By Dr. Mercola
Only about one-quarter of American adults eat three or more servings of vegetables a day. If you are in the majority who does not, you are missing out on major benefits, as consuming fresh vegetables is one of the key cornerstones to optimal health.
Although I am convinced virtually everyone would benefit from some animal protein in their diet, I firmly believe we all need to eat large amounts of fresh, high-quality vegetables every day to achieve high-level health. Some of us need far more than others.
Most vegetables are not very calorie dense and as a result they probably should constitute the bulk of your diet by volume. Even though my diet is 70 percent fat by calories, if you were to spread out all the food I eat in a day, the largest volume of food would be vegetables.
There is little that compares to the nutritional value of organic, raw vegetables, and according to new research, eating your greens may be even more important than previously imagined.
The Importance of Eating Your Greens
Researchers at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Molecular Immunology division have discovered1 that a gene, called T-bet, which is essential for producing critical immune cells in your gut, responds to the food you eat—specifically leafy green vegetables. According to the press release:2
"The immune cells, named innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), are found in the lining of the digestive system and protect the body from 'bad' bacteria in the intestine.
They are also believed to play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers.
... [T]he research team revealed T-bet was essential for generating a subset of ILCs which is a newly discovered cell type that protects the body against infections entering through the digestive system.
'In this study, we discovered that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut,' Dr Belz said. 'ILCs are essential for immune surveillance of the digestive system and this is the first time that we have identified a gene responsible for the production of ILCs.'"
ILCs are thought to be essential for:
- Maintaining balance between tolerance, immunity and inflammation in your body
- Producing interleukin-22 (IL-22), a hormone that can protect your body from pathogenic bacteria
- Maintaining healthy intestinal balance by promoting growth of beneficial bacteria and healing small wounds and abrasions in the gut
- Helping resolve cancerous lesions
More Reasons to Eat Your Veggies
Vegetables contain an array of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds that are very difficult to get anywhere else. Plant chemicals called phytochemicals can reduce inflammation and eliminate carcinogens, while others regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce, get rid of old cells and maintain DNA. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with higher vegetable intake have:
Lower risks of stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease Lower risks of certain types of cancer, eye diseases and digestive problems Reduced risk of kidney stones and bone loss Higher scores on cognitive tests Higher antioxidant levels Lower biomarkers for oxidative stress
Further, if you eat your veggies raw, you'll also be receiving biophotons, the smallest physical units of light, which are stored in, and used by all biological organisms -- including your body. Vital sun energy finds its way into your cells via the food you eat, in the form of these biophotons. They contain important bio-information, which controls complex vital processes in your body. The biophotons have the power to order and regulate, and, in doing so, to elevate the organism -- in this case, your physical body -- to a higher oscillation or order. Generally, the more sunlight a food is able to store, the more nutritious it is.
Naturally-grown fresh vegetables, raw sprouts, and sun-ripened fruits are rich in light energy. Ideally, look for fresh, non-GMO produce that is organically grown on a local farm in your area. Choose the vegetables that appear freshest first, and consume them raw shortly after purchase for optimal benefits.
If you can't obtain organic, conventionally-grown vegetables are better than none! Just take extra care with non-organic vegetables by washing them thoroughly and removing peels and cores when possible to minimize your exposure to pesticides. Certain fruits and vegetables also tend to be far more contaminated than others simply because they're more susceptible to various infestations and therefore sprayed more heavily. Some foods are also more "absorbent," with thin, tender skins. Such foods would be high on your list for buying organic.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces an annual shopper's guide to pesticides in produce3 that you can download. It lists the produce with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue, which can help save you money if you can't afford to buy everything organic.
Reasons to Eat Sprouts, a Living Food with Amazing Health Benefits
Sprouts are a "super" food that many overlook. In addition to their nutritional profile, sprouts are also easy to grow on your own. I started sprouting seeds in ball jars 10 to 15 years ago. A Care2 article published last year4 listed 10 reasons for eating sprouts, including the following. For the rest, please see the original article:
- Sprouts can contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, allowing your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats from the foods you eat
- Both the quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds and grains improves when sprouted
- The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids also increase dramatically during the sprouting process. For example, depending on the sprout, the nutrient content can increase as much as 30 times the original value within just a few days of sprouting. Sunflower seed and pea sprouts tend to top the list of all the seeds that you can sprout and are typically each about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables you can even harvest in your backyard garden
- During sprouting, minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable
- Sprouts are the ultimate locally-grown food, and can easily be grown in your own kitchen, so you know exactly what you're eating. And since they're very inexpensive, cost is no excuse for avoiding them
Planting and Harvesting Sprouts at Home
I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over ten years ago but stopped doing that. I am strongly convinced that actually growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming. With Ball jars you need to rinse them several times a day to prevent mold growth. Also takes up less space. I am now consuming one whole tray you see below every 2-3 days and to produce that much food with Ball jars I would need dozens of jars. I simply don't have the time or patience for that. I am in the process of compiling more specific detailed videos for future articles but I thought I would whet your appetite and give you a preview with the photos below.
About to plant wheat grass and sunflower seeds - 2 days after soaking
Wheat grass and sunflower seeds – 3 ½ days post germination
Sunflower seeds and pea sprouts – 3 days until ready for harvest
Sunflower seed sprouts and wheat grass - ready to harvest
Sprouts as Medicine
Sprouts-as-medicine.com5 is a good source for things relating to sprouts: their health benefits, recipes, and how to grow your own. The British verticalveg.org6 is another. The latter gives helpful growing tips for each month of the year. One of the benefits of sprouts is that you can grow them year-round, even when it's cold and dark. The article 6 Easy Steps to Sprout Heaven7 teaches you how to grow your own sprouts, from start to finish. While you can sprout a variety of different beans, nuts, seeds and grains, sprouts in general have the following beneficial attributes:
- Support for cell regeneration
- Powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage
- Alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic)
- Abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment
Common Sprouts and Their Superior Nutritional Profiles
Some of the most commonly sprouted beans, nuts, seeds and grains include:
Broccoli: known to have anti-cancer properties, courtesy of the enzyme "sulforaphane" Alfalfa: a significant dietary source of phytoestrogens. Also a good source of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, and K Wheat grass: high in vitamins B, C, E and many minerals Mung bean: good source of protein, fiber, vitamin C and A Clover : significant source of isoflavones Lentil sprouts: contain 26 percent protein, and can be eaten without cooking Sunflower: contains, minerals, healthy fats, essential fatty acids, fiber, and phytosterols. It's also one of the highest in protein Pea shoots: good source of vitamins A, C and folic acid and one of the highest in protein
My two favorites are pea and sunflower sprouts. They provide some of the highest quality protein you can eat. They have radically improved the nutrition of my primary meal, which is a salad at lunch. They are a perfect complement to fermented vegetables. It is hard to imagine a healthier combination that provides the essentials of nutrition very inexpensively.
Vegetarians in Paradise9 offers an in-depth write-up on the history and health benefits associated with sunflower seeds. Of the seeds, sunflower seeds are among the best in terms of nutritional value, and sprouting them will augment their nutrient content by as much as 300 to 1,200 percent! Similarly, sprouting peas will improve the bioavailability of zinc and magnesium. Sprouted sunflower seeds also contain plenty of iron and chlorophyll, the latter of which will help detoxify your blood and liver. The phytosterols in sprouted sunflower seeds can help enhance your immune system. According to Vegetarians in Paradise:
"One of the richest sources of protein, 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of sprouted sunflower seeds contains 22.78 grams. The mineral content soars in the sprouted state. That 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) offers a notable 116 mg of calcium, 5.06 mg of zinc, 689 mg of potassium, 1.75 mg copper, and 354 mg of magnesium.
Vitamins increase during sprouting when the seeds are producing a new life. Vitamin A increases to 50,000 IU, and Vitamin E offers 52.18 mg, while vitamin D provides 92.0 IU for 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams). The vitamin B family offers niacin at 4.50 mg, riboflavin at 0.25 mg, and thiamin at 2.29 mg. Sprouted sunflower seeds are also a rich source of iron, providing 6.77 mg for 31/2 ounces (100 grams) that can be a benefit to people with anemia."
Simple Ways to Increase Your Veggies
Two of the easiest and most efficient ways to optimize your vegetable intake is to juice your vegetables and add sprouted seeds. Not only will juicing help your body absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables by making them easily digestible, but you're also avoiding the risk of damaging any of their sensitive micronutrients through cooking. Cooking and processing food destroys many micronutrients by altering their shape and chemical composition. And the sprouting process tends to increase nutrient content and bioavailability of nutrients. Sprouts also contain valuable enzymes that allow your body to absorb and use the nutrients of all other foods you eat.
Another benefit of juicing is that it allows you to add a wider variety of vegetables to your diet that you might not normally enjoy eating whole. This way, you're working with the principle of regular food rotation, which will lessen your chances of developing food allergies. For more in-depth guidelines and information about juicing, I recommend you review the juicing section of my nutrition plan.
But whatever method you choose, juiced, whole, sprouted or cooked, please make it a point to eat your veggies. This is one food group that is incredibly diverse, so there's a wide variety to choose from and plenty to suit virtually everyone's tastes. And mounting evidence shows that eating vegetables every day is a cornerstone of good health, and a habit that can go a very long way toward preventing disease of all kinds, including cancer.