BotanicalsHealthy Aging

Go Greens, Go Greens, Rah Rah Rah!

Why fruits, berries, and veggies should be a staple in any diet

“Crackers and cheese, that’s about all he eats,” a mom tells me when I ask her about her child’s eating habits. “Hm, I see. Any vegetables?” “Only if I put them in the blender and sneak them into tomato sauce.” We both shrug our shoulders, laugh, and spend the rest of the visit talking about ways to hide more nutrients in the kiddo’s cuisine.

Conversations like this one happen all too often in my family practice.

Adults might become impatient with these adorable little ones who refuse to eat plants, but let’s consider our own diets for a moment. How many greens are we eating? Likely not enough.

Even those of us eating “clean” diets could stand to up our vegetable intake. For example, those following a paleo or ketogenic diet might eat a plate of protein for dinner, use vegetables as a mere garnish, and then wonder why they’re constipated. Even vegans often have a curiously low intake of vegetables, opting for plant-based protein bars, nuts, rice noodles, and tofu. When it comes to nutritional status, it isn’t so much what we take out of diet as it is what we put in. And the vast majority of us could benefit from more fruits and veggies!

It is widely accepted that a diet rich in plants decreases the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack, and stroke,[1] improving life quality and length. In fact, a 2013 cohort study of 71,706 participants (38,221 men and 33,485 women) aged 45 to 83 years found that those who seldom ate fruits and vegetables lived on average three years less and had a 53% higher mortality rate than those who consumed five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In another study following 10,000 middle-aged men over four decades, increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, and berries was found to delay overall death and decrease the risk of all-cause mortality, in particular with respect to cancer and cardiovascular disease.[3]

Those who seldom ate fruits and vegetables lived on average three years less and had a 53% higher mortality rate than those who consumed five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Although virtually all fruits and vegetables are beneficial for health, some plant-based superfoods worth celebrating (and eating!) include the following:

Acerola cherries are berry good

The healing benefits of berries largely come from the flavonoids they contain. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity, thus making them significant players in improving cardiovascular health and preventing cancer caused by free radical damage. A Swedish cohort study found that eating berries had a direct impact on reducing stroke risk in those with high blood pressure,[4] and an American study found a similar association with respect to cardiovascular disease.[5] Berries are also celebrated for their rich vitamin content. Acerola cherries in particular are rich in vitamin C, containing more vitamin C than all other food sources according to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA).[6] In fact, fresh acerola cherry juice contains 13 times more vitamin C than orange juice.

Fresh acerola cherry juice contains 13 times more vitamin C than orange juice.

One cup of acerola juice also contains 1,232 international units (IU) of vitamin A – double that of the same portion of fresh berries.[7] If berries pack a nutritional punch, acerola cherries pack health-boosting dynamite!

Leaves of (wheat) grass

Wheat, barley, alfalfa, oat, and many other grains are actually grasses, existing as young green plants before they produce grain. These young cereal grasses, as they are known, have very different chemical and nutritional composition from the mature seed grains they produce. In particular, the grasses are much higher not only in protein, but also in vitamins A, C, and E, as well as iron, magnesium, calcium, and chlorophyll. (More on chlorophyll in a minute.)[8],[9] Wheat grass juice also lowered cholesterol markers as effectively as statin drugs in a study done on rats,[10] and another trial found it significantly lowered blood sugar levels.[11] Those with wheat and gluten sensitivities typically tolerate the grasses of these grains just fine, as the grasses themselves are gluten-free.

Immune-boosting algae

Chlorella is a green freshwater algae rich in protein, chlorophyll, RNA, DNA, and carotenoids. Chlorella has long been celebrated for its health-boosting effects, from easing inflammation[12] to strengthening the body’s ability to ward off infections.[13] Chlorella has also been shown to fight allergies by suppressing histamine release[14] and has even been shown to kill cancer cells.[15],[16] Considering the tough cell wall of this plant, many manufacturers grind chlorella into small pieces to improve absorption, but this practice sadly dissipates many of chlorella’s important nutrients. More carefully created products involve a fracturing or “cracking” process to preserve the nutrients contained within the cells and to enhance their absorbability after ingestion.

Both cereal grasses and chlorella are rich in chlorophyll,[17] a pigment essential for photosynthesis, the process by which plants create energy from sunlight. In humans, chlorophyll acts as a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties,[18] and may thus be of benefit in preventing and mitigating heart disease,[19] arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.[20] Chlorophyll has also been shown to both prevent cellular mutations and changes which precede the development of cancer.[21],[22],[23] Diets that are high in red meat and low in green vegetables are associated with increased colon cancer risk;[24] chlorophyll-rich greens may help mitigate that risk.[25] Chlorophyll also has been shown to support liver detoxification[26],[27] and to promote healthy weight loss.[28],[29],[30]

Supplementing stripped soil

Even those who eat a diet rich in vegetables may still be vulnerable to sub-optimal nutritional status, in large part due to the loss of phytonutrients in the soil.[31] The increased concentration of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins in the soil has compromised the healing potential of our food supply. This is where high-quality greens as nutritional supplements can quickly and conveniently help give our bodies a significant nutritional upgrade.

 

Click here to see References
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Fatty Liver Disease: Thyroid Function and Gut Health as Disease Risk Factors
Nrf2, Antioxidant Superhero

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