By Dr. Mercola
Despite the fact that vegetables have been proven to help lower your risk of chronic disease and support longevity, most Americans are not eating nearly enough of these natural, relatively inexpensive superfoods.
The latest data shows that nearly 23 percent of Americans report consuming vegetables and fruits less than one time daily, with a median vegetable intake of just 1.6 times per day overall.1
Adding in more vegetables to your diet is a simple and powerful step to dramatically improve your health. Vegetables are quick to prepare and come in so many different varieties that they should suit virtually everyone's tastes.
If you want even more motivation to eat more veggies, check out these newly unveiled health benefits (which are so dramatic the researchers called them "staggering.")
Eating Veggies Lowers Your Risk of Dying Prematurely by 42 Percent
People who eat 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. They also enjoy a 31 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 25 percent lower risk of cancer.2
The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, is among the first to quantify the health benefits of eating different amounts of fresh produce. As you might suspect, eating any amount of vegetables was better than none at all, but the benefits increased with more servings:
- Those who ate five to seven servings of vegetables and fruits per day had a 36 percent lower risk of dying from any cause
- Three to five servings was associated with a 29 percent lower risk
- One to three servings was associated with a 14 percent lower risk
So what counts as a vegetable serving? According to the US government,3 one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or fresh vegetable juice, or two cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as one cup from the Vegetable Group.
Also, the study importantly highlighted what I have been saying for some time, which is that vegetables had a larger protective effect than fruits. So while consuming small amounts of whole fruit is fine (and even beneficial) if you're healthy, your focus should be on vegetables.
When broken down by vegetables only, each additional daily portion of fresh veggies lowered participants' risk of death by 16 percent compared to four percent for fresh fruit.
Optimal Health Depends on Eating Large Amounts of Fresh Vegetables
I firmly believe we all need to eat large amounts of fresh, high-quality vegetables every day to achieve high-level health. 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.
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
The Impressive Power of Vegetables
Vegetables have an impressive way of offering widespread benefits to your health. When you eat them, you're getting dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands, of super-nutrients that support optimal, body-wide health.
We've compiled an extensive review of the health benefits of vegetables in our Mercola Food Facts Library. If you want to know more, that's an excellent place to start. Following is a sampling of recent research showing the profound health benefits you can gain just by eating more vegetables:
- Sulforaphane in broccoli has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby striking to the root of tumor growth, and the broccoli compound glucoraphanin -- a precursor to sulforaphane – boosts cell enzymes that protect against molecular damage from cancer-causing chemicals.4, 5
- A gene that is essential for producing critical immune cells in your gut, responds to the food you eat—specifically leafy green vegetables.
- Cauliflower contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check, including indole-3-carbinol or I3C, an anti-inflammatory compound that may operate at the genetic level to help prevent the inflammatory responses at its foundational level.6
- Beets are a unique source of betaine, a nutrient that helps protects cells, proteins, and enzymes from environmental stress. It's also known to help fight inflammation, protect internal organs, improve vascular risk factors, enhance performance, and likely help prevent numerous chronic diseases.7
Vegetables Are One of the Best Forms of Dietary Fiber
Unless you regularly eat whole fruits and vegetables (along with nuts and seeds), you may be missing out on the healthiest forms of fiber available – and that could be a problem. 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 and blueberries, 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.
One of the signs that a food is a natural source of fiber is that you must chew it a good number of times before swallowing. Processed foods, which basically melt in your mouth, are not going to give you the fiber your body needs.
Vegetables, on the other hand, will, and this is yet another one of their virtues. My main meal of the day is at 3 PM and is a half-gallon bowl of salad that takes me at least a half hour to chew. There's no shortage of research showing how a high-fiber diet may boost your health. Some of its top potential benefits include:
- Blood sugar control: Soluble fiber may help to slow your body's breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar, helping with blood sugar control.
- Heart health: An inverse association has been found between fiber intake and heart attack, and research shows that those eating a high-fiber diet have a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease.8
- Stroke: Researchers have found that for every seven-grams more fiber you consume on a daily basis, your stroke risk is decreased by seven percent.9
- Weight loss and management: Fiber supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people,10 likely because fiber increases feelings of fullness.
- Skin health: Fiber, particularly psyllium husk, may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes.11
- Diverticulitis: Dietary fiber (especially insoluble) may reduce your risk of diverticulitis – an inflammation of polyps in your intestine – by 40 percent.12
- Hemorrhoids: A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of hemorrhoids.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Fiber may provide some relief from IBS.
- Gallstones and kidney stones: A high-fiber diet may reduce the risk of gallstones and kidney stones, likely because of its ability to help regulate blood sugar.
Fermented Vegetables Are Phenomenal for Your Gut Health
Your gut is much more than a food processing tube — it houses about 85 percent of your immune system. This is in large part due to the 100 trillion bacteria that live there, both good and potentially harmful, that can stimulate your immune response. When your GI tract is not working well, a wide range of health problems can appear, including allergies and autoimmune diseases. If you suffer from any major illness, you simply will NOT be able to fully recuperate without healing and sealing your gut.
Balancing the menagerie of microorganisms that occupy your GI tract is a key part of maintaining your immune health, and one of the best ways to do this is by consuming fermented vegetables. Fermented vegetables are potent chelators (detoxifiers) and contain much higher levels of probiotics than probiotic supplements, making them ideal for optimizing your gut flora.
Beneficial gut bacteria play important roles in vitamin production, mineral absorption, and helping prevent diabetes, digestive issues, neurological problems, cardiovascular disease, and even acne. For a very small investment (five or six medium-sized cabbages and other veggies to taste, celery juice for brine and, if you like, starter culture), you can easily make up to 14 quart jars of fermented vegetables, which I believe are the ultimate superfood. You can use these six steps to make fermented vegetables at home.
Creative Ways to Get More Veggie Superpowers Into Your Diet
Keeping veggies on hand is the first step to eating more of them. Fresh, non-genetically-modified and organic is best, but even frozen will work in a pinch. Make it a point to include vegetables with every meal – a salad, a side dish, or a pre-meal snack – or make veggies the main focus of your meals. You'll easily work your way up to seven or more servings a day.
When preparing your veggies, use quick, gentle cooking methods (only cooking to a tender-crisp, not mushy texture) to preserve the most nutrients. Also try to eat a good portion of them raw, which will allow you to receive beneficial biophotons. Two of the best ways to get more raw vegetables into your diet include:
- Juicing: Juicing allows you to absorb all the nutrients from vegetables, allows you to consume an optimal amount of vegetables in an efficient manner, and makes it easy to add a variety of vegetables to your diet.
- Sprouts: 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. They're very easy to grow at home.
Now that it's springtime in the US, consider growing some of your own veggies at home. You can plant an organic veggie garden even in small spaces, and this will provide you with a readily available source of the freshest, most health-boosting foods around.