Monday 14 January 2013

Week 3 Nutrition Habit: Adding Vegetables

Okay, I know you know you should eat more vegetables. Like many people, you have probably been given this message since you were a little kid. However, if you are like most people, you probably don't eat enough.  In this week's edition of the 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You series, I'll tell you why you should eat more vegetables and how to practically take a step forward to making vegetables a more regular part of your daily nutrition.

Why Vegetables are So Good for You

Vitamins & Minerals:
I know you know this one, but I need to have it here as a reminder: vegetables are a great way to get essential vitamins and minerals.

Whole foods like vegetables have fiber - a plant component that is not digestible by human enzymes. Soluble fiber found in vegetables (yes, it is not just in Cheerios) helps to lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps slow down the digestion of carbohydrates (thus making them less likely stored as fat) and create bulk in your colon for optimal digestion speed. This helps reduce your risk of constipation and colon cancer. 

Stress from training, sport, the environment and life can create free radicals. These are unstable molecules with unpaired electrons that go around trying to find a friend for the lonely electron. As a result, they can end up damaging cell DNA and can cause cancer and other diseases. A key thing to know about antioxidants is that they work best as a team. Back in the early 2000's, people got all excited about singular antioxidant supplementation. However, it seems that high levels of singular antioxidants may actually act like free radicals in the body. Plant foods contain a wide variety of antioxidants that work together as a dream team to provide effective free radical protection. 

These are compounds found in plants that have various health-promoting properties such as fighting cancer and heart disease. For more information, click HERE for an article on phytochemicals by the American Cancer Society. 

Preventing Chronic Low-Grade Acidosis:
This is an important topic that many people are not as aware of. I first learned about it from Dr. John Berardi. The body likes to keep a precise level of many things - including pH. Certain foods such as grains, meats and dairy are quite acidic. Most fruits and vegetables are quite alkaline. Therefore, if you are on the typical North American wheat & meat fat diet, you are likely placing an acidic load on the body. As a result, the body will pull calcium from the bones and glutamine from the muscles (both of which are alkaline) to help return itself to a more optimal pH level. This is not helpful for your bones or your muscles and can create a less-than-ideal hormonal environment for building muscle and burning fat. 

Most fibrous vegetables (e.g. broccoli) have a very minimal impact on blood sugar levels and thus do not create sugar crashes and that sleepy feeling you get after Thanksgiving dinner. As a result, they are great for sustained energy during a busy day. However, starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes) are great for replenishing glycogen stores after hard training which is helpful for energy and performance. 

Body Composition: 
Fibrous vegetables along with lean meats are staple foods for fat loss. I shake my head when I hear people say things like, "oh I don't like vegetables, so I just take a supplement (e.g. multi-vitamin or powdered vegetable supplement) instead." When I hear this, I want to say, "well then what are you eating - because if you are not eating vegetables, what you are eating is likely what is making you fat!"  

Cost-Effective & Time Efficient:
I love going to our local farm market and loading up with two big bags of fruits and vegetables for about $20. Also, buying things like organic, pre-washed spinach to quickly throw in protein shakes, scrambled eggs or on a plate as a salad is great for eating well when you are busy. 

Practical Application: Getting More Vegetables In Your Body

This weeks' nutrition habit is simple: pick one meal or snack per day that you do not currently eat vegetables at and add some veggies to it. Here are some examples:
  • Dinner: add a stir fry or salad
  • Lunch: add left-over stir fry from last night's dinner or a side salad
  • Breakfast: add tomatoes onions, mushrooms and spinach to your eggs to make a veggie scramble or omelette 
  • Protein shakes: add spinach to your power shake (click HERE for more details). 
  • Snack: try raw veggies with hummus 

Stay tuned for week 4's habit...

Here are the links to the previous habits in case you missed them:
Week 2: Optimal Hydration
Week 1: Kitchen Cleanout (at the end of the introduction to this series)

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