Talking Health with Josh: Why Eat Fruits and Vegetables?

Hi everyone! I will keep all future articles as brief as possible but I thought I'd give a little introduction to our first conversation. As many of you know, I am a bit of a what is scientifically referred to as a "health nut". Since early adulthood, I've been obsessed with health, wellness, nutrition, and exercise. Boring as it may sound to most, I love spending hours at a time reading through studies, articles, books, and listening to interviews with experts on all things health. Basically the question I've been searching to answer is "what can I and those around me do to feel and function at our best?"

I won't bore you with the details but I can tell you that I was someone who spent much of their early life not exactly "feeling the best". Having implemented some relatively simple lifestyle adjustments since then, I cannot describe the multitude of benefits I've experienced.

Unfortunately for those not looking to spend a significant percentage of their life researching, the topic of health is beyond confusing. Human biology is complicated and contrary to what trendy magazines and click bait headlines want to sell you, there are no one size fits all formulas. Still, there are some basics that could go a long way to improving quality of life. These basics are what I'd like to share with you over the coming months. I'll include links for those that want more info and/or to validate the information I'm offering. Of course keep in mind I'm not a doctor, just a fellow human trying to feel better and help others do the same. For starters..

Why eat fruits and vegetables?

Vegetables and fruits (along with meats) are the original forms of sustenance for humans (and all mammals in fact.) It is what our bodies developed and specialized to source energy from.  Our ancestors spent their days foraging for edible plants and hunting wild game, and our bodies still thrive on those same kinds of foods.

Plant foods offer an incredible variety of nutrients and their value can not be overstated - vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, terpenes, fibers, enzymes, proteins, the list goes on. These foods contain all the essential ingredients our bodies use to be healthy, along with non-essential ingredients that help us to not only feel ok, but feel our best.

The nutrients found in vegetables and fruits are abundant and often highly bioavailable (usable by our bodies). These nutrients decrease the risk of essentially all forms of chronic disease and degeneration including heart, brain, bone, cancer, and mood disorders. Each plant food contains its own set of nutrients and the best way to ensure you're covered is to eat a variety of whatever produce is in season, with an emphasis on leafy greens. Ever hear advice to "eat the rainbow"? You heard right! The pigments in plants are actually valuable antioxidants and flavonoids and so by eating many colors, we can know we're consuming a diverse set of nutrients.

These nutrients are essential no matter who you are or where you are in life. They are critical to proper physical and cognitive development of children and young adults. Older adults need them to avoid illness and disease formation and actually need more because as we age, our bodies become less efficient at utilizing nutrients. Think you're exempt because you're somewhere in between? Nope! Plant foods have been shown again and again to improve physical and mental performance, not to mention maintaining healthy weight. Also, anyone considering having children at any point in the future should know that healthy diets full of whole, unprocessed foods are directly correlated with decreased instances of developmental issues and disease in their offspring.

Think taking a multivitamin will keep you covered? Unfortunately there are many issues with vitamin supplements including poor manufacturing processes (even in major brands), poor absorption of some of the nutrients, overdose of other nutrients, and no fiber.

You might have heard about the microbiome or "gut bacteria" recently. It’s been a popular topic because our microbiomes are responsible for helping us maintain all aspects of functioning. Beyond digestion, beneficial bacteria help us regulate all other body systems including mood and brain health. Guess what good bacteria loves to eat? Fiber! There are many types of fiber that different beneficial bacteria prefer to snack on and again, the best way to know you're covered is to frequently eat a variety of in season plant foods.

Finally, they taste amazing! There's a reason every great culinary tradition is centered around regional produce. From Italian, to Japanese, to Latin American cuisine, there is always an emphasis on fresh produce. For those that think they don't like vegetables, I would suggest that you try fresh local produce. The imported, low quality veggies found on many grocery store shelves and gas station salads would convince anyone that they don't like vegetables. A vibrant, freshly picked head of lettuce or sweet, juicy local tomato on the other hand might just change your mind.

I hope I managed to plant (pardon the cheesy pun) a few more reasons to consider working more produce into your day to day lives. This was meant to be a very general overview and I plan to delve more specifically into these points and others over future articles. Thanks for reading! Hope I'm not the only one craving a salad now..

-Josh Ochsenreither

Dan Risser