..and why it’s easier than you think.
The importance of vegetables really can’t be overstated – and many people already know this to be true.
I actually think it feels so redundant in wellness care at this point that I can almost sense the inevitable eye roll coming. “Yes, yes, we get it, you’re a dietitian, and you’re reminding us that veggies are important”.
But did you know that it’s not just the quantity of vegetables that matters – but the diversity?
And the seasonality?
Before this gets more overwhelming than intended, I am all for including vegetables as often as you can however you can. For my family, this means we buy organic frozen vegetables from Costco regularly and use them often to make up part of our weeknight staples. While fresh-frozen veggies can retain more nutrients (more on that later), the same rotation of “broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc” really only gets us so far. If you’re ready to uplevel your vegetable intake for your health – keep reading.
Research has shown us that greater diversity of fruits and vegetables results in greater gut microbial diversity. And if you’ve been following along with us for a while at STAT Wellness, you know that gut health is a precursor to all aspects of human health. In fact, people who eat a variety of at least 30 different types of plant foods in the course of a week have some of the greatest microbial diversity seen in research. It should come as no surprise that those who have the greatest microbial diversity are at much less risk for heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other inflammatory conditions.
We also know that fruits and vegetables contain specific phytochemicals, nutrients, and even antinutrients – things like oxalates that are beneficial to the survival of the plant, but that aren’t always beneficial for human consumption. In this case, the dose makes the poison. Consuming the same concentration of antinutrients from the same vegetables all the time is where we get exposure to higher quantities of specific anti-nutrient compounds. Therefore, one benefit of eating a variety is that we limit exposure to higher quantities of the same anti-nutrients. We even see this in our practice on food sensitivity tests! It’s not uncommon for someone to build up a food sensitivity to something they eat daily.
While quantity matters – so do seasonality and transit time. That’s the quality. We know that vegetables and fruits that are eaten closest to harvest have retained much more nutritional density, compared with ones stored for longer periods of time. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: when it comes to getting the most retained nutrients, purchasing produce that’s harvested close to where you live is likely retaining much more nutrients compared with produce that’s been harvested weeks ago, and potentially even shipped cross-country. And, while I’m incredibly grateful for the convenience of grocery stores, the apples that we can purchase year-round were harvested during their season. That means they have been stored for longer periods of time in conditions set to retain some freshness and nutrients – but not all. There is a workaround here, and that’s fresh-frozen produce, what you purchase from the freezer section of the grocery store. Those frozen items do tend to contain more nutrients and can be great resources for nutrient density as needed.
At this point, you may be sold on the importance of eating a large quantity of locally grown produce, but what about the practicality?
When it comes to getting 30+ plant foods during the course of the week, things like legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains do help to support diversity. We do still encourage at least 6 fistfuls of non-starchy vegetables daily for most people – and here’s where shopping at a local farmer’s market, or delivered community-supported agriculture box can help.
My absolute favorite? Fresh Harvest.
I’ve been a customer of Fresh Harvest for years, and this company is honestly wonderful. They partner with local farms to provide high-quality seasonal produce for weekly delivery. As a result, I’m reminded often of what’s actually in season, and I can truly taste the difference in the products delivered. The company even sends out emails with upcoming seasonal produce and ways to use it! I had never tried sunchokes before until I was recently introduced to them through Fresh Harvest. And now? They are one of my favorite little vegetable foods! If you’ve never tried them, they are like a small delicate potato with an almost slightly nutty flavor. I could go on and on.
If you’re an Atlanta local, check out Fresh Harvest. We are thrilled to let you know that Fresh Harvest is offering all STAT Wellness clients $30 off their first box! Your discount will be automatically applied at checkout and we may receive a referral fee if you use this link (at no cost to you). To sign up, follow the below link AND use the code STATWELLNESS for $30 off your first box!:
The produce is on point – but they also have TONS of other food options. In all reality, it can likely replace most, if not all, of your regular grocery shopping. The real give is what we are introduced to when we get outside of our regular rotational rut: the opportunity to try new things, get more nutrients and build a better microbiome because of it.