THE POWER OF FRUITS & VEGGIES [2008-02-03]
STAY SLIM & HEALTHY with FRUITS & VEGGIES
"Let food be your medicine, and your medicine your food" - Hippocrates.
I have absolute faith that science will discover and prove more of the healing power of the nutrients in our food. In the last few decades we have come to realize the importance of fruits and vegetables. US health experts have long advised us to take 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies daily. Many studies have proven that this advice was correct. A long-term study had shown that 6 servings of fruits & veggies a day reduced the chance of getting stroke by about 33%, and 9 servings daily reduced the risk by about 66%. The evidence is mounting that adequate intake of fruits and veggies can protect you from cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, joint disease, eye disease and a long list of other health problems. Because the health and healing benefits are so much, the experts have now advised us to take 7-12 servings a day!
With the exception of the starchy ones like potatoes, veggies are nutrient dense (low calorie but high nutrient content), providing an abundance of protective nutrients ( vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber ). Go for veggies of various colours, for each variety has nutrients that others don't have. While dark veggies are rich in pigmented antioxidants, even lighter ones like cabbages are rich in nutrients.
NUTRIENT DENSITY & NUTRIENT BALANCE
The common cabbage is so cheap and abundantly available that we take it for granted. It contains plenty of vitamins C and K; and smaller amounts of alpha & beta-carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin, and folic acid and the other vitamin B group members. It is rich in manganese, and has smaller amounts of other minerals.
Although 100gm ( 1 cup, chopped ) of cabbage only provides about 1 gm of protein, it contains 18 different amino-acids.
It is low in saturated fats, and like all veggies, does not contain cholesterol. It does contain healthy phytosterols.
Because of its high water (92%), high fiber ( over 2gm ) and low calorie content ( only about 25 kcal/100gm ), it is an excellent food to fill up your stomach to avoid over-eating, and to lose or maintain your weight.
In terms of nutrient density ( nutrient vs calorie content ), the cheap cabbage is comparable to many other veggies. In terms of nutrient balance ( content and proportion of the most important nutrient groups vs carbohydrate, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium ) it is not too far behind spinach.
Another factor to consider is the range and completeness of nutrients contained. Now we are discovering that fruits and veggies contain many nutrients we didn't even know existed before. Some foods like chlorella and spirulina ( blue-green algae ) have so many nutrients, they are complete meals by themselves.
Finally, some foods have high contents of certain nutrients that may be required for your special needs, or for healing. For example, vegetarians can get loads of iron, copper and manganese from spirulina, and certain fruits and veggies have special antioxidants that can improve specific health problems.
I am using the cabbage to illustrate that a healthy food need not be expensive, and even the once exotic spirulina is now widely available as a cheap food supplement.
GLYCEMIC INDEX & GLYCEMIC LOAD
The glycemic index (GI) is a numerical index that ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of conversion to glucose within the body. Pure glucose serves as the reference point, and is given a GI of 100. A high value ( close to 100 ) means that the food causes a rapid rise in blood sugar.
The glycemic load (GL) is the most practical way to apply the glycemic index to your meals, and is easily calculated by multiplying a food's GI (as a percentage) by the amount of carbohydrates ( excluding dietary fiber ) in a serving. The glycemic load gives a relative indication of how much that serving of food is likely to increase your blood sugar level, since the body's glycemic response is dependent on both the type and the amount of carbohydrate consumed. As a rule of thumb, GL below 10 is considered "low", and GL above 20 is "high".
The GL for 100gm of cabbage is 2, spinach 0 ( yes, ZERO ) and banana 8. So the humble cabbage is good for weight control, but nothing beats the spinach. I have said before that the creator of Popeye knew these facts well ahead of us, that's why Popeye is forever thin ( except for his bulging muscles ) but full of energy and strength after gobbling a can of spinach.
A big banana can weigh up to 250gm, giving a GL of 20, which is high. This illustrates that while you can eat as much veggies as you like ( except the starchy ones ), you have to be more selective with fruits. In comparison, two apples (125gm each, total 250gm) give a GL of 8 only. Although flushed with nutrients, some fruits are rich in sugars, have high GI, and if you eat a sizeable portion, will also have high GL. So for weight control, opt for apples or other lower GL fruits.
EAT TO STAY SLIM & HEALTHY
The importance of knowing all this is that you can have full healthy meals without gaining weight. In fact you can even lose weight while having up to 6 meals a day! Many of us have problems with our weight after the age of 30. Those who go on crash diets become sickly. Even if they lose weight, they are likely to regain everything soon after stopping the diet. Those on less drastic weight-loss programs, including those on diet pills, also regain their weight after stopping the programs or pills. The easiest and best way is to know the nutrient/calorie content as well as glycemic index/load of your foods, and enjoy your meals while maintaining your desired weight. If you have to lose weight, go for nutrient-dense low GL foods only. For diabetics, it should be a life-long commitment.
Let me reiterate that you can eat tons of veggies without ever worrying of growing fat, because they are loaded with nutrients but have minimal calories. The only exceptions are the starchy ones, which are not actually vegetables anyway. If you take spinach, you will lose weight while you gain nutrients ( more calories are required to chew, digest and absorb spinach than the calories it contains ).
If you take in sufficient nutrients, you can even heal yourself of certain diseases. Please refer to previous articles ( www.superqigong.com ) on the usefulness of certain foods and nutrients in preventing and healing from diseases.
If you know the nutrient contents of your foods, you can also mix and match to have a meal with the widest nutrient spread. For example, a meal consisting of spinach, mushroom and tuna is a well-balanced, nutrient-dense delicious treat.
If you enjoy cooking, then you should discover the many ways to make healthy nutritious meals. I once had regular interfaith dialogues with a husband-and-wife evangelist priests near my home. I used to visit them fortnightly for many months for the dialogues. The wife was an excellent cook and she could prepare 20 different varieties of tomato dishes alone. And I love those meals. In retrospect, I am not sure whether I went there more for the food or the spiritual quest. May GOD forgive me if it was the food!
If you find it difficult to eat enough fruits and veggies, consider juicing, which allows you to consume a lot more in less time. How tasty is your concoction depends on your creativity, and there are many recipes in health books to help you. I recommend whole-food juicing ( instead of squeezing out the juice and discarding the pulp etc which may contain much vitamins and minerals ).
If you are too lazy to eat enough fruits and veggies, and are also too lazy to juice, then take a fruits-and-veggies extract whole-food supplement to protect your health. I recommend one that provides a very wide and balanced range of the nutrients found in whole fruits and veggies, minus the calories; is cold-processed so that there is minimal damage to the nutrients during preparation; and is fortified with spirulina, probiotics ( friendly bacteria ), enzymes and more fiber for completeness. Although I always harp on my children to eat their fruits and veggies, as insurance, they don't leave for school without first taking their fruits-and-veggies supplement.
UPDATE YOURSELF ON NUTRITION
The subject of nutrition and nutritional healing is ever expanding with more exciting discoveries, and there is so much to catch up with. Take advantage of the work done for you by experts and enthusiasts in the field so that you can apply the knowledge to your advantage.
I am indebted to The Star columnists in the past and present, like Datuk Dr M Rajen, Chia Joo Suan and Dr Tee E Siong, among others, for their informative columns that have further enriched my knowledge and enhanced my faith in the healing power of foods.
In this age of the internet, much of the information is also easily accessible, so you have no excuse not to update yourself. There are many interesting websites on nutrition and on health in general.
From today, look at your food as medicine for your body. And eat your veggies!
Dr Amir Farid Isahak