Thursday, June 26, 2014

EVERY BODY CRAVES VEGETABLES

Roasted brussel sprouts and yams
If you told me I could take a cruise to anywhere in the world and consume all the food, desserts, and alcohol I wanted free of charge, but no vegetables, I wouldn't go. I crave veggies the way I used to crave candy or pizza or white wine. I still like those other things, but I can take them or leave them. Vegetables I can't live without. And I know everyone who is reading this would become vegetable addicts too if they started eating vegetables regularly.

I believe the reason we crave sweets and pizza is because our bodies are starved for vegetables. We just haven't been exposed to vegetables enough to know that's what we're craving.

Vegetables -- greens and root crops -- are what people have been eating since the dawn of man. Yes we ate meat too. Yes we ate fruit too, and legumes and grains for that matter, but we've been eating leafy greens, tubers, and other roots the longest because they are the most readily available and the easiest to gather and prepare. Many of them can be eaten raw.

I suspect that a lot of today's chronic health issues, mental health issues, and cancers are due to a lack of vegetables in our diets. Our guts evolved digesting a wide variety of these foods and inside our guts, helping to digest them were thousands of different types of microorganisms.

Are you aware that human beings have the greatest diversity of gut microbes of any animal on earth, and that we share the same types of microbes with more other species than any other animal? We have gut microbes in common with gorillas, chimpanzees, pigs, cows, dogs, cats, rats, birds, Neandertals, the list goes on and on. Because we've shared habitats and/or eaten those animals over thousands of years, we've picked up their microbes and they've colonized us, and we have passed the microbes on to our children and that's a wonderful thing. Our gut microbes, which if you put them all together weigh about the same as our brains, make up the majority of our immune systems. The more diverse our microbial gut communities, the more able we are to fight off diseases.

A lot has been written lately about how we've harmed our gut microbes and, hence, our immune systems, by overuse of broad spectrum antibiotics during the last seventy five years or so. But what hasn't been written about enough is how we're not feeding the beneficial gut microbes we do have. What do beneficial gut microbes thrive on? PLANTS! Plants like whole vegetables, the closer to their natural state the better.

Vegetable juices don't really do the trick, by the way. Although juices can provide nutrients, your microbes really feed on fiber. Vegetables are made up of soluble and insoluble fiber. These work together to coat our digestive tracts and allow nutrients to travel through the entire system being absorbed along the way. Then the microbes break the fiber down and release even more nutrients into the body.

Here's what beneficial gut microbes don't consume: processed carbohydrates like flour. There is little to no fiber in flour. Beneficial gut microbes thrive on breaking food down the way they've been breaking it down for thousands of years. But modern people in developed countries are now eating mostly processed foods so their best microbes are unemployed and they've started to make trouble. They've started to attack the bodies that host them, causing inflammation in  different areas: the joints, the organs, the brain. But when we start building up the plant part of our diet -- feeding the unemployed microbes -- we begin to see many of these inflammations disappear. In other words, when our gut gets happy, our whole body starts to feel better, and our brains start to function better too.

If you're not a vegetable eater, start by adding one fruit or vegetable to each meal and then work up to making half of each meal fruits and vegetables. But don't go overboard on the fruit! Fruit contains a LOT of sugar. Remember, before canning and refrigeration, humans only ate fruit when it was ripe and before it rotted which was for a short period each year. We would do our bodies a big favor if we went back to eating sweet foods only occasionally.

Once you start eating whole plants (as opposed to refined/processed plants) on a regular basis, don't be surprised to find yourself craving them over other foods. REALLY! I'll never forget the first time I cooked chard. There it was all soggy, limp, and dark green in the iron skillet. I took a small bite to see if it was cooked enough. I got one taste of it and proceeded to eat the whole bunch directly from the pan -- no seasonings, no anything.  It was just SO DELICIOUS, I can't describe it. Even writing about it makes my mouth water. The same goes for most vegetables I try. One bite and I'm a goner! I'm sure that's the way nature intended it.

So why doesn't everyone feel this way about vegetables? The main answer is money. There's no money in selling plain vegetables. Even frozen and canned vegetables aren't big money makers relative to junk foods and processed sauces and soups. So we're inundated with food advertisements that feature packaged foods and we begin to forget that vegetables even exist, or worse, we're  told that they don't taste good or that we won't like them. Who's behind that message? I wonder...
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References:
An Epidemic of Absence, Moises Velasquez-Manoff
Missing Microbes, Martin J. Blaser, MD
You Are What Your Bacteria Eat - The Importance of Feeding Your Microbiome with Jeff Leach (radio podcast)
Oldest Neanderthal Poop Ever Found Reveals Dietary Preferences, Paul Hamaker, Paleontology Examiner

If you're having trouble visualizing how microbes digest food, watch this 4 minute video:



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