The Global Burden of Disease Study, which we have discussed previously in relation to fruit consumption, also identified inadequate vegetable consumption as a leading risk factor for death and disability, being nearly as bad as eating processed meat. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that in the USA alone, if everyone increased their consumption of fruit and veggies to meet the dietary guidelines, over one hundred thousand lives a year would be saved. There are many other experts in plant based nutrition who feel that this estimate should be even higher.
So go mad on your veggies. Anyone who says they don’t like veggies really hasn’t tried hard enough! There are so many different kinds, from artichokes, to asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, different coloured potatoes and yams, squash, peas, beans and more. The recommended servings (excluding greens) is at least two a day. Half a cup of raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables is a serve, half a cup of vegetable juice is a serve as is one quarter of a cup of mushrooms. Eating a wide variety is a great way to maximize intake of different nutrients and fills you up without excess calories.
The reason it is important to eat a wide variety is that different veggies have different effects on health outcomes and even different parts of the vegetable can have different activity in the body. For example, tomatoes are protective against heart attacks because the yellow fluid around the tomato seed concentrates a substance that suppresses platelet activation. This prevents blood clots that cause heart attacks and most strokes. Aspirin works in a similar way but not in everyone and it can increase your risk of bleeding. If you only have tomato in the form of tomato sauce, juice or ketchup you will not get this benefit as the seeds are removed during the processing.
There have not been many studies on the importance of variety of fruit and vegetable intake. However, one study that looked at inflammation in middle aged adults did show that the increase in variety of fruits and veggies eaten was even more important than the absolute amount eaten in predicting lower inflammation levels in the body.
If looking good motivates you, and if we are honest, this would be most of us - then eating more veggies should be high on your to-do list. One study showed that eating nine serves a day resulted in people looking a lot healthier and more attractive than the group who only ate three serves a day. In a study in Japan on the “crow’s feet wrinkles” around the eyes of over seven hundred women, researchers found that a higher intake of yellow and green vegetables was associated with less facial wrinkling.
Mushrooms are an excellent dietary source of an amino acid called ergothioneine. This acts as a cell protector and is especially important inside the mitochondria which are the power factories inside your cells. The DNA inside your mitochondria is especially vulnerable to free radical damage since many other anti-oxidants cannot enter the mitochondria. Mushrooms have about nine times as much ergothioneine as their next rival which is black beans. A serving of black beans has about eight times as much as the next on the list which is chicken liver. So I would strongly recommend adding mushrooms frequently to your diet to get their antioxidant effect, and potential immune function and anti-cancer benefits.
Garlic, onions and leeks also have special anti-cancer fighting properties, which is why everything I eat pretty much has at least garlic and onions in it (except for my morning oatmeal)!