A recent study found that people who consume seven or more portions of vegetables and fruit a day have a 42 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, compared to those who eat less than one portion—and vegetables have the greatest impact.
But vegetables can also benefit you in some surprising ways. Did you know that certain vegetables can help reduce bloating, and others can give your skin a more youthful glow? They can even improve how you handle stress—and adapting to stress is critically important to your mental AND physical health.
Could Vegetables Be the REAL Comfort Foods?
Move over mac-and-cheese... vegetables are the REAL comfort foods, with nutrients that actually improve your resilience to stress. Eating vegetables helps replenish your magnesium and vitamin C, which can be depleted by stress.
Vegetables also provide you with omega-3 fats and B vitamins, proven to help reduce anxiety and depression. The vitamin K in veggies helps reduce inflammation in your body, which stress can aggravate.
Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, are loaded with magnesium, which helps balance your cortisol, one of your "stress hormones." Magnesium and potassium relax blood vessels, helping keep your blood pressure low.
Magnesium also plays an important role in calcium absorption, helping you maintain good muscle and nerve function and a healthy immune system. Low magnesium levels have been linked with anxiety disorders and migraines, both of which are typically aggravated by stress.
Avocados are one of the best stress-busting foods you can eat, replete with potassium, glutathione, healthy fats, and more folate than any other fruit. Folate is extremely important for your brain. Asparagus is also rich in folate.
Vegetables benefit your skin and bones by supplying highly bioavailable nutrients that work together synergistically for optimal health and beauty
Besides slowing down cellular aging and helping to prevent disease, vegetables can benefit your health in a number of surprising ways
Vegetables provide nutrients that help you adapt to stress, such as B vitamins and folate, omega-3 fats, magnesium, potassium, and glutathione
Tips are given for “supercharging” your veggies, including ideas for how you can sneak more of them into your diet
Vegetables can also help reduce gas and bloating if your digestive tract is healthy, but may actually worsen bloating if your gut flora is not optimal
Fiber May Be Friend or Foe, Depending on Your Gut
You have probably heard that fiber is important for good health, but it is important to realize that eating a high-fiber diet with a damaged intestinal lining can lead to serious health problems. If high-fiber foods make you feel bloated, then it may indicate your digestive tract is in need of healing.
Your digestive system is not designed to break down fiber. It is actually because your body can't digest fiber that it plays such an important part in digestion.
Soluble fiber, like that found in cucumbers, blueberries, beans, and nuts, dissolves into a gel-like texture, helping to slow down your digestion. This helps you to feel full longer and is one reason why fiber may help with weight control.
Insoluble fiber, found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, celery, and carrots, does not dissolve at all and helps add bulk to your stool.
This helps food to move through your digestive tract more quickly for healthy elimination. Many whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, naturally contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
If your gut flora is healthy, i.e. dominated by beneficial, probiotic species, then these microbes will feed on the undigested fiber in your bowel, allowing it to thrive and proliferate.
Vegetables May Reduce Bloating—But Increase Them Gradually
Once your digestive tract is working optimally, the fiber in vegetables will help flush out waste and gastric irritants, thereby minimizing bloating by keeping things moving along. When changing your diet, do so gradually, because suddenly eating lots of vegetables, or radically increasing your dietary fiber when you're not accustomed to doing so, can be a shock to your system.
The microbial environment in your gut is accustomed to certain conditions, and changing this too abruptly can result in gastric distress, bloating, and other GI symptoms. Whenever making changes to your diet—even beneficial ones—take care to acclimate over time. If you introduce new foods and experience a problem, back off a bit and see if it helps.
According to Dr. Wayne Pickering, improper food combining is another major factor behind gas and bloating, as well as heartburn and upset stomach. If the food you eat is not digesting properly, not only can these symptoms arise, but your body will also be deprived of critical nutrients.
The two foremost rules of food combining are: 1) No proteins and starches at the same meal, and 2) No fruits and vegetables at the same meal.
Veggies for That Youthful Glow
Vegetables hydrate your skin, which can help reduce wrinkles. Not only are some vegetables 85 to 95 percent water, but they also contain a plethora of phytonutrients that help guard against aging by preventing cell damage from stress, ultraviolet light, and environmental toxins.7 Vitamin C, abundant in tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli, and others, aids in collagen formation.
Brightly colored red and orange vegetables such as carrots, peppers, and winter squash, give you beta-carotene and help protect your skin from sun damage. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which acts as a natural sunscreen. A Scottish study involving college students suggests that fruit and vegetable consumption may even increase your attractiveness! Researchers found that the pigments (carotenoids) in many fruits and vegetables impart a warm glow "sufficient to convey perceptible improvements in the apparent healthiness and attractiveness of facial skin."8 Translation: vegetables make you appear more healthy and beautiful!
Vegetables Build Healthy Bones
Fresh vegetables are like rock stars when it comes to bone health. They offer highly bioavailable forms of calcium, magnesium, silica, and a host of other minerals that work synergistically to build strong, healthy bones. One of the fat-soluble vitamins playing a critical role in bone health is vitamin K2, as its primary function is to move calcium into the proper areas (teeth and bones). Vitamin K2 also helps direct calcium away from areas where it can cause problems, such as your arteries and soft tissues.
One of the best sources of vitamin K2 is fermented vegetables made with a special starter culture designed to optimize this nutrient. Fennel is also very good for your bones—the seeds in particular. Research has shown that eating the seeds of the fennel plant has a beneficial effect on bone mineral density, as well as bone mineral content. Researchers found that fennel seeds show potential in preventing bone loss in postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Tips for Selecting the Best Vegetables
If you want your vegetables to have the highest nutritional density, take a look at my list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables. Generally speaking, the greener the vegetable, the more nutritious it will be. I strongly advise you to avoid wilted vegetables, because they lose much of their nutritional value. It is wise to eat a variety of dark green leafy vegetables, plus other vividly colored veggies (purple, red, yellow, and orange) to make sure you receive a broad range of those powerful plant nutrients.