• Caitanya Chandra dasa

The importance of vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits should be the main component of our diets, since the body simply can’t operate in an efficient way without a good quantity of them. They contain antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. A general rule is that we should eat one to two kilos of vegetables and fruits per day (it can be even more than that, if good quality vegetables are available). Vegetables are generally better than fruits, because fruits contain too much sugar. Fruits are also good, but as a complement. Vegetables should be the main focus.

Recent studies show that the amount of vegetables one eats is the main indicator of one's overall health. This is not difficult to understand based on the crucial importance of different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients for the operation of the body. Grains also contain some vitamins and minerals, the problem is that grains are very caloric, and thus you can’t consume a sufficient quantity of grains to satisfy your daily needs. One would need to eat 1.25 kg of whole grain rice to meet his daily needs of zinc, for example, without even speaking about the essential nutrients that are absent from grains. Vegetables and fruits, on the other hand, can be consumed in much more generous portions, and the secret to get enough nutrients is exactly in the quantity.

With sufficient nutrients from vegetables and fruits, the body is going to operate in a very optimal way, which will be a protective factor against most sources of damage. As long as one eats a good amount of vegetables and fruits, he can do a slow carb diet, a vegan diet, or even a ketogenic diet, and in the three cases he will be healthy. However, as soon as the vegetables are taken out, practically any diet will have negative effects.

We generally tend to associate expensive foods with health, but it is not necessarily like this. Vegetables and fruits that are cheap and easily available, like beets, carrots, cabbage, oranges, and bananas are amongst the healthiest options, and combined with grains, spices and milk products they can more than fulfill our nutritional needs without the need of spending much.

Carrots and beets are inexpensive, but very nutritious options that are extremely healthy, especially if eaten raw. It’s very beneficial if you can eat a couple of raw carrots or beets before each meal. You just need to peel and offer to Krsna.

Ginger is always good, regardless of the combination. You can add it to salads, to cooked preparations, to hot milk, teas, or even just eat it by itself. Another important aid is lemon: if you can take daily the juice of a few lemons, you will rarely get sick. Nuts are also a good complement, being rich in several nutrients, but they should be eaten in moderation because most also contain too much omega-6.

It may not look so, but many vegetables are actually quite difficult for the body to digest, therefore raw vegetables are not always a good idea. The cooking may slightly reduce the nutritional value (compared to raw vegetables), but it makes it much easier for us to eat and digest them. One can compensate for the slight loss of nutrients by just eating a little more.

If one has difficulty eating a sufficient volume of vegetables, one option is to get a juicer. This way, it's possible to get the nutrients without the bulk. Two kilos of vegetables usually become around one liter of juice. When doing juices, one should check which vegetables to use. Some vegetables (especially certain leaves, like spinach) are too rich in oxalates, which in high doses can cause problems, therefore these are better cooked.

There are two types of juicers: centrifugal and masticating types. The centrifugal juicers are cheaper, but they are much less efficient, and therefore a lot of juice is left in the pulp. Masticating juicers end up being better in the long run, since they extract much more juice and therefore you need less vegetables to get the same amount.

It's important to, as far as possible, get good quality vegetables. Organic vegetables are naturally much better, but there is a catch: the modern definition of "organic" is not what we would normally think. Farmers are still allowed to use certain chemicals and pesticides, it's just that the list is smaller. Also, an organic certification does not say anything about the quality of the soil used to cultivate the vegetables. The soil is important because a soil that is poor in nutrients will result in plants that are also lower in nutrients (especially minerals). Nowadays most people lack a sufficient amount of minerals and trace minerals in their diets and it's exactly because the soils have become so exhausted that the vegetables and grains don't have the same nutrition as in the past. As far as possible, try to buy vegetables from local farmers instead of the big supermarkets, the nutritional quality of the vegetables is usually much better. Even better is if you can cultivate your own vegetables using some piece of land that was previously vacant.

Another important consideration about vegetables is that one needs to have the right gut bacteria to be able to digest them. Vegetables are rich in soluble fibers and various other compounds that the gut bacteria needs to break-down before the body is capable of using. If one is eating junk food for too long, he may develop a gut flora that is rich in bacteria that feed on sugars and simple starches and poor on good gut bacteria that feed on fibers. If that’s the case, when he starts with vegetables, he may have bloating, gas and other symptoms related to the fact that the body is not being able to digest it properly. The solution in this case is to start with fruits and vegetables that are easy to digest, and increase the quantity slowly. To cook the vegetables will also help to make them more digestible. Taking yogurt or some other probiotic may also help to rebuild the gut bacteria faster.

Spices and herbs are also important, since they contain vitamins and antioxidants, serving as a secondary source of nutrients. Certain spices, like turmeric, can even help to prevent cancer due to the elevated amount of antioxidants present in them. An important point about spices, however, is their quality. Many of the powdered spices we buy in the market are adulterated, mixed with cornstarch or other less benign contaminants, up to things like sawdust, corants, and chemicals. Such spices can do more harm than good. It’s better to buy spices in whole form, or at least powdered spices from reliable sources.