Vegetables, the best ingredient


     Vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, win the nutrient density prize. The concentration of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants per calorie in vegetables is the highest, by far, of any food. Research shows that vegetable consumption is the most important factor in preventing chronic disease and premature death. Unfortunately, the modern American diet is extremely low in natural vegetation, especially vegetables. It is not slightly deficient in just a handful of micronutrients; it is grossly deficient in hundreds of important plant-derived, immunity-building compounds.

     Eating a lot of greens and other colorful vegetables is the secret weapon to achieve great health. They are low in calories and high in life-extending nutrients. Eat these foods in unlimited quantities and think big. Try to eat a pound of raw vegetables and a pound of cooked vegetables each day. If you can’t eat this much don’t force yourself, but the idea is to completely rethink what constitutes a portion.

     Include lots of salads and raw vegetables in your daily meals. Consuming salads is an effective strategy for weight control. I have treated thousands of patients and have observed that the more salad they eat, the more weight they lose. When you add one of my delicious fruits, nuts, or avocado-based dressings to your salad, the monounsaturated fats in the dressing increase the body’s ability to absorb the anti-cancer compounds in the raw vegetables. The powerful combination of raw vegetables and healthful dressings makes the salad a health food top star.

     All vegetables contain protective micronutrients and phytochemicals, but cruciferous vegetables are especially powerful. They are loaded with disease-protecting micro nutrients and powerful compounds that promote detoxification and prevent cancer. Cruciferous vegetables have a unique chemical composition: They have sulfur-containing compounds that are responsible for their pungent or bitter flavors. When their cell walls are broken by blending or chopping, a chemical reaction occurs that converts these sulfur-containing compounds into isothiocyanates, an array of compounds with proven and powerful immunity-boosting effects and anticancer activity.

     Methods of preparation and cooking affect the absorbability of isothiocyanates (ITCs). Chop, chew, blend, or juice cruciferous vegetables for maximum production of ITCs. They are not pre-formed in the plant; they are made when the plant cell walls are chewed or crushed. The more cell walls that are broken, the more enzymes are released to catalyze the reaction that produces these compounds. Cooking does not destroy the activity and functions of ITCs; it only deactivates the myrosinase enzyme catalyzing their formation. That means if you blend, crush, chop, or juice the greens while they’re raw and then put the blended or chopped greens into a stew or soup to cook, you will still have those functioning and beneficial compounds present after cooking.

     Onions and mushrooms add great flavor to all kinds of dishes and also have well-documented anticancer and immunity-building properties. Add them to soups, stews, stir-fries, and other vegetable recipes. The allium family of vegetables, which includes onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions, contains anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant compounds. This protection is thought to be due to their organosulfur compounds, which are released when the vegetables are chopped, crushed, or chewed.