We have known for thousands of years that there is an association of diet with disease. Currently, over 70% of chronic diseases are linked to diet and lifestyle, and therefore are probably preventable. Nutrition is really the key behind many of our health problems. When we look at the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., we can see that half are related to diet: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, strokes, and kidney disease. We all know someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high blood sugar. These can be made better or worse just by what we put in our mouths. Yes, you are in control of your health. Let me say that a different way: You are in control of all that goes into your mouth.
So, I want to help you make better food choices. You have already taken a step in the right direction by choosing to open a healthy living page and read. Over time, we will focus on important concepts in how food and a plant forward diet can be used to bring about better health and relate this concept to the individual types of foods.
First, let’s talk about the concept explained Dr. T. Colin Campbell, well known and well written nutrition professor at Cornell University, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” By this, I mean that the package of nutrients found in whole foods works together for the maximum benefit much like the individual instruments in a symphony must work together to produce beautiful music. We wouldn’t like to listen to just the clanging of the symbols or the beating of a drum. Consuming a wide variety or rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your diet is more nutritionally effective together than obtaining specific nutrients in supplements or just consuming a limited variety of foods.
So, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Most people know about the macronutrients in foods: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. They provide the body’s fuel in calories and have a host of other vital functions necessary to make the body work. We also know that certain Vitamins like A, K, and D as well as certain minerals like sodium, potassium, and iron are necessary. Many vitamins and minerals can be given in supplemental form and can prevent deficiencies. But research has shown supplements do not have all the same benefits as consuming the same nutrients in whole foods. The reason for this is that whole foods, especially whole plant foods contain a host of other substances in addition to macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and micronutrients such as commonly known vitamins and minerals. In fact, there are thousands of substances whose names are unfamiliar to us working together in whole foods for the benefit of your health and wellbeing by supporting all the metabolic reactions inside the cells of the human body. All you need to do is consume them and stop consuming the harmful high calorie saturated fats, added refined sugars, and highly processed foods found in the typical American diet.
A perfect example of a nutritional powerhouse and superstar is the leafy green vegetable category. This includes a wide range with common examples like cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts, other lettuces, spinach, kale, collards, mustard and turnip greens. In addition to the abundance of Vitamin A, these vegetables are a great source of antioxidants which can rid the blood of free radicals (chemical substances that cause metabolic injuries). Phytonutrients which are chemical protectors against harmful substances are also abundant in leafy green vegetable. We do not get enough fiber in our American diets. Leaf vegetables are a good way to get more fiber. An oft forgotten benefit of vegetables is that there is a significant amount of protein calorie for calorie in all plant food including the leafy greens. However, they are low in calories due to the large amount of water, but still very nutrient dense.
So, take great satisfaction that when you are consuming a variety of plants, they will work together to provide not only fuel, fiber, some protein, and hydration, but a symphony of vitamins, minerals, and substances like antioxidants and phytonutrients to make you and your family healthier. And remember: Food is health, medicine and life sustaining. Share it with the ones you love.