinal balance by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria. There are hundreds of species of bacteria in the intestines; each species plays a different role, and each requires different nutrients. Vegetables and fruits are the best sources for these nutrients.

Vegetables are high in dietary fiber, which has a number of health benefits, like normalizing bowel movements; helping to maintain bowel health by reducing the likelihood of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis, lowering cholesterol levels, likely lowering blood pressure, helping to
control blood sugar levels by slowing sugar absorption, and finally, helping to achieve a healthy weight.

Thousands of studies have been conducted which suggest that a healthy diet filled with colorful vegetables and fruits contributes to skin and eye health and is the key to avoiding heart disease, diabetes, cataracts, and very likely a variety of cancers.  Research continues.

Vegetables can be lightly steamed, microwaved, baked, grilled, or eaten raw. Whichever way you prepare them, consume them daily, in a variety of types, colors, and shapes. They are low in calories, high in fiber, and contain almost every vitamin and mineral your body needs. Enjoy!