Leafy greens or toxic food? The other side of eating vegetables
Here I go again…are you ready? I am about to question one of the most widely promoted health recommendations in the U.S. What is it?
I’m challenging the recommendation to “eat more vegetables”.
This is an interesting topic since most of us have been told all our lives that we need to eat more vegetables. Right?
For most of my life, I have been a huge advocate of eating tons of vegetables including kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Personally, I would eat at least 8 to 9 servings of vegetables a day — mostly raw. We have all been told vegetables are good for us because they contain loads of nutrients, fiber, and antioxidant properties. And this is true — vegetables are filled with all these health-promoting properties. However, does this mean that all vegetables are good for us? Or is there another side of the story we’re missing?
As many of you know, about three years ago, I went through a massive transformation in my beliefs about health and nutrition. At the time my diet consisted of organic vegetables, gluten free grains, lots of organic chicken and meats, protein shakes, some fruits, and tons of water. My diet included no dairy, little fat, and no fruit juice. Sounds pretty healthy, right? The problem was, my body started to break down, I started to feel like crap, and I had no idea what was going on quite honestly, because I thought I was eating the perfect diet. Over the next year, through trial-and-error and lots of research, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could be wrong. (Gosh, I hate to admit I am ever wrong).
The USDA and most health professionals recommend increasing whole grains, nuts, and legumes. They recommend increasing consumption of “unsaturated” fats (which often ends up being high in PUFAs), while decreasing saturated fats. They recommend less juice, more fruit, and more vegetables — especially the green leafy veggies.
In the meantime, what am I doing? I added into my diet more saturated fats, removed most polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), removed ALL grains (including whole wheat and gluten free grains), started drinking more fruit juices, and eating more of the right fruits and sugars. I also greatly reduced my fiber intake — specifically green leafy vegetables, beans/lentils, nuts, and uncooked fruits. Yes, I know this is 180 degrees different from what we have all been told to do and the USDA recommendations for the last 50 years.
So, I am sure your next question is, why on earth would I do something so against the grain?
I believe the widely-promoted recommendations may not be totally on track. Are you ready to have your head spin?
Here are 3 main reasons why you may want to rethink your vegetable intake:
Fiber is a major component of vegetables, coming in the form of cellulose. Cellulose is a polysaccharide (long carbohydrate molecule that the body cannot take apart) and is the structural component of the primary cell wall in green plants. Cellulose is also known as indigestible fiber — they used to call it roughage back in the day. No, humans cannot digest cellulose. We are told this roughage is good for us because it helps with the bulk of our stool. We are told this roughage helps clean out our intestines and helps prevent colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But, is this actually true?
In Konstantin Monastyrsky’s book Fiber Menace, he discusses how increased fiber intake might do quite the opposite — causing more damage and increased inflammation and irritation to our already damaged guts. You see, whenever external factors (poor diet, stress, chemicals, processed foods) compromise bowel movements, the normal bacteria inside the colon are the first to suffer. Because these bacteria make up the bulk of normal stools (up to 75%), once they’re gone, stools harden up because the bacteria are no longer there to retain water, soften the stools, and provide stool bulk. After the bacteria are gone, and we become constipated, we start eating more fiber to replace their function. For a while, the increased fiber will appear to be working. Fiber makes stools voluminous and not as hard. Unfortunately, this is merely the calm before the storm. Regularity from fiber is not happening by restoring the body’s natural bacteria and bulk, but from replacing it with an outside bulking agent — fiber. For a while, the problems are hidden because you don’t feel them…yet.
Monastyrsky’s explains how most people will start to get inflammation of the intestines due to damage of this increased bowel size (caused by fiber and increase water consumption). The intestinal wall now becomes thinner due to physically being stretched by the bulk and increased inflammation, making it harder to expel your stool. Contributing to more problems like hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and colon cancer.
To some it up, our processed, fast food, and convenient American diet is killing the bacteria in our gut that makes up a large part of our stool. We try and replace this bacteria-bulk, by eating more fiber. The increased fiber leads to more water intake and retention in the gut, which leads to increased stool size which briefly makes us think everything is working great. Soon, however, we start having more intestinal inflammation, decreasing the size of the intestines even more, causing constipation once again, and repeating the cycle. And how do we treat this? Of course, eating even more fiber and drinking more water, which is just making the problem worse! Sound like anyone you know?
Everyday, I meet with people who have digestive issues, constipation, diarrhea, or all three. In fact, I have not met a person yet who does not have some sort of digestive issues. Most of these people are eating plenty of fiber in the form of high fiber cereals, oats, bran, and tons of salads — and they’re drinking plenty of water, yet they are still having issues. I’ll be honest, it’s not until we remove most of these high fiber foods and allow the intestines to heal that things start moving better. Personally, I had the same experience. When I use to eat tons of salad and high fiber foods, I used to feel bloated and distended all the time. After completely changing my diet, how do I feel? No bloating, no digestive disturbance, no problems.
Goitrogens are substances that suppress the function of the thyroid by inhibiting the formation of the thyroid hormone. Goitrogens are found in all cruciferous vegetables, including but not limited to soybeans, broccoli, cauliflower, green leafy, bok choy, cabbage, cress, and brussel sprouts. Eating a lot of raw cruciferous veggies can suppress your thyroid, leading to a slower metabolism and increased metabolic hormone disturbance. Wow, that sounds inviting.
Now, if you’re dead set on eating a vegetable stir-fry or any other cooked vegetables, it is important to know that cooking cruciferous vegetables for about 30 minutes can lower the goitrogenic effects. Yes, I know cooking vegetables too long may significantly reduce the levels of some nutrients. But it also increases the bioavailability of other nutrients. Also keep in mind that there is more to a food than just nutrients. We must get past the thought that the more nutrients a food contains, the better the food is for us. Nutrients are very important, but how the food reacts to our hormones and metabolism, how the food is digested, and how it supports the other systems of our body are just as important.
- Chemical toxins in vegetables.
Particular leafy or “above-ground” vegetables will have a variety of defensive naturally-produced chemicals, all with specific functions to deter animals from consuming them. The leaves, stems, and seeds are susceptible to attack by insects, birds, and grazing animals. To protect themselves, these plants contain mild toxins. These plants toxins include phenols, tannins, lectins/agglutinins, and trypsin-inhibitors. In addition, above-ground vegetables (including the leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables) contain unsaturated fats, which, as I talked about in my polyunsaturated fat blog, can be extremely anti-metabolic. Unsaturated fats themselves are important plant defenses — they inhibit trypsin and other proteolytic enzymes, preventing the assimilation of the proteins that are present in seeds and leafy green vegetables. Unsaturated fats also disrupt all biological processes that depend on protein breakdown, such as the formation of thyroid hormone. Once again, there is more to a food than just nutrients.
How are you feeling now? Ready for a big salad? I know all this information may sound a little crazy to most of you. And well, I am ok with that. You must judge for yourself if anything I am saying makes sense to you and fits into your belief system. It took time for me to adjust to my new learnings. But when I did, my health improved — and so will yours.
I can hear you now. “What should I eat if I choose to avoid leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, but still want to eat fruits and vegetables that are high in nutrients but low in toxic anti-metabolic substances?”
Here are my top 5 veggies to include in your diet:
- Root vegetables. Potatoes, turnips, carrots, and beets. Since the root vegetables grow underground, they have a lower toxity level, no PUFA, and no cellulose. They don’t need the protective chemicals to protect themselves from insects, birds, and grazing animals. These vegetables still have a high starch content, so they should be cooked thoroughly (except the carrot), and eaten with a saturated fat, such as butter or coconut oil. This will enable easier digestion and a slower release into the blood system. It will also increase your body’s absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients in the veggies.
- Fruit-vegetables. Squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkin. These are actually all considered fruits, as the seeds are inside. They have no cellulose, little starch, and a low PUFA content. Once again, these should be well cooked and eaten with a saturated fat.
- Tropical fruits. These are lower in fiber and a good source of fruit sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
- Cooked fruits. Apples, pears, peaches, and cherries are all high in fiber. However, if you cook these fruits, your body will have an easier time to digest the foods.
- Fruit juices. Pulp-free juices are your best sources of nutrients without the fibrous pulp. Orange, grape, cherry, and pineapple juices are all acceptable.
*Please remember, none of these foods should ever be eaten alone, you should always eat all vegetables and fruits with a protein and fat to slow the blood sugar response. All vegetables and fruits eaten individually will throw your blood sugar out of whack.
To summarize, eating tons of high-fiber vegetables may not be as great as we have all been lead to believe. Of course, a diet with no vegetables or fiber, but tons of processed crap, is not a good argument for the benefits of a lower vegetable/fiber diet. Only a diet with the right metabolic foods will convince you that a lower vegetable/fiber diet is really a healthy option. Does this mean you should never eat a salad or side of raw vegetables? Of course not. I still eat salads. I just eat them 2-3x a month vs. 2-3x day. I eat far smaller quantities of these types of vegetables, but I do not avoid them all together. They do have some beneficial properties if eaten in smaller quantities and eaten the correct way.
Before I changed to my current diet, I was desperate to feel better. What I was doing was not working. Now, I feel 10 times better than I did a year ago. Will it work for you? That is for you decide…
Remember I am only here to give you another side of what mainstream media, Dr. Oz, and what most nutritional magazines are telling you. I am not here to tell you what to do. I am just here so that you can question your own health, create awareness, and help you understand that there are two sides to every story — even in the health and fitness world.
Your Optimal Health Coach,
“Disclaimer: I am an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, nutritional and lifestyle coach, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to prevent, mitigate or cure any human disease or physical problem. I do not provide diagnosis, care treatment or rehabilitation of individuals, nor apply medical, mental health or human development principles. I do not prescribe prescription drugs nor do I tell you to discontinue them. I provide physical and dietary suggestions to improve health and wellness and to nourish and support normal function and structure of the body. If you suspect any disease please consult your physician.”
1. Konstantin Monastyrsky; The Fiber Menace
2. Dr Ray Peat; Vegetables etc. Who defines Food?, Unsaturated Vegetable oil: Toxic., Mind and Tissue, Generative Energy
3. Josh Rubin www.eastwesthealing.com
4. Wikipedia; Cellulose, Goitrogens, Cruciferous vegetables