If a quality diet is the foundation of health, filling half of your plate with colorful, nutritionally-dense vegetables is the cornerstone.
In last month’s post, A Mindset of Eating More, I talked about setting positive goals around nutrition.
Today I’d like to talk about a simple habit change that could make a big impact on your health. If any pill or potion could boast all of the following benefits, everyone would be taking it! A diet rich in colorful, delicious, nutritionally-dense vegetables absolutely can have these profound health effects:
- Increase the diversity of your microbiome
- Help balance your hormones
- Improve your digestion
- Help you lose weight
- Improve your energy
- Reduce brain fog
- Support healing in your body
- Improve your sleep
- Reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and all-cause mortality
- Improve your mental health
The Venn Diagram of Nutrition Advice
Nutrition advice abounds; it’s so easy to throw our hands up at the contradictions and just order takeout.
If we think about all of the research on diet out there as a Venn diagram, what does it have in common? What is in that overlapping section in the middle – the sweet spot on which they agree?
Of course we need to eat more than just vegetables; quality proteins and healthy fats are super important too. But a wide variety of nutritionally-dense vegetables seem to often be what we’re missing most on our plates today.
The 80/20 Rule
You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle. The general idea is that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of our effort. While this doesn’t always apply, this idea does resonate with us. We’ve seen it play out in many aspects of our personal and professional lives. How can we apply this to the alignment of our eating habits for optimal health?
This one habit of loading up our plates with a colorful, diverse array of vegetables allows us to hit so many other targets at the same time.
- Reducing processed food? Check.
- Cutting sugar? Check.
- Increasing the nutrients we need for our bodies to function properly? Check.
- Providing lots of fiber to feed your gut microbiome? Check.
- Turning on genes that fight cancer and promote healing? Check.
- Providing nutrients to promote detoxification and balance hormones? Check.
I’ll stop now, but this could be a very long list!
Et Tu, Breakfast
When talking with my clients, we almost always get around to the topic of vegetables. We often (yes, I’m including myself) overestimate how many servings of vegetables we eat in a day.
The Institute for Functional Medicine recommends that we eat 9-13 servings of vegetables and fruit daily. Other therapeutic food plans recommend 9 cups or more diverse vegetables and fruits (mostly vegetables). In order to fit all this in, it is very helpful to eat them for breakfast too, whenever you eat your first meal of the day. That’s why in sessions with clients we often talk about smoothies or scrambles for breakfast. Even dinner leftovers are a great way to break your fast and get a jump start on flooding your body with nutritionally-dense food.
Just a Few Reasons Why Vegetables are So Powerful
1 – Vegetables Crowd Out Processed Foods
Dr. Hartman has said many times on this site that HALF of all chronic diseases can be attributed to processed food. That’s a sad state of affairs, but one that we have the power to change.
When you stuff your breakfast omelet with peppers and onions, eat a big salad for lunch, snack on celery and nut butter in the afternoon, then fill much of your dinner plate with broccoli and sweet potato, you’re too full to think about much else.
By focusing on increasing our vegetable intake, we automatically remove some of the harmful processed foods that are easily accessible in our food supply.
And, while we’re taking out the poison, we’re adding in the medicine…
2- Nutrients are not optional.
Have you ever thought of your food as information for your body? Food tells your body how to function and even plays an important role in gene expression.
We’ve known for a long time that nutrients in real food affect gene expression.
Even back in the 1930s, a professor in Texas, Fred Hale, conducted an experiment to see the effect of Vitamin A deficiency. He found that severe Vitamin A deficiency in pigs resulted in mothers who had entire litters of piglets with NO EYEBALLS. Then, when those same mother pigs were given Vitamin, A they produced litters WITH eyeballs.
This is an amazing illustration of the importance of the food choices we make.
3 – Reduced insulin = less hunger and fewer cravings
Vegetables have fewer carbs and sugars than grains or even fruit, so they don’t prompt our bodies to over-produce insulin. Lower insulin levels result in a gentler blood sugar curve, less hunger, and fewer cravings for carbs and sweets.
4 – Better Gut Health
The fiber and polyphenols found in vegetables and fruit promote a diverse and healthy microbiome. If you follow this blog, you know how important this is for your health. From digestion to brain function, from immune health to maintaining a healthy weight, gut health is super important. By ramping up your vegetable and fruit intake, you can feed and heal your gut and improve your overall health.
Let’s Look Forward to Our Next Plate
When considering nutritional advice, it’s important to keep it in perspective and set our sights forward.
We can’t change our decisions from the past. We can only focus on the choices we’re making right now.
The nutritional game is not about the last play (plate), it’s about the one you’re going to make next.
How might you add more color and variety to your next plate? What does your ideal plate look like? Have a pretty plate full of veggies you’d like to show us? Snap a picture and share it with us on Facebook so we can cheer you on!
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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