As a budding young herbalist, I was taught that (apart from not putting toxins into your body) nourishment was the path to detoxification. That if you nourish your body’s cells, and provide the nutrients your body requires then your liver, kidneys and gut can effectively process toxins and eliminate them from your body.
For many years I’ve been focussed on quality fats and fat-soluble nutrients, and only recently has my attention been brought back to vegetables.
I’ve been growing my own vegetables over the past 10 or more years. What began as a hobby, then became an obsession, and is now just a way of life. It seems normal to me to walk out into the garden to pick fresh fruit or vegetables as required. Home grown produce has two major benefits – firstly it tastes a lot better than commercially grown food, and secondly I know that food from my garden is free of all chemical sprays. I can’t confess to being organic as I don’t know the source of everything that goes into my garden, but I do know that it’s spray free.
Having vegetables in the garden year round means there’s always something fresh available, and because it’s there I’m more likely to eat it as I don’t like putting effort into growing vegetables that end up going to waste. I do however allow the odd lettuce, rocket, silverbeet or bok choi go to seed and then I have free plants come up in abundance throughout my gardens. Certain herbs are allowed to grow freely in my gardens as well; borage, calendula, heartsease (wild pansies), nasturtiums, and dandelions – a herbalist’s best friend.
A year ago I wrote a post on eating your greens, and green vegetables are definitely packed with nutrients including fat soluble vitamins D2, E and K, also water soluble B1, B2, B5, and folate, and the minerals magnesium (which provides the green colour), calcium, potassium, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, copper, iron and selenium (assuming it’s in the soil).
Fresh vegetables also contain vitamin C, which is necessary for repair and maintenance of tissues, and is used abundantly by the adrenal glands when under stress. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant.
Antioxidant is a word that’s been bandied about in health product marketing, but what does it actually mean? Because we need oxygen to convert food molecules into a usable form of energy (ATP), partially used oxygen ‘radicals’ can cause damage to cell membranes, proteins and DNA. Antioxidants are used to sequester oxygen radicals thus protect your cells from harm. We produce enzymes that do this job, but they require minerals including manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc as co-factors.
Vegetables have antioxidant qualities due to their mineral content, but also the pigments chlorophyll (green), beta-carotene (orange pro-vitamin A), zeaxanthin and lutein, and others depending on the colour of the fruit or vegetable. These nutrients are unique to the plant kingdom, so the more fruit and vegetables in your diet the more benefits you will notice. One thing you may notice from increasing vegetable intake is an improvement in vision, as the pigments zeaxanthin and lutein are necessary for eye health.
Who has a greater requirement for antioxidant nutrients?
- Individuals with genetic defects in their antioxidant enzymes (which can be picked up through DNA testing)
- People who exercise and live an active lifestyle
- People who have a toxic lifestyle such as those who smoker and/or drink alcohol
- People who work around toxic fumes or chemicals
Knowing your genetics for folate metabolism is worth knowing, so you can amend your diet if necessary to ensure that all your methylation and detoxification pathways are flowing smoothly.
Vegetables, in general, are low in carbohydrates, and high in fibre and water. Increasing vegetable intake and reducing bread or grains is a great way to manage weight.
Ways to include more vegetables into your diet:
- Grow them. Easy ones to grow are silverbeet, beetroot, spinach, parsley, and bok choi which grow all year and don’t take too much space nor attention. As you become more proficient or have more space, add in extra vegetables according to the season.
- Eat a salad every day – even if it’s just a handful of chopped carrot, capsicum or cucumber.
- Make soup. A pot of soup made with onion and celery as a base, grated carrot, a good handful of parsley and whatever other vegetable you have in the garden – silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, pumpkin etc. is easy to make and a super healthy quick meal if you don’t have time to make anything else. Add some garlic, herbs and spices to add flavour. I’ve been living on soup for the past month as I have so many vegetables in the garden that I don’t want to waste!
- Stir fry them.
- Make quiche, veggie bake’s, or frittata’s. These can be eaten as a vegetarian dinner, with leftovers for lunch.
- Eat vegetables for breakfast. Having a side of asparagus, spinach, broccoli, courgettes or tomatoes with eggs is fairly standard when you go out for breakfast, but you could do it yourself at home too. If you’re in a rush to get out the door during the workweek, you could spend a bit more time in the kitchen on the weekends and have a leisurely brunch.
Try to eat 3 – 6 servings (a serving is approx. half a cup) of vegetables per day, including something dark green. Including more vegetables in your diet will always pay off, however some people with digestive problems may be better off eating more cooked vegetables than raw.