RHR: Vegetables—How Many to Eat and What Kinds

RHR: Vegetables—How Many to Eat and What Kinds

by Chris Kresser

Last updated on

revolution health radio

Are vegetables overrated—or underrated? Get the low-down on the health benefits of eating vegetables, learn whether they can prevent nutrient deficiencies, and find out how you should be incorporating them into your diet.

We have a simple question this week, but I’m sure it’s one that a lot of people actually wonder about. We all hear that we should eat a lot of vegetables, but is this one of these assumptions that we just don’t question and it’s actually not true? What does the research actually say about how many servings of vegetables a day we should eat? What are all the relevant issues? There are, of course, lots of relevant issues. We’ll try to cover the main ones in this episode.

In this episode, we cover:

1:34  What Chris ate for breakfast
4:30  3 reasons to eat vegetables
15:02  How many servings of vegetables should you eat daily?
18:23  What types of vegetables to eat

Links We Discuss

Play

Steve Wright: Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. You are listening to the Revolution Health Radio show. This show is brought to you by ChrisKresser.com. I’m your host, co-author of SCDlifestyle.com, Steve Wright. With me is integrative medical practitioner, healthy skeptic, and New York Times bestselling author, Chris Kresser.

Chris Kresser: Hey, Steve. How’s it going?

Steve Wright: Really good today. How about you?

Chris Kresser: Good. I’m good as well.

Steve Wright: You’ve been doing interviews all morning, right?

Chris Kresser: Yeah, One Life Radio. I think they’re out of Dallas. They’re syndicated in a few other places. We’ve been doing a series of interviews. I love them. They’re great. They’re really interested in all this stuff. So I just finished that. Now we’ve got a really fascinating question I think.

Steve Wright: It’s amazing. Well, before we get to the question, number one, can people find those interviews online anywhere? Number two, I need to know what you had for breakfast.

Chris Kresser: As for number one, I’m not actually sure. That’s a good question. I know they tweet out when I’m going to be on the radio. I’m not sure if they have like an archive or something online. We’ll figure that out, and then we’ll post it on social media if they do.

Steve Wright: Awesome.

What Chris Ate for Breakfast

Chris Kresser: Number two, what I had for breakfast. You know, I’m the breakfast cook around here. That’s one of my main duties. Elanne gets to sleep in a little bit. I cook breakfast, hang out with Sylvie in the mornings. Then usually Elanne walks her to preschool; sometimes I do. Today, I made some sweet potato hash browns. They were cooked in a little bit of bacon grease, which makes them extra yummy.

Steve Wright: Nice. Do you keep the skin on or take the skin off?

Chris Kresser: I usually keep the skin on. I just grate them on a grater. Then we have this flat electric griddle, which is really nice. It cooks at uniform temperature, and allows us to cook quite a lot. Then I put a baking sheet on top, with like a weight on top of it, so that it presses them down. That tends to work better. Also, it steams them a little bit that way, so they cook faster. Then we had just good old-fashioned scrambled eggs, with a little bit of this hot chili sauce that Sylvie actually likes a little bit of nowadays.

Steve Wright: Cool.

Chris Kresser: Then we had some sauerkraut. Sylvie had a little bit of coconut yogurt, with some Prescript-Assist mixed in.

Steve Wright: A little secret.

Chris Kresser: You know, giving her some good probiotic love.

Steve Wright: Awesome, man. That’s great. It sounds delicious. I’ve said this like two years in a row now—or I don’t know how many years we’ve been doing this—but I’m coming to breakfast at your house.

Chris Kresser: We’ll be happy to have you. All right. I like this question because it’s so simple, and yet there’s so much to it. There are so many different directions we could go. Let’s give it a listen.

Adrian: How many servings of vegetables should I be eating daily and what kinds? Thank you.

Chris Kresser: Like I said, it’s a simple question, but I’m sure it’s one that a lot of people actually wonder about. We all hear that we should eat a lot of vegetables, but is this one of these assumptions that we just don’t question and it’s actually not true? What does the research actually say about how many servings of vegetables a day we should eat? What are all the relevant issues? There are, of course, lots of relevant issues. We’ll try to cover the main ones in this episode.

Steve Wright: You mean it’s not going to be simple, Chris?

Chris Kresser: You know, it is kind of simple. I think you should eat vegetables. So if you’re short for time and you don’t want to listen to the rest of it, that’s really the takeaway—eat a lot of vegetables. Eat them throughout the day with each meal, if you can, and I think you’ll be better off. End of story. Let’s talk about them from a few different perspectives.

3 Reasons to Eat Vegetables

The first would be nutrient density, because that’s often what we’re concerned with in terms of what we put into our bodies. I’ve talked a lot in my book and elsewhere—in presentations, conferences—about how animal products, particularly organ meats and even muscle meats, are much more nutrient dense than a lot of people think, and in many cases, more nutrient dense than fruits and vegetables. A while ago, maybe several years ago now, I published a chart on my website that compared the nutrient density of liver, beef—just muscle protein, beef—and then blueberries and kale. In many of the nutrients, you would see that liver was orders of magnitude higher than both blueberries and kale, with some exceptions. It’s important to note though that a lot of these nutrient-density scales, when we talk about these comparisons, they’re focusing on the nutrients that we know are essential for health, so a lot of the vitamins and minerals that we need to function properly. And that’s how it should be, right? I mean, those are the proven nutrients that we know we need and can’t live without. However, it’s also true that there’s a whole other class of nutrients that are important, and that recent research is showing are increasingly important. They may not be essential in the sense that we absolutely can’t live without them, but they are very important and have been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of death, reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, and just make our bodies function better. These are the so-called phytonutrients. All of the antioxidants, which actually we know are pro-oxidants that stimulate our own body’s natural antioxidant defense systems …

Steve Wright: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What does phytonutrient mean?

Chris Kresser: Plant nutrient basically.

Steve Wright: Okay.

Chris Kresser: There are a number of these that we see in both fruits and vegetables. I’m going to try and stay focused on vegetables, because that was what the question was. But of course, when we’re talking about phytonutrients, they’re also present in vegetables and starchy tubers and things like that. They may not technically be considered vegetables. So what we know is that fruits and vegetables are very high in these kinds of nutrients, and are the best source of these nutrients. You won’t find these as much in animal products, like organ meats and meats. I think that alone is a compelling reason to eat vegetables, even if organ meats and meats are more concentrated sources of things like vitamin A, for example, or choline. That’s the nutrient density perspective.

Steve Wright: Just to wrap that up, so phytonutrients are plant- and fruit-based compounds that are antioxidants, which are found nowhere else? That’s basically a class of things that aren’t other nutrients that we’ve already established as vitamins or minerals?

Chris Kresser: Exactly. There are things like lycopene in tomatoes. There are things like resveratrol, which are found in grapes and wine. I’m sure a lot of people have heard there are compounds that are found in turmeric and spices, like the curcuminoids, and things like quercetin that are found in some fruits and vegetables. Of course, you see these things popping up in supplements a lot too, because there’s a lot of research behind them and they have potent effects. But what the most recent research shows is the way that they have their antioxidant effect is actually by being pro-oxidants, by stimulating mild oxidative damage, and that upregulates our body’s natural antioxidant defense system. So it’s a hormetic effect, just like exercise has a hormetic effect. And there is more and more research suggesting that this is really, really important, and probably one of the main reasons that we benefit from eating fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s the nutrient density perspective.

Then whenever we talk about food and the value of food, we think a little bit about calorie density. So vegetables are relatively high in water content. They have a relatively high fiber content, which we’re going to talk about in a second. But they’re relatively low in calories, and therefore, they’re pretty satiating. So you can eat a lot of them. You feel filled up. But they’re not super calorie dense, so you’re not going to put on weight. I know a lot of people think calories have nothing to do with weight loss. We’ve talked about that before. I don’t agree with that perspective. I don’t think it’s the only consideration, but it definitely is one consideration. So when you look at the kind of diet that I typically recommend for weight loss, it’s very high in protein and it’s high in foods that are low on the calorie-density scale, like non-starchy vegetables and even some starchy vegetables. Sweet potatoes are relatively low on the calorie-density scale. So these foods make us feel satisfied. They fill us up. They nourish us in a lot of different ways. They’re also not likely to make you gain weight. We know now that excess weight and its complications is the number one cause of death for middle-aged men and women, which is pretty sobering. So many people are overweight these days, it’s easy to kind of dismiss it and not take it seriously. But the research is continuing to show that especially being significantly overweight is a major health concern. There was just a study that came out, that I tweeted, that suggest the metabolically-healthy obese phenotype—which has been discussed before—probably doesn’t exist. If you follow those people for a long enough time, they’re more likely to develop disease than people who are not obese. Okay. That’s the calorie-density perspective.

Then arguably, one of the most important or the most important reason to eat vegetables is the microbiota-accessible carbohydrates it contains. So this phrase is kind of technical. Microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, or you can shorten it as MACs.

Steve Wright: That’s a great marketing term. Everybody is going to use that soon.

Chris Kresser: Well, this is not my term. This came from Justin Sonnenburg out of Stanford. He’s a microbiologist who, together with I believe his partner in work and in life—I forget her name—wrote a book about the microbiome, that I think my agent and publisher’s publishing. So I’m looking forward to reading it. He’s very sharp. He came up with this term. He and his wife, I believe, published a paper about microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. They proposed this as an important definition instead of using the term fermentable fiber, which we often use to talk about the types of carbohydrates that feed beneficial gut bacteria. There are a lot of problems with that terminology. There are a lot of problems with the classification of insoluble and soluble fiber, which has been an old way of talking about it. So they’re proposing this new way of talking about it, which is microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. These are all of the carbohydrates in foods that are accessible to the gut flora, and able to be fermented and converted into energy by those bacteria and other organisms.

We’ve talked about this so much; I’m not going to spend that much time on it. But these carbohydrates are crucial to feeding our beneficial bacteria, which, in turn, play numerous important roles in our physiology and health. You can get these in other ways. You could potentially supplement with these types of fibers and you wouldn’t necessarily have to get them from vegetables. But when you look at things from an evolutionary perspective—which, of course, we do—you’ll find that most of our ancestors ate a lot of plants. I mean, there are definitely exceptions. There are the Maasai who ate primarily milk, blood, and meat from the cattle that they raise, although they weren’t hunter-gatherers; they were pastoralists. Then you have the Inuit who ate a lot of meat or fish, sea mammals. Of course, there’s been some research recently that suggests they actually ate more plants than we thought they did. But there are always outliers. When you look at the average hunter-gatherer society, you actually find that they ate a lot of plants and a huge diversity of plants. For example, the Alyawarra tribe in Africa ate 92 different species of plants.

Steve Wright: Per week? What was the sample size?

Chris Kresser: Just overall, like in their diet.

Steve Wright: Okay.

Chris Kresser: Those are fruits, tubers, and vegetables spread across all three of those categories. But if you compare that to today, 80% of the world’s population today live on four principal plants, which are wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes.

Steve Wright: What about kale? We can’t forget kale.

Chris Kresser: Well, that’s a smaller percentage of the population.

Steve Wright: Okay.

Chris Kresser: It’s a dramatic difference. The diversity in all of the nutrients and antioxidants that are found in these plants, and all the different types of fiber that are found in these plants, makes a huge difference in terms of the effect on the gut microbiota and the effect on overall health. I think that is one of the reasons that hunter-gatherers were relatively protected from disease, compared to people in the modern world. So I think the nutrient-density argument is strong for eating plants or vegetables. The calorie-density argument is strong. Then the microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, feeding, maintaining, nourishing your beneficial gut bacteria is another strong reason. Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that it’s a good idea to eat vegetables.

How Many Servings of Vegetables Should You Eat Daily?

In terms of exactly how many servings, I think a good benchmark is to try to eat some vegetables with every meal. For breakfast, for me, that’s often sauerkraut, but sometimes it could be other kinds of fermented vegetables. I’ll sometimes steam some kale and put a little drizzle of olive oil on it, and have that for breakfast. Or I’ll chop up some kale and put it in with my eggs. You know, Steve, it’s all about the kale.

Steve Wright: It’s all about the kale, man.

Chris Kresser: Or I’ll have some spinach.

Steve Wright: Of course, spinach has just gotten kicked right in the junk.

Chris Kresser: Spinach is good with eggs. I love spinach. I’ll sometimes put spinach in a smoothie if I have one. So there are lots of different ways. Sometimes, like especially this time of year, as we get into the winter, I’ll often have soup for breakfast. It’s a really good way to start the day. I’ll have a bunch of veggies in there. Then for lunch, I’ll have either a salad or other greens or vegetables with lunch, probably also some fermented veggies on the side. Then for dinner, I’ll usually have a large serving of vegetables. Then I’m also eating tubers and starchy plants throughout the day. Like today, I had sweet potatoes for breakfast. Everyone who listens to this show knows that I often have plantains in the morning. Then I’ll have taro or yuca at another time during the day, and good old-fashioned white potatoes as well. So if you just aim for eating vegetables throughout the day with your other meals, I think that’s a perfectly legitimate approach.

Steve Wright: This is just something that floats my mind as part of this conversation. What about the green supplements? The, “I’m not eating enough vegetables, so I can have this powdered thing.” Or, “I’m eating a lot of vegetables, and I’m just trying to up my health.” Where does this fall into this talk?

Chris Kresser: I think those things have value. I mean, ideally, you get all the nutrients that you need from whole real foods. For a lot of people, that’s possible. For some people, that may be difficult for a number of reasons. Number one, where they live. Maybe they don’t have access to good, nutrient-dense vegetables, which we’re going to talk a little bit about some of the factors involved there in a second. Maybe they have impaired absorption and digestion, so eating either raw or even cooked vegetables is hard for them to absorb in that form, and if they put a green power, which is sort of pre-digested in with the smoothie, it’s a little bit easier for them. Maybe they’re dealing with chronic illness and oxidative stress, and they need just extra antioxidant support. I do a lot of testing on my patients who are really sick. We find levels of lipid peroxides and oxidative stress markers that are really off the charts. In those cases, either supplementing with a green powder or actually taking some supplemental antioxidants can really help, even if they’re on a nutrient-dense diet. So once again, it really depends on the person. If you’re just generally healthy overall, I think just eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet with fresh, raw or cooked fruits or vegetables is fine without any addition. But if you’re dealing with any of the issues that I mentioned just now, then certainly those things can play a role. Let’s talk about some other considerations.

What Types of Vegetables to Eat

Let’s assume I have convinced you that eating vegetables is important. But I want to talk now about what some of the considerations are in terms of eating vegetables, namely, like what types of vegetables in terms of how they’re grown, how they’re harvested, how they’re stored, and all of that. I do think organic is important. No news flash there. I’ve talked a lot about why I think organic is important. I know there have been some high-profile studies suggesting that the nutrient content in organic vegetables is not higher than nonorganic vegetables. I’ve written some articles criticizing those studies, as has Mark Sisson and a number of other people. I think there’s plenty of research to show that organic fruits and vegetables are generally higher in nutrients when you look at a broad diversity of nutrients. They’re also lower in pesticides, which even those studies admitted. You know, we’re still learning about the effect of pesticides. I think this is something where the precautionary principle applies. If there’s a chemical in our food system, there’s evidence that it can be harmful, and we’re still studying it, I think it’s best to avoid that if you can. I know finances are an issue for people in terms of buying organic produce. There is the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, which can help you decide, if you have limited resources, where to apply them in terms of the organic produce to get the most bang for your buck. Because there are certain fruits and vegetables that are heavily sprayed, and you definitely want to get those organic if you can. Then there are others where pesticide residues are generally pretty low. If you have to save some money, those would be the ones to buy conventional. But as I’ve often said, the whole organic/nonorganic thing I think is actually one of the least important factors when you consider what kind of fruits and vegetables you should be buying. It is crucial, but there are others that have a bigger impact on the nutrient density and then overall health value of the vegetable and fruit.

One of those is how quickly you consume the plant after it was harvested. Whether it’s local or not essentially is what that comes down to. And we know that today, a lot of produce that’s sold at the large supermarket chains is grown hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, like in places like California, where I live, or Florida or Mexico. I wrote an article a while back and there was this statistic in there that blew a lot of people away, that the average carrot has traveled 1,700 miles before it gets to your dinner table. The problem with that is that as soon as you take a plant out of the ground, it starts losing its nutrition. Broccoli is an especially notable example of this. It starts losing some of its cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours after you harvest it. And after just a few days, those compounds are really low. They’ve dropped considerably. So it still will have other vitamins and things like that, but some of these phytonutrients really, really start dropping as soon as you harvest them. Once I read that in Jo Robinson’s book—which I’ll tell you more about in a second—now, when we go to the farmer’s market on Saturday to buy broccoli, Saturday night is broccoli night. We don’t let it sit around in the refrigerator for very long.

Steve Wright: What about the people who can only get access to, say, frozen organic broccoli? The flash freezing that they are claiming about, is that a way to maybe help with this?

Chris Kresser: Yeah. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often a better choice, believe it or not, because in many cases, they’re flash frozen right after they’re harvested, so there’s not as much time for the nutrients to degrade. Also, cooking method makes a difference. But let me finish with the harvest, and then we’ll come back to that. The total vitamin C content of red peppers, tomatoes, apricots, peaches, papayas, they have all been shown to be a lot higher when the crops are picked right from the plant. Spinach—which is one of the best sources of folate, which is a very important nutrient—loses almost 50% of its folate eight days after it’s picked. Again, if you consider a scenario where it’s picked, shipped 1,500 miles—and vegetables are shipped in dark trucks, and then they’re stored in a dark warehouse. Then if they’re in the display on the supermarket, they’re underneath. They’re in the dark. Where there’s dark, there’s no light, photosynthesis, and there’s more nutrient loss that occurs there. So ideally—and I know, again, this isn’t possible for everyone—if you want to maximize the health benefit and nutrient density of your vegetables and fruits, for that matter, you’d buy them locally at a farmer’s market. Or even better than that, you grow them in your backyard. But of course, again, that’s not possible for everybody.

Another question is I guess the heritage of the plant. So how they are grown—whether they are domesticated or wild. This is what Jo Robinson talks a lot about in her book, Eating on the Wild Side. It’s a fantastic book. Her argument, which I think there’s a lot of research to support, is that one of the biggest differences between the diet of our ancestors and our diet today is not just in the basic composition of what they ate, but in the nutrient composition of the foods they ate. Over many, many years, we’ve domesticated a lot of crops. We have a lot of reasons for doing that. Generally, in many cases, we’re trying to make certain fruits and vegetables sweeter, to be more palatable. We change them in ways that made them easier to grow and more resistant to pests, or larger and more appealing visually. A lot of these changes, unfortunately, have had an adverse impact on their nutrient content. For example, the ancestor of the sweet corn that we eat today was 30% protein and 2% sugar, but today’s corn is 4% protein and 10% to 40% sugar. That’s an almost unrecognizably different plant. There’s a species of wild tomato that has 15 times more lycopene, which is the antioxidant compound in supermarket varieties of tomatoes. There are some varieties of native potatoes from the Andes down in South America that have 28 times more phytonutrients than the standard old Russet potato that you buy in the supermarket. So the varieties of foods that we choose are important in terms of nutrient density, and what we can do is try to choose more wild plants that are less domesticated. For example, there’s a wild plant called purslane, which has six times more vitamin E than spinach, seven times more beta carotene than carrots, and 14 times more omega-3 fats than some other dark leafy greens. We can choose wild plants like that. We can eat a lot of spices and herbs, which tend to be still kind of in their more wild state. The nutrient density chart that I published in my book—that was based on data from Mat LaLonde—showed that herbs and spices were number two, second only to organ meats, in terms of their nutrient density. So including a lot of wild herbs and spices in our diet is a good idea.

The third question is how you actually store and prepare the vegetables. Again, Jo Robinson covers this in her book. This is something I learned a lot about. It wasn’t really on my radar screen to that extent until I read her book. Some examples there would be berries. Most forms of berries actually become richer in antioxidants the longer you cook them. So cooking berries and then canning them, or even buying canned blueberries, are more nutritious than fresh blueberries, which is kind of wild to think about. The same is true for tomatoes. The longer you cook tomatoes, the more benefits they provide. Canned tomatoes are actually more nutritious than fresh tomatoes for that reason. If you’re using garlic in a dish, chopping the garlic and then letting it rest for 10 minutes before you put it into the dish dramatically increases the allicin content. And allicin, A-L-L-I-C-I-N, is an active ingredient in garlic. It plays an antimicrobial role. So if you’re sick, you feel like you’re getting sick and you want to use garlic to help you get well, it’s not really a question of whether it’s raw or cooked that’s the most important. It’s if you chop, you’re basically activating that hormetic defense system in the plant and upregulating the plant’s antioxidant defense system. Then all of those compounds are expressed. If you give that 10 minutes to sort of work, and then you eat it, it’s going to have much greater allicin content, like I said. Then there are other examples. We’ve talked about this before in a different context. But if you cook potatoes, just white potatoes, and then you let them chill for 24 hours, you change the plant considerably. You increase the resistant starch content. Resistant starch is a microbiota-accessible carbohydrate and has a lot of benefits. You also lower the glycemic index of the potato. So somebody, for example, who has blood sugar issues, that gets a big blood sugar spike when they eat cooked potatoes, could potentially eat potato salad that’s been cooked and cooled for 24 hours without any issue. They might really benefit from that in terms of their gut flora and their blood sugar, because resistant starch has been shown to reduce blood sugar in a lot of studies. So paradoxically, eating potato salad, which they would probably avoid because of its carbohydrate content, could actually help with their blood sugar.

As you can see, I have a remarkable ability to take a simple question and make it extremely complex. Hopefully, that wasn’t TMI, too much information there. We can summarize by saying eat vegetables and fruits, for that matter, regularly. They have a lot of beneficial nutrients in them that are difficult to find in other foods. Eat locally and organic whenever possible. Eat some wild plants when possible, herbs and spices. Less cultivated plants like dandelion and purslane are good examples. Be conscious of how you’re preparing and storing vegetables. I didn’t actually talk about storage very much, other than the broccoli thing. But Jo has some really good examples of how you can store vegetables to preserve their nutrient content. One example is lettuce. If you bring lettuce home, you pull it apart, you soak it in water, and then you store it in a particular way, it’s going to preserve the nutrient content and lessen the chance that it’s going to break down. Again, I really recommend her book. It’s called Eating on the Wild Side. It’s got some really great information in there that’s not being talked about very much in the Paleo/primal nutrition world, but I think it’s pretty important.

Steve Wright: It sounds like one other thing is don’t just eat kale every day. Like, eat a variety.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Steve Wright: There’s phytonutrients in all of these plants, some of which we don’t even yet know about or what they do. But the reality is, don’t get locked into one type of meal. Rotate your stuff.

Chris Kresser: That’s a really good point, Steve. It’s true. For many of our ancestors, they did eat a much greater variety of plant foods than we eat. So it pays to branch out a little bit, try new things, get ideas from cookbooks and things like that. Last week, we talked about the 14Four, which is my new, total mind-body, 14-day reset program that’s now available at 14Four.me. For those of you that are new to this kind of eating, you’re maybe feeling a little overwhelmed with all this information, 14Four is a really great way of quickly jumping in, but getting a lot of support in the process. There’s a two-week transition phase that helps you ease into it and prepare yourself, and kind of ramp up into that 14-day reboot program. This will help you to make the kind of dietary choices that we’re talking about in this show, to start eating more nutrient-dense food, anti-inflammatory food, and food that’s going to make you feel your best, in addition to supercharging your stress management, your sleep, and your daily movement routine. Go over there and check it out. If you feel like you need some support in this area, it’s 14Four.me. We’ll be back next week with another question.

Steve Wright: Continue to please submit your questions at ChrisKresser.com/podcast. Thanks, everybody, for listening. It’s been a great show, Chris. I like going deep on this stuff.

Chris Kresser: Thanks, Steve. We’ll see everyone next week.

66 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. I’m currently reading the My Personal Paleo Cure book. On page 127 is says that starchy plants (soluble fiber) should be avoided if you have GERD. Then on page 172/3 it says that soluble fibers should be favored over insoluble fiber as they have a soothing effect on the gut for those who have digestive issues. My husband has GERD, so we are confused about which “page” to follow. Help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  2. Hi Chris,

    Its an interesting topic and especially after listening to your podcast with Jason Ferruggia.

    My question is if you can eat too many non-starchy vegetables? I eat at least >500g/day. Is that too much insoluble fiber? Is there a certain balance of soluble and insoluble we should aim for? Are starchy vegetables the best way to get soluble fiber?

    Best,

    Hemming

  3. A correction: Jo Robinson actually says that you have to specifically *smash* the garlic, not chop it, 10 minutes before cooking it in order to activate the antioxidants. Only smashing will work!

    • I’m sure you’re right, Viola, but Jo Robbins often isn’t. Here’s info from the Linus Pauling Institute. (Jo’s a reporter, not a scientist) bottom line: both crushing and chopping work!
      QUOTE
      Crushing or chopping garlic releases an enzyme called alliinase that catalyzes the formation of allicin. Allicin rapidly breaks down to form a variety of organosulfur compounds.

      Since cooking can inactivate alliinase, some scientists recommend letting garlic stand for ten minutes after chopping or crushing before cooking it.

      • How the individual cells are opened really does not matter but I find it most convenient to smash the garlic after only cutting the two ends slightly so that the peel is easily removed and then I chop it into very small pieces just as I do the raw onion. I leave both the garlic and onion remain there for ten minutes before either adding it raw to my plate or cooking it sometimes.
        There are also many vegetables that give more nutrition by being smashed/chopped/blended before consumption or cooking.

      • I’ve always preferred smashing the garlic because it seems to impart the flavor without overwhelming the dish (or the breath). Also, since I have SIBO, it seems like this would be a way to get the yummy flavor, while still minimizing FODMAPs. I wonder if this is true. I’d be interested in knowing what other vegetables/plants are more beneficial (enzymes and good compounds as mentioned, etc.) when chopped or released this way.

  4. Well, I think nutrition is important but even more so I suspect stress reduction, being happy and some calorie restriction/intermittent fasting get you even further. My grandmother is 93yrs old. She still works part time and drives to work and back, she is sharp as a tack, looks like a 75yr old. She is always smiling and always says “never, ever worry about anything”. She is on ZERO medications. She also eats like a bird, often skips meals, leaves half the food on her plate. I suspect she has been unknowingly intermittent fasting and calorie restricted for decades. She certainly does NOT eat 9 cups of veggies a day. By most dietician accounts she should have died 30yrs ago due to lack of nutrition.

    • also, I have a great aunt in a nursing home. She is 89yrs old. Her diet is breakfast; 2 pieces of white toast, butter. Lunch piece of white bread, sliced tomato, 1/2 cup of soup. dinner: little bit of meat 2-3 small portions of vegetable (carrot, potato or green beans) that sort of thing. Yet another case of eating like a bird and probably unknowingly calorie restricted. She’ll probably keep going to 105.. she should be dead too.

  5. Chris, another great podcast, thank you.
    I want to pick up that book. Those food storage and prep tips from it that you mentioned are so unexpected and I’d like to learn more.
    One of the foods that I think is extremely important to buy as organically farmed, and is often overlooked, is coffee and tea, if for no other reason than most people consume it so frequently. (And of course, Swiss water processed on the coffee, but maybe that’s auto with organic.)
    What about water – both for drinking and for cooking? Especially for those of us no where near a natural spring?

  6. I make an effort to eat veggies with each meal, and I’m talking having a third of your plate with either steamed or stir fry vegetables. I’ll make a big container of sweet potato hash that i can heat up with breakfast and I can pair it with some sort of meat for work.

  7. You mentioned that the phytonutrients have a hormetic effect that is actually pro-oxidant and stimulates the body’s innate antioxidants (e.g. a spice like turmeric stimulating glutathione production). This would also be considered an indirect antioxidant? And don’t we also have to consider other antioxidants in fruits/vegetables like vitamin C that are electron donors (i.e. direct antioxidants)?

  8. Chris may not realize this since he lives in California, and it seems like the other posters here don’t realize this, but there are parts of the country where local farm food is available less than half the year due to the climate. Colorado, where I live, is one such place, since the climate is harsh. The CSA I’m in is only 20 weeks/year. Most farmers markets are only June-September (4 months of the year). The few farmers markets that run longer have minimal or no vegetables in the extra months. I do not know of any CSAs that offer winter shares. Years ago, there was one farm with a winter CSA but the foods provided were limited to root vegetables, cabbage and sugar hat lettuce (minimal variety). I got really sick of eating cabbage all the time and it probably wasn’t good for my health to have such a limited range of vegetables. There is one indoor farmer’s market here but it has minimal to no vegetables in the winter. So my point is, for over half the year, my only source for vegetables is the store. And the vegetables must be shipped from California or Mexico since they cannot be grown here in the winter.

    • Margaret – Season extension has become almost standard in market gardening in the US. They have been doing it in Maine for a decade, Colorado wouldn’t be all that hard. Then there’s fermentation and other ways of putting nutrient dense foods by. you’re right: you do not want food from outside the USofA! Urgh!! (think Chinese garlic…or tilapia !!)

      • I was trying to say that you should be able to find a small farm family operated CSA in your area that is doing -or- if you can pull together a group of people who want out-of-season nutrient dense produce you should be able to convince a good produce grower to grow for you. Seriously!

      • I do not suggest you get anything from China but there are countries with safer food supplies than ours. Even Russia bans some chemicals that the US has been lax on without valid health reasons.
        Nutritionally, I think much of the food in the Philippines is better than what most people can get at the stores in the US. I live in the outskirts of a city of 300,000 but I can see my neighbor’s cows eating grass daily. All over town there are chickens roaming the yards and streets without being fenced in the owners properties.
        Food products do not have nearly the pesticides found in the US so although many foreigners come here and complain about the sanitary conditions they likely do not realize may be better.

      • As America, one of the most avid sprayers of vegetables, imports tons of fruit and vegetables from China, and ever increasingly so, unless you know the farmer personally, you are probably eating mostly tainted Chinese fruits and veg. Due to the corrupt organic certification from the US via China, the majority of UK citizens avoid both Chinese and American produce like the plague.

        • The UK imports 40% of it’s fruits and vegetables and I really doubt the average consumer there has any idea where they come from.
          In the US, most of those products imported come from Canada.
          China exports a very significant portion of the world’s fruits and vegetables but considering the distance I would think most of that goes to the Far East countries.
          The US is increasing significantly the produce coming from Vietnam and I really do not think that is any safer than from China.

          • The UK tests food before they allow it to be imported, so the Chinese food does not fair well. Neither will the US because the US does little or no testing for the toxins on food. That includes the “organic” food

            • Please explain your comment about the US importating a lot of food from Canada. What food does the US import from Canada?

              • More than half of the food products that Canada produces is exported to the US.

                I am sure Google will provide all the details you need by volume and dollars…

  9. Great article, as usual, Chris!

    I like that you stress the phytonutrients and the gut health qualities of most vegetables.

    Congratulations on eating some green veggies for breakfast now. I started doing that (in place of oatmeal) over a year ago. I have some sauerkraut first every few day, and give that time to clear thru the stomach, but with our without the sauerkraut, almost every morning I have some kind of greens, usually collards, kale or mustard, straight from my garden. Steamed, and smothered in butter. My gut seems very happy with this type breakfast. I add eggs also some days if my body is calling for protein.

    I think it is important that you introduced this idea to the world. People need to become aware that they are really just following tradition (and a very poor one at that) when they eat a typical breakfast. It has nothing to do with health. What you say you eat is truly a health oriented breakfast. Kudos!

    Keep up the good work.

  10. How about the effect that plant phytonutrients have on testosterone level? They can lower libido.
    Also, the pro-oxidant effect of some plant nutrients – in people with severe chronic illness, and therefore depleted antioxidants, could they cause some level of harm?

  11. I was actually kind of bummed out. I was hoping for some more concrete advice in terms of actual amounts to aim for and specific varieties. As someone who still struggles to eat veggies, I was hoping to see some guidelines as to which veggies complement our diets the best (in terms of key nutrients, phytonutrients that we do know abut current, recommended “dosages” etc…). The “throw in veggies every meal, eat a salad, eat the myriad of vegetables” makes sense but just leaves me feeling like I suck at my diet if I don’t force myself to love them.

    Still good info, interesting as well but given how detailed the Paleo community delves into the other foods of the diet, the approach to veggies, as you alluded to at the beginning of the podcast, still feels arcane to me in many ways. Thanks.

    • Peter, if you seek good nutritional information you need to look at other sources, not the Paleo community.
      I suggest reading the Blue Zones, the Okinawan Program, and books by doctors like Ornish, Esselstyn and Fuhrman.
      Greens are the best vegetable to not skip but the key is a colorful variety. Fuhrman ranks the whole plant-based foods that you should pay particular attention to…

      • Your point is well taken but I think I should point out that information and point-of-view of people like Dr Fuhrman is outdated compared to nutritional information from Jo Robinson or Dr Terry Wahls Plants are important foods for human not so much because of their macro nutrients but because of the secondary metabolites they produce and we involved ingesting so our bodies never had to learn to manufacture them itself. Chris does recommend Robinson’s book wholeheartedly but he does work at making her message palatable to the paleo community. Do you really want a big bowl of purslane more than once in your life? How many ‘highly nutritious’ herbs and spices can you really eat in a day? But then there’s Lambsquarters, way more nutrition than kale, tastes better than spinach, so easy to grow, it grows itself (because it’s a WEED 😉

        • I am the last one to say that we do not need tons of research on red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk (dairy) and plant-based foods.

          The comment that I made for Peter does not include names of any doctors or books that claim to have the last word in nutrition. That does not make them outdated, if you read and understand what they say you will see there is room for more research but the path they layout is still a healthy one for most people.
          You have take your taste preferences and tried to apply them to me. That does not work! I eat purslane about three times a week and it comes from my back yard. Dr Fuhrman made a very wise observation that I agree will be operative with motivated individuals. People like what they eat. Change your diet and very likely that within a few weeks or a month you will like it. Especially if your body starts to show it is getting healthier if not slimmer.
          You do not know much about nutrition if you think lamb is more nutritious than kale…

          • Chris – Lambs Quarters, the super nutritious potherb (weed), not lamb chops! How much purslane do you eat 3 times a week? Do you eat stems and all or do you pick the ‘leaves’ off and eat those? How much nutrition do you think you get from the volume of purslane you eat? I enjoy it to, but maybe a half a handful of leaves dropped into a salad or, bless ’em, SMOOTHIE

              • I do not live in a perfect world where I can control the ground water but I do not add chemicals to anything I grow. I have a neighbor that has several grass-fed cows and when they consume part of my front yard I get what I need after they leave…
                I eat all of the purslane but I do not think it is the most nutritious item I eat during the week. I seldom eat the leaves in a salad but steam lightly the whole thing.
                I rank watercress, kale, bok choy, several cabbages, beets swiss chard and many others high. I use to eat broccoli, cauliflower and carrots raw in salad but have for some time now steamed them and tomatoes. Raw salad is primarily romaine lettuce, onions, cucumbers, celery and tomatoes lately. I eat a mixture or beans or lentils just about every day. Flax and chia seeds, walnuts, almonds and other nuts daily too.

              • Ohhhh goosefoot! I have had it before but I am not familiar with it’s exact nutritional value.
                I eat kale and spinach often because of the benefits to the eyes.

                • Where do you live, Richard? (I’m in the mid-Atlantic, USA) I don’t hear goosefoot often!! 😉

                  Which of Fuhrman’s books contains the good information about plant nutrients?

              • I have not read any of his cook books but the ones I have all have what he calls ANDI.
                The latest of his books that I have is dated 2014, “The End of Dieting”.
                He also has a small GL table in it.
                Eat to Live (2011) and Eat for Health (2012) also have good information but you really do not need them.
                I have lived in the Philippines for the last nine years after retiring at the age of 53. It is a third world country but at least free range chickens and grass fed beef is common here. I do not drink milk but raw local milk is available and milk cartons from New Zealand are everywhere.

        • I have made what I thought was really good pesto, with purslane. Just substitute the purslane for the basil. Actually most any green or combo of greens seems to work in pesto. I froze serving size portions so I can have some this winter.

    • Peter, I think you derived the correct feeling from this article. Unfortunately, you do probably need to just abandon your current eating habits and raise the level of vegetables consumed. If you cut out all refined foods including the sweet ones, and substitute healthy fats, which you can use to prepare the veggies, you will probably find that veggies taste just fine. You need to change your diet so you change your “standard” of comparison from junk-sweets to only real foods.

      Nobody said foods were supposed to taste as great as an ice cream Sunday except the junk food industry. People who eat really healthy and are content with the diet are able to do so because they’ve probably totally abandoned the addictive foods that are designed to get you to reject all healthy foods.

      You are at the fork in the road. You can’t go both ways. You can’t get Chris to give you an “absolute minimum” on the veggies you need to choke down. You need to adopt the right path to find that vegetables are just fine in the absence of those ugly foods that are always tempting you. Trying to compromise won’t cut it. Just my perspective after having abandoned refined sweets dozens of years ago.

      • So true. The processed food industries have spent a lot of money on researching how to make their ‘foods’ more addictive. The keys are sugar and salt to compensate for the low fat content.

    • Check out Terry Wahls’ work for recommendations: she says nine cups of vegetables a day. She has a great TEDx talk out there that she did in Iowa City that explains in great detail.
      Her book, The Wahls Protocol, is great, too.

      • It’s important to remember that Dr Wahls determined how much vegetable nutrients a person needs to heal and stay healthy and then worked backwards from there through outdated USDA produce nutrient charts to arrive at the 9 cups of mixed produce a day requirement. In truth, 9 cups of grocery store produce is not enough (because nutrient content of commercial foods have slid supstantially since the USDA standards Dr Wahls sourced were publisheda. On the other hand, if you are a really good gardener and follow the nutrient dense guidelines or if you know a nutrition farmer (different from a commercial farmer) you can probably buy and eat a lot less than 9 cups of produce a day and still meet or excede the nutrition levels Dr Wahls feels we need

  12. Chris – What’s the story? I thought the purpose of this podcast was to tell us whether or not Dr Terry Wahls has her facts straight. I have to think that you don’t think she does because you weren’t recommending 9 cups of produce a day!

    Also, everyone should know that the large commercial farms (and many of the small commercial farms) at farmers markets have walk-in coolers at their farms and may hold produce like broccoli for a month or more before they bring it to market. A Jo says, by then, the broccoli ate all the good nutrients itself!

    If you can’t grow your own food then you want to have a relationship with a SMALL ORGANIC FAMILY OWNED CSA that harvests on delivery day

    • Allan, I don’t see where Chris promised to address Terry Wahls’ work but I might have missed it in my scan’s to find that name here and in his links.

      Regardless, I think you reinforced, Chris’ points quite well on getting not just vegetables into the diet, but on getting vegetables that are still high in nutrients at the time of ingestion. If Chris really wanted to evade a topic such as “how many cups of vegetables.”, your reply to Cher @ Paleo above covered that beautifully. All your considerations in that post were significant reasons for the reader to realize that quality is more important that “cups”. Thanks for that!

  13. Bio. I am in the Sam boat as you! Just today had an endo and colonoscopy and got diagnosed w inflamed stomach and small intestine opening along w sino and leaky gut. I have done every clean diet and am always torn w veggies. I don’t eat fruit or nuts etc so it is my only carb source. I want to do the Gap intro but feel I need to kill the bacteria and calm inflammation too. Blessings to all w gut issues even after a super clean diet!

    • I hope everyone is aware that NSAID’s also cause gut inflammation (and leaky gut). That’s diclofenac, ipubrofen, nurofen, brufen etc. We found this out the hard way when a gastroenterologist informed my partner he had ‘terminal ileitis’, i.e. an inflammed small bowel section near the ileocaecal valve. He had had 10 doses of nurofen – at my suggestion, mea culpa – the preceding week for headaches.

  14. Loved the in depth info on vegetables and fruit. I have always loved cooked raspberries and strawberries and blueberries but have been eating them raw or making sorbet as a way of getting more vitamins but now I will cook some as well, especially as we are getting cooler weather now and warm food is easier to digest. Thanks.

  15. I read the book,” Eating on the Wild Side”. The take-away for me? There really isn’t anything worth eating in the grocery stores. Light and oxygen are the biggest degraders of nutrients. Think about that as those beautiful heads of lettuce, broccoli etc..beckon from the produce aisles. Also, how many hands (grower, packer, shipper, stocker…) have touched that food and where have those hands been?
    Either grow your own or buy directly from the farm thru CSA’s. You’ll be healthier, the farmer earns a livable wage and stewards the land so that it will be productive forever instead of being forced to sell to a mall developer.

    • Pirate, most people do not live in a perfect world so if they are going to consume whole plant-based products they will be buying them at a food store somewhat conveniently located.
      Given that a family will buying at such a place, vegetables are still the healthiest choice.
      It might not be as nutritional as having them harvested in your back yard but they still have ample nutrition if stored and cooked properly after you buy them.

      • Richard – my world isn’t perfect nor does it need to be to get healthy food from local farms. This is very easy today with farmers markets, CSA’s, heck your next door neighbor may be wiling to trade with you if they grow or raise their own food or livestock.
        In my neck of the woods, there are farming plots that are available for folks that don’t have the land to raise crops. Most of these are located in areas that limited access to healthy food. Things are changing in a positive way in the food system and we are the ones making it happen. It is becoming more accessible everyday which is very exciting to me!
        As another poster mentioned always check with the farmer to find out their farming/harvesting practices. Just because they’re at the farmers markets or have a csa doesn’t mean they do it “right”.

        • Recently in our town we had an issue with yersinia paratuberculosis infection following eating bagged carrots and lettuces. At that time, locally grown organic carrots were unavailable. I tried not to feel a bit smug…

  16. Not able to grow these wild veggies / herbs, so, besides farmers markets (which are winding down for the winter in central Indiana), where to buy fresh / frozen / dried / bottled purslane or sorrel?

    • Our farmer’s markets in the Salt Lake area are seeing that they have so many customers that they are now renting big barn space through the entire winter season to have once a month Farmer’s markets. As winter crops dry up, they are supplying jams/ciders/canned veggies, as well as soaps and other locally manufactured products such as organic popcorn, etc. If your Farmer’s Markets are winding down, ask the organizers if they will consider renting barn/building space once a month. Maybe even get signatures of people who say they will attend….

  17. I am finding here lately that GREEN, LEAFY VEGGIES are a diabetic’s best friend. My husband (the victim of many an N=1 experiment) had much lower spikes (more like lumps), and for far shorter duration (sometimes the up-and-down is complete in an hour). The more I feed him, the better his overall BG performance.

    I suspected a K-1 deficiency, so I went out and got him some for fear of him turning green and sprouting. The greens alone did a better job of lowering BG than the supplements, and the supplements+greens combined. He may indeed have a K-1 deficiency, but he obviously ABSORBS it better from the food source.

    I wonder if he’s part rabbit… 🙂

    We’re using raw Lacinato kale, collards, green leaf lettuce, and this sprout mix (http://www.nowfoods.com/Sprouting-Mix-Clover-Fenugreek-and-Radish-16oz.htm) in salads, in sandwiches, inside Paleo wraps, and sometimes using raw collard leaves to make burritos and wraps. Other greens used on occasion as add-ins to the salads (parsley, cilantro, pumpkin leaves, radish greens, Boston lettuce).

    I have even ground them up in a food processor, and added them to raw meat loaf mix ((mixed with meat + egg, then baked) and soup (great ways to use up wilting or not-so-good-looking greens). Haven’t tried stir-fries yet, but that’s another option.

  18. Hi,
    Ir suffer from severe abdominal bloating and pain. I have tried everything: low FODMAP diet, Paleo, ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, autoinmune protocol,… Supplements, probiotics,… Nothing has really helped me avoid my terrible bloating, only not eating. So my solution is to eat tiny meals, as it is the only way to minimise the bloating, tummy ache, fatigue and everything that follows a meal.
    I used to eat loads of veggies but that made me feel awful. I am worried I am not eating enought veggies/fruit as I can only tolerate a tiny amount with each (tiny) meal. I am worried I am not getting enough nutrients or MAC fibre… What do you think?
    Thank you very much!!!

    • Hi Vio,

      I’d suggest seeing a functional medicine clinician ASAP to explore underlying causes like SIBO, parasites, fungal overgrowth, etc. Sometimes diet alone is not enough to resolve gut issues.

      In the meantime, you can focus on getting phytonutrients from fresh juicing (green vegetables) and fermented vegetables, which tend to be easier to absorb and are often more nutritious.

    • Curing SIBO or gut imbalance happened for me in a variety of steps over 2.5yrs but now am 100% resolved. I had PI-IBS. I started with a strict SCD diet, later SCD yogurt, became more stable but had to stick to specific foods. Then I tried Symprove a highly researched product out of hte UK (they ship anywhere). 3 month course of Symprove and I was cured. But after the symprove ended some minor symptoms came back, I was still happy though. My very last symptom was type1 stool every day for over 6 months. Kimchin helped a little but only in a superficial capacity. Well, and a month ago I decided Kombucha reminded me of Symprove. I brewed up my own Kombucha tea, even had a scientist friend analyze it. It showed of 100,000 CFU per ml. of bacteria. I started taking 1 shot glass full of Kombucha 15mins before breakfast every day. 3 days later I had mixed type1 and 3 stool, 5 days later tiny bit of type1 and a large type4, 2 weeks into it a movement every single morning, only long type4. I think I am finally over my PI-IBS. I have managed to fill my gut with bugs over the last 2yrs that have resolved everything. Don’t give up.

        • PI-IBS is post infectious IBS. It’s when you are fine and dandy your whole life, get a stomach bug and then have IBS. I had an iron gut for 40yrs, got food poisoning, took 3 weeks to clear and after that my gut was wrecked for almost 3yrs with IBS.

      • Thank you very much for tour replies!
        2 years ago I was tested for H. Pylori ( with positive results) and was treated with antibiotics . Obviously didn’t improve. Then I was tested for SIBO which was negative. My problem is I live in Spain and I can’t find a practitioner who works in this line. I did some researche and I had a stool test sent to a Dr. in UK. The results were: yeast overgrowth. I took a treatment and stated ketogenic diet. That is when I learnt about the Paleo diet. After a few months I relaxed a bit and introduced more carbs (some sweet potato and fruit). I also started drinking water kefir but it seemed to make me worse (maybe because of the fructose content- I also gave positve in the fructose malabsorption breath test-) None of these things has helped me improve,… Clearly my gut flora is still not good. I will try introducing more fermented veggies as you say and kombucha. Green smoothies I cannot tolerate, even cooked puréed…

        • Vio, I am not affiliated with them in any way, the research speaks for itself. I urge you to stop all probiotic/cultured foods and then try a course of Symprove. 80% resolution for gut issues. it put me over the top with my post infectious IBS. Being in the UK that is where they are located, they may even give you a trial. Look at the studies and their website. I spent over a year on diet modification and systematically trying every pro-biotic strain and cultured food. Then 4 days of Symprove and I was normal again.

            • I am pretty sure it will. I was at my wits end, miserable and considered any future enjoyment of life over. It improved me enough to then allow nutrition, exercise and fermented foods to heal the rest. Maybe you can let me know how it goes. Also, look into DIY fecal transplants, this would be a ‘last resort’ but many who have failed with everything find resolution with a series of transplants (just follow the protocols, ensure your donor is healthy and the stool tested). Good luck 🙂

    • Vio, when I have an IBS bout, like you I find that I have to cut back on meal size and greatly reduce fruit and veggies until things settle down. But when that takes a long time, then I feel like I’m robbing my body of fiber and nutrients. Recently it dawned on me to try drinking green smoothies during these times, and happily I’ve found them very tolerable and they actually feel like they’re helping me get through the bout faster. When I say green, I mean with almond or coconut milk, some blueberries, spinach, coconut, etc. I’ve thought about trying a juicer too, but found that the Vitamix smoothie works so well for me that I don’t need it. So depending on which appliance you own, you’ve got some options to try.

  19. This is timely, as I just got my very first CSA box and am looking forward to delving into it!
    I have to say that I never felt so good in my life as when I was following the Eat to Live diet I got bored with it & missed meat, so I quit. But I want to feel that good again, so I think amping up the veggies again is the key.

    • Same with me, Juanita! I have eaten meat all of my life, but when I went on the Eat to Live diet, I felt fantastic. I got bored, too, and sick of salads. So, I started eating meat again, but unfortunately let the veggies slide. I am going to try upping the veggies again, but keep some meat in as well for taste and variety.

  20. We are lacking research in many areas including milk (dairy), eggs, meat, fish, and fat. I am not going to worry about eating too many vegetables…

    • Hello
      I agree with Richard – I am thriving on raw Milk kefir and Egg yolks but I am very concerned about all those antinutrients in our Plant World. Chris could you maybe go into that topic to clear up some confusion!

Leave a Reply

[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]