By: Matthias Breon, Performance Coach and Nutrition Guru
There is one simple thing that every single one of us can do to fundamentally change our health and weight loss goals, and that is to intake more vegetables.
“Yes, we get it. Vegetables are healthy.” Everyone knows this, but what you might not know about is the effects they have on weight loss. Yes, veggies will help you lose weight and much, much faster than those damn protein bars and shakes will.
So veggies are magical and fat will just burn off the body like a snickers bar in a volcano? Well, not exactly but they will fill you up, aid in digestion, and help your body work at its maximum fat burning capability.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy to get our vegetables for the day. I’m talking about eating 4-5 cups per day of leafy greens and tasting the rainbow (no, not Skittles) of nutrient-packed foods.
On average, Americans only eat about 1.5 cups of vegetables per day. And the worst part? The majority of that is from the government counting french fries and pizza as vegetables because of the potato and tomatoes they are made with.
That can’t be real, can it? Unfortunately, when averaged out Americans only eat about 0.11 cups of dark leafy greens per day, and the rest is accounted for by potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots among others.
This means we, as a people, are fundamentally missing the mark and leaving a massive amount of nutrients behind in favor of taste and convenience of other foods that are consumed more regularly.
There are a number of key points to address in relation to vegetables and their nutrient content, so here are the points that I refer to as “the case for veggies.”
Phytonutrients is a fancy way of saying plant nutrients that do some heavy lifting for our bodies. Fruits and vegetables get their colors and their nutrition from these awesome little chemicals.
These plant chemicals are the superheroes of our bodies. They fight and prevent disease while helping us get and stay stronger over our lifetime.
Our current estimate says there are between 10,000-20,000 different phytonutrients, but we classify them into a few main groups of which you have almost assuredly heard of. Some of the groups are known as antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, catechins, etc..
Without trying to load you up too much with the different names and what they do, check out this awesome infographic that details all of the different phytonutrients, and which foods they are present in.
The human body has a pretty elaborate system of maintaining balance as it relates to acids and bases. You may remember acids and bases from basic chemistry back in high school, but here is a basic rundown of how PH levels affect the body.
When a food is eaten, it is broken down and ingested in the stomach where it then presents itself as either an acid forming compound or a base (alkaline) forming compound. In general, the human body likes to maintain homeostasis at neutral.
When you ingest a highly acidic forming diet, think foods such as dairy, protein, grains, and legumes, the body (namely the kidneys) must adjust this back to a neutral range. Unfortunately, to do this the kidneys must borrow buffering substances to even it back out. Buffering substances are often minerals, proteins, or glutamine that is borrowed from bones, muscles or other major parts of the body.
Alkaline forming foods (fruits and veggies) allow the body to operate at homeostasis without having to borrow buffers from bones and muscle tissue.
What does that mean? Well, would you rather have osteoporosis at the age of 42 because your body has to keep stealing calcium from your bones, or eat your damn veggies so your body doesn’t have to do the buffering for you? Pretty simple to make that decision.
In case you’re still pondering that question here’s some cold, hard science for you.
[High] alkaline diets may result in a number of health benefits as outlined below
- Increased fruits and vegetables in an alkaline diet would improve the K/Na ratio and may benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, as well as mitigate other chronic diseases such as hypertension and strokes.
- The resultant increase in growth hormone with an alkaline diet may improve many outcomes from cardiovascular health to memory and cognition.
- An increase in intracellular magnesium, which is required for the function of many enzyme systems, is another added benefit of the alkaline diet. Available magnesium, which is required to activate vitamin D, would result in numerous added benefits in the vitamin D apocrine/exocrine systems.
FIBER AND CALORIC DENSITY
If you know anything at all about me, you probably know that I love to talk about fiber and all of the health benefits it exhibits.
Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of fiber from The Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program, University of Kentucky:
- Individuals with high intakes of dietary fiber appear to be at significantly lower risk for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
- Increasing fiber intake lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels.
- Increased intake of soluble fiber improves glycemia and insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals.
- Fiber supplementation in obese individuals significantly enhances weight loss.
- Increased fiber intake benefits a number of gastrointestinal disorders including the following: gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids. Prebiotic fibers appear to enhance immune function.
Vegetables, specifically leafy greens, consist almost entirely of fiber and phytonutrients with a small amount of glucose and protein. Because of this, veggies are a very high volume and low-calorie food. Consuming veggies on a regular basis (between 8-12 servings per day) means you will eat a higher volume of food without increasing your overall caloric intake. In turn, this is a very manageable way to lose weight without changing dietary habits drastically.
The recommended intake for fiber sits at 14 grams per 1000 calories consumed or around 25-30 grams for the average person.
COOKING & EATING
When it comes down to it, the best vegetable for you is the one you will enjoy eating. There are benefits to eating vegetables raw as well as cooked so it becomes a matter of personal preference for the most part.
Veggies have the ability to make us feel bloated and well…gassy. This is due to methane gas production after the undigested fiber becomes fermented in the colon. It’s a natural byproduct and is by no means harmful; however, it tends to cause distress when a high raw veggie intake is new to you.
If that sounds like you, and you shy away from certain vegetables because of the way they make you feel, then try cooking them! Cooking will help break down the fiber which allows for easier digestion and absorption of nutrients. Of course, we want to be sure that the vegetable being cooked still has some color and crunch to it. A hot, sloppy mess of what used to be a vegetable will do no good for anyone.
There will be vegetables that you eat raw, and some that you eat cooked. Find your balance and what works specifically for you. I know for a fact that I am not a raw broccoli eater and never will be, the taste and texture make me question all that is good and holy in this great land. But steamed broccoli? That’s my JAM!
The recommended intake for vegetables will vary depending on your weight and gender but in general, we want to strive for 8-12 servings per day. Does that seem too lofty and just ain’t gonna happen? At the very least try to eat some sort of vegetable with every meal.
All About Fruits & Vegetables.” Precision Nutrition. N.p., 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
Anderson, James W., Pat Baird, Richard H Davis Jr, Stefanie Ferreri, Mary Knudtson, Ashraf Koraym, Valerie Waters, and Christine L. Williams. “Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber.” Nutrition Reviews 67.4 (2009): 188-205. Web.
Andrews, Ryan. “All About Dietary Acids and Bases.” Precision Nutrition. N.p., 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
Gordon, Maria. “Why You Need Phytonutrients and the 4 Best Places to Get Them.” Breaking Muscle. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
Schwalfenberg *, Gerry K. The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline PH Diet Benefits Health? (2011): n. pag. Web.