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Plant Food Update

By December 11, 2016May 29th, 2020Nutrition

Do you really mean 10 daily servings of vegetables and fruits?

Several years ago I wrote an article recommending people eat 10 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. To this day I’m still getting questions on this topic, so it’s time for an update.

Of course the most common question is, “Do you really mean 10 servings?” The answer is: Yes, I do! Furthermore, 10 servings is really not that unreasonable of a guideline, even though some sources recommend less.

Another common question pertains to the high level of carbohydrate in fruit, and many also ask if the fructose content of fruits could cause gut distress. 

The answer of course is that everyone has different needs, and must determine what foods and quantities work best for them. I suggest nothing as a blanket recommendation, though there are some common baselines and guidelines.

Long ago, our ancestors hunted primarily, and gathered when times were lean. It’s even possible they consumed more plant food than they gathered by eating the contents of animal stomachs or other organs containing lots of vegetables and fruits.

It’s also important to remember that today’s vegetables and fruits are quite different from those available even just a couple generations ago. Our vegetables have been genetically selected (along with those genetically modified) for factors other than nutrients, including size, ease of growing, storability, taste and even texture.

In fact, one nutrient-related taste that has been deleted from modern vegetables and fruits is bitterness. Bitterness is an indicator of a plant’s “chemoprotective” power that helps prevent cancer and other diseases. In a sugar-addicted society, the natural bitterness of plant foods is intensified for most people, and that means lower sales. Therefore, plants have been selected to be sweeter, and engineered to reduce bitterness, and along with that, nutrition.

Texture, or mouth feel, is associated not only with taste but ease of chewing. So many modern veggies are lower in fiber and other nutrients.

Certified-organic foods are almost always the best choice because they are less likely to have been nutritionally tampered with, or engineered. Growing your own food not only offers better taste and nutrition, but also offers the physical activity and mental/emotional satisfaction as well.

Here are some other important things to consider:

  • If you are limiting carbohydrate intake, fruits are obviously much sweeter these days, and therefore much higher in carbohydrates. The exceptions are berries, which are lower in carbs. While vegetables tend to be lower in carbs, some exceptions are corn, beans, and root produce, especially potatoes.
  • If you’re eating very low carb for nutritional ketosis, your intake of fruit may be limited to berries, with vegetable matter limited to leafy greens like spinach and lettuce, along with avocado, asparagus and a few others.
  • If you’re not eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables each day, it’s more reason to choose the best ones packed with more nutrients. This includes organic or home-grown items such as blueberries, although blackberries and strawberries are almost as nutritious with less carbs. High-quality veggies include spinach and avocados as opposed to those of lower nutritional value like eggplant and cucumber.
  • If you have a sensitive gut, fruit sugar, or fructose, which is highest in fruits, has the ability to aggravate the large intestines. Some people notice gut upset when eating too much fruit. For some this may be only one piece. In this case, it’s obviously best to avoid foods that cause distress.

Plant Foods

While defining what’s technically a vegetable or fruit is not precise, they are clearly plant foods. Typically, plant foods with a seed are fruits, but we tend to think of some less-sweet fruits like tomatoes and avocados as vegetables. Plants contain large amounts of nutrients. And if we don’t eat a lot of veggies and fruit, other powerfully nutritious plant foods can be healthy too. Raw nuts and seeds are examples. The best are almonds, macadamia, pecans (the latter two lowest in carbs), with sesame being the better choice for seeds, but don’t count these toward your 10 servings — considered them as extra-credit toward nutritional health.

Making healthy plant foods a big part of each day means making them part of each meal or snack, including desserts. Here are some examples:

  • Morning might include a hearty smoothie. Fruit and or berries complement spinach, and parsley, for example, along with raw sesame seeds. 
  • A vegetable omelet says it all, especially with a tomato sauce. 
  • Lunchtime salads with spinach, lettuce, avocado and tomato is the foundation for a great meal when adding healthy-fat dressings and protein foods. 
  • A dinner of beef or fish could be complemented with a variety of vegetables cooked in butter or coconut oil with garlic, spices, or just salt.
  • Healthy desserts can go beyond the traditional fruit. Berries and cream are great. Check out the avocado pudding recipe — less than five minutes to prepare. 
  • Don’t underestimate another important plant food: cocoa. It’s packed with nutrients. You can have in your morning Phil’s Fat Burning Coffee. And for dessert or a snack, fudge!

In the above day’s scenario, it’s easy to get 10 servings of vegetables and fruits. And if you eat additional plant foods that’s a bonus. Especially when we consider the definition of a “serving.”

What is a Serving?

The USDA defines a serving as one piece of fruit, a half cup of raw vegetables except for greens, which is one cup of raw spinach, lettuce, kale and others.

Other dietary guidelines recommended different approaches for measuring servings. For instance, a serving of carrots might be one medium carrot; a serving of broccoli is one medium stalk, and a serving of asparagus is five spears.

Also consider dishes such as soups as a meal, which can easily include two or three servings of vegetables — homemade tomato soup takes less than five minutes to prepare using fresh tomatoes.

Many ask about juicing as an option. I don’t recommend it. By blending your vegetables and fruits whole, you’ll get much more nutrition from the foods because you’re not wasting the fiber and other nutrient-rich components that occurs with juicing.

I also must mention that items such as ketchup, corn, French fries, iceberg lettuce and other unhealthy modern varieties don’t really count as vegetables or even real food. While they have calories, they lack the micronutrients and phytonutrients compared to the healthier choices mentioned above. And, of course, many contain other harmful ingredients such as sugar or bad fats. Avoid them.

The foundation of a healthy diet is vegetables, fruits and other plant foods. It’s difficult to eat too many vegetables. Fruits should be consumed to individual tolerance levels, and nuts and seeds provide additional nutritional benefits. Together, these plant foods provide important vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and other nutrients essential for optimum health and fitness.