The quick answer: Vegetables—learn to love them or prepare for an ugly death.
Food and Reverence
Mike Pollan, best-selling author and U.C. Berkeley journalism professor, wrote perhaps America’s best nutrition book—In Defense of Food. A prior post endorsed this book. Pollan opens by giving away the book’s message in three succinct sentences: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He goes on to say, “. . . eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you.”
Actually, I think Pollan could have used just two sentences, because if you eat mostly plants—high in nutrients, low in calories, full of filling fiber—you won’t want to eat “too much.”
Recently I read an explanation of the Jewish dietary code for kosher dining. The writer acknowledged there wasn’t an obvious reason for some restrictions—like not mixing dairy and meat on the same plate—but thought it important to obey God, nonetheless. The dinner table, he wrote, can be much more—it can be an altar. I’ve thought a lot about this, how dining can help sanctify the lives of our families.
So combining all this, if I were to write a book today this would be my opening prescription: “In eating, show reverence for God’s second best creation—our food supply.” This suggests minimal processing—not adulteration—of food and implies a duty to care for animals, over which Man was given dominion.
Written more concisely: To sanctify your life and optimize your health, eat mainly plants, minimally processed, seasoned with a little meat and fish. Could it be said more simply?
Americans are unique in their dislike for vegetables. The nutritionist David Ludwig agreed: “In my experience, hating vegetables is essentially an American trait. I never saw anything close to it during my travels through Asia, Europe, and South America.”
In learning to love vegetables Healthy Change #2—Never eat deep fat fried foods—makes things worse. French fries are America’s favorite vegetable. So we have a bigger problem—if you throw out French fries, Americans eat, on average, less than one serving daily of vegetables, instead of the recommended 4-5.
Of the thirteen quarterly rotating themes of Word of Wisdom Living, vegetables alone are addressed twice, or 8 times in a year. I don’t think it too much—the biggest challenge of healthy eating is for Modern Mankind to relearn eating vegetables.
Around the world, people eat all the parts of plants—the fruit, seeds, roots, stalk, etc. Here’s news from the book, Nutrition and Health about a particular part of plants, the leaf: “One of the most remarkable surprises in nutrition studies in the last few years was the discovery of the remarkable dietary qualities possessed by the edible leaves of plants. Among vegetable foods, only the leaf is rich in calcium, and is also rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as fiber.” The book, I should note, was written three generations ago in 1925. Here's one more reason to eat salads: Leaves are also surprisingly rich in omega-3 fats.
In a prior post, In Defense of Veggies, we told of the remarkable benefits of the vegetable groups, including the dark leafy greens, cruciferous family, orange, and red veggies, and the alliums (garlic, onions, etc). A salad with a nice oil and vinegar dressing should be eaten at most dinners.
This post also notes how colored vegetables improve our appearance. Scientists in Great Britain found a salutary improvement in skin color for people eating orange and red vegetables. They not only had better skin color, they looked healthier. So drop those French fries and enjoy some carrots, or a sweet potato.
One more thought: If you don’t yet garden, consider planting a vegetable garden this spring.
Healthy Change #6: This is the easiest of all the Healthy Changes but it's the start of a new outlook.
Do The Math
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—our official healthy diet guide—recommends we eat five vegetable servings daily. For food groups without powerful lobbies—vegetables are the best example—I trust the Dietary Guideline of five servings. (For food groups with well-funded lobbies, like dairy, or edible oils, I take the guidance with a grain of salt.) A serving is the amount that will fit in the palm of your hand—about 2-4 ounces, depending on hand size and food density. Doing the math, five veggie servings a day with allowance for waste is:
- Two adults—about 15 lbs. per week.
- Mom, dad, and three grammar school kids—20-25 lbs.
- Family of six, ranging from toddler to high school—30-40 lbs.
Please comment: It’s best not to force children to eat vegetables—that’s not a fight you can easily win. A better idea is for mom and dad to eat vegetables with pleasure. And get the kids their own copy of the Pixar classic, Ratatouille. Ratatouille, is a traditional French dish of stewed vegetables—a fact not made clear in the movie.
How do you help your children, and spouse, to love vegetables? What is your favorite vegetable recipe? Give us your best shot—veggies are the true test of Mom's seduction skills.