Quick intro: This is one in a series of Longevity Secrets – List of food to include to increase longevity.
The next food in the longevity food is vegetables.
There are varieties of vegetables each with different nutritional value, taste and flavor.
The healthiest people living in Blue Zone focus on adding fresh vegetables to their meal. They eat more vegetable which is a reason they receive more vitamin, minerals, and fiber from their diet. They’re also a good source of phytonutrients (plant compounds) which it beneficial property.
Adding up the vegetable in the diet is the first steps towards healthy eating. The more your meal is loaded with vegetables, the more health-promoting nutrients you will receive.
High vegetable intake is the reason for the perfect health of healthiest living people.
Let’s explore why vegetable should be the priority of the meal.
1. Vegetables Are Abundant in Nutrients
There are varieties of vegetable and each one have their unique nutritional value.
They’re a dense source of antioxidants and minerals. Fiber is the most appreciated nutrient yet scarce in people’s diet. Instead of being an abundant nutrient source, it’s low in calorie.
A cup of carrot (128 gram) can provide 428% of Vitamin A of daily recommended value. They also contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium. (1)
A cup of raw broccoli (91 grams) provides 135% of the daily vitamin C needs, 116% of your daily vitamin K needs and a good amount vitamin B6, manganese, potassium and folate.
A cup of raw kale (67 grams) provides 684% of daily vitamin K, 134% of Vitamin C, 206% of vitamin A, and also a good amount of protein vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese and other nutrients. (2)
Like these, there are many vegetables those rich in vitamin and minerals. Each vegetables nutritional value varies, so it is important to eat varieties of vegetables to cover the missing nutrients in one vegetable.
Add more serving and also focus on adding varieties – to balance nutrient and enjoy varieties of flavor in the meal.
Wrap up: With a healthy range of vitamin and minerals, vegetables proves to be the best food to meet the daily need.
2. Highest Source of Fiber
It’s recommended to eat 25-30 gram of fiber to meet the daily need. Instead of the recommendation major aren’t able to meet even half of their fiber intake.
Consumption of fiber lowers total and LDL cholesterol level, decrease the risk of developing coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, stroke, obesity, diabetes, enhance immune function, and certain gastrointestinal diseases (3, 4)
With a cup of bean, fruit and 2-3 serving of vegetables, you can meet your fiber need in low calorie.
Dietary fiber can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer by:
- Slowing the digestion and absorption of macronutrients
- Decreasing the contact time of carcinogens within the intestinal lumen by healthy detoxification. (5, 6, 7, 8)
- Dietary fiber also supports healthy intestinal flora also known as the gut microbiome. (9)
For better health, you need both, soluble and insoluble. Eating vegetables you get both types of fiber.
Wrap up: Vegetables are the main source of food in a meal to receive the required fiber intake.
3. High In Antioxidants and Phytonutrients
Oxidative stress, free radical and inflammation are the leading cause of many chronic diseases like cancer, coronary heart disease, and another degenerative disease.
To handle the damages caused due to Oxidative stress, free radical and inflammation, its recommended to increase the intake of antioxidants.
Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and calm the inflammation before they possess any threat to healthy cells. The demand for antioxidants is increasing with increased environmental stress but the need isn’t meet which is increasing the risk of health problem.
To get high antioxidant in the daily diet it’s recommended to increase the intake of vegetables.
Antioxidants aren’t just the reason to eat vegetables. Vegetables also contain phytonutrients which are also known as phytochemicals, especially available in plant foods.
There are thousands of phytonutrients in vegetables, usually in a small amount.
Some of the phytonutrients present in vegetables are:
- Pro-vitamin A carotenoids: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin
- Xanthophylls: lutein, zeaxanthin
- Glucosinolates, isothiocyanates
- Phenolic compounds –
- Phenolic acids
- Allium sulphur compounds
- Falcarinol, falcarindiol
These phytonutrients possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory property. It’s produced by the plant for their own protection from insects or bacteria.
Studies have proved the beneficial property of phytonutrients. (10)
Every vegetable has its own nutritional value hence making each vegetable unique. You can get beta-carotene in carrot, glucosinolates in broccoli and lycopene in tomato.
Lots of multivitamin pills are available but to receive phytonutrients you have to depend on the whole vegetable.
Common benefits of phytonutrients are
- Boost anti-inflammatory activity
- Boost the body’s antioxidant defence
- Modulates gut microflora
- Lowers cholesterol
- Fights bacteria
- Supports the body’s immunity.
More the veggies in meal, more the density of nutrients.
Fiber in vegetable can help to remove the toxin from the body which can cause a threat to health.
Increased intake of veggies provide protection from many types of cancer, inflammation, cuts the risk of heart disease and degenerative diseases.
Wrap up: Vegetables contains antioxidant and phytonutrients which increase antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body.
4. It Protects from Heart Diseases
Heart disease is the no 1 killer around the world.
Unhealthy lifestyle comprised of unhealthy diet increase the risk of heart disease. The risk can be reduced by increasing the intake of vegetable.
Vegetable intake among the world’s population is low which is linked to the increased risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, type 2 diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. (11, 12)
Intake of fruit and vegetables has been found to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and the rate of mortality. (13)
The cardioprotective effect of vegetables is due to; (14)
- lowering blood pressure,
- modifying lipid metabolism,
- regulating blood glucose,
- improving endothelial function,
- attenuating myocardial damage,
- modulating related enzyme activities,
- gene expressions and signaling pathways.
Let’s look at how vegetable protects from heart disease.
a. Lowers the Cholesterol Level & Protection From Damage:
Among many reasons, increased LDL cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of heart disease.
Lower LDL cholesterol level can cut the risk and its possible with the intake of soluble fiber. (15)
Soluble fiber lowers the absorption of bile (cholesterol or bile acid) in the intestine by trapping and removing from the body. As there is low bile acid to absorb the level of cholesterol starts to drop.
The drop of cholesterol lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease as there is lowered chance of the build-up of cholesterol as a plague in arteries.
The increased antioxidants and anti-inflammatory activity in blood protect the LDL from oxidation. Damaged LDL cholesterols can form plaque in the arteries which narrows the coronary arteries thus decreasing the blood flow.
Blocked coronary arteries due to plaque buildup are a reason for heart attack. (16)
With lower LDL cholesterol and anti-inflammatory protection, the risk of cardiovascular disease lowers.
Total cholesterol & triglycerides level can be lowered by increasing the intake of fiber, especially soluble fiber. (17)
b. Protect Arteries From Damage
Free radical and anti-inflammatory compound can damage the arteries leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries and they can also cause damage to LDL cholesterol).
While high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity can protect arteries and LDL cholesterol from damage.
You can get a wide range of antioxidant and phytonutrients from vegetable depending on what you eat. Eat varieties of vegetables in your daily meal to get varieties of antioxidant and phytonutrients.
c. Lowers Blood Pressure
Increased blood pressure is directly related to increased risk of heart attack.
As mentioned earlier, diet impacts heart health, and its due to high sodium intake.
Sodium intake has been increased due to the intake of processed foods.
The recommended level of sodium is around 1500 to 2300 mg but the intake has surpassed the upper limit, which increases blood pressure.
To cut the risk associated with sodium increase your potassium intake.
Increased intake of fruits and vegetables has been found to provide a protective effect against increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (18)
High potassium intake increases the excretion of sodium through urine. Loss of excess sodium balance the sodium and potassium required by the kidney to maintain healthy blood pressure. (19)
Tip of suggestion: Potassium is good for health but it’s not recommended to overeat. Prefer to eat fruit and vegetables to meet your daily potassium need. While reducing the intake of processed food will be highly recommended for heart and kidney health. Lower sodium means the kidney doesn’t have to work hard to remove excess sodium from the body.
You might be wondering the benefits of adding vegetables to heart health is limited to above mentioned but still, there are many more.
If you want to stay protected from heart disease or keep your family protected, first plan to make changes in your dietary intake. Without a healthy diet, it will be tough to meet the nutrients required for a healthy heart.
As heart disease is the biggest killer around the world, it’s important to stay aware before it damages anyone’s health.
Wrap up: With high fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients and healthy potassium level vegetable provide a wide range of benefits to the heart.
5. Protects From Cancer
Cancer is another disease which has a high impact on the world. The rate of cancer is increasing so the death rate.
A healthy diet can cut the risk of many types of cancer.
The people living in Okinawa, Ikaria and other blue zone area focus on eating natural and whole foods.
They eat more of fresh vegetable in their diet and receives maximum nutrients required to stay protected from cancer.
If you want to reduce the risk of cancer, follow what they follow. As you eat what they eat, you will also receive the same nutrients they receive. You will receive the same protection the healthiest people receive and so you also stay protected from health problems.
The risk of cancer increases due to:
- Increased intake of unhealthy nutrients
- Lack of protective nutrient
a. Increased Intake of Unhealthy Nutrients
Increased intake of unhealthy food increases the intake of calorie or say no nutritional value yet high calories. If your diet is rich in calorie, the risk of obesity increases thus increasing the risk of cancer.
Studies found that obesity was associated with increased death due to cancer like esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney, stomach (in men), prostate, breast, uterus, cervix, and ovary. (20)
The first reason,
The second reason,
The diet that promotes obesity is sure that it doesn’t contain healthy and balanced nutrient.
b. Lack of Protective Nutrient
Free radicals, oxidative stress and inflammation are the biggest risk factors for cancer. If you are looking to stay protected from cancer, keep all these factors in control.
Free radicals, oxidative stress and inflammation are the part of the way body function. They play an important role but can be damaging if proper care is not taken.
To prevent damage, you need a healthy amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Antioxidant and phytonutrient are potent to neutralize free radical produced during oxidative stress, and also lowers inflammation. (23)
The cancer protective effect of vegetable or fruit aren’t due to single nutrients, it is a combination of multiple nutrients. Each whole fruit and vegetables provides multiple nutrients which combine to provide total protection from cancer.
The nutrients combination considered for the benefits are (24)
- allium compounds,
- protease inhibitors,
- inositol hexaphosphate,
- vitamin C,
- folic acid,
- beta-carotene (and other carotenoids),
- vitamin E,
- and dietary fiber.
Raw vegetables are more beneficial in providing protection from cancer along with allium vegetables, carrots, green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tomatoes. (25)
Soluble fiber is the food for gut bacteria residing in the intestinal tract.
These gut bacteria produce natural antibiotics, some vitamin B, improves immunity, prevent food allergies, protect from cancer and improve nutrient absorption from the food.
Lactobacillus species and Eubacterium aerofaciens (produces lactic acid) are found to lower the risk of colon cancer. (26)
There are many more studies which have proven the protective effect of vegetables against cancer, yet to cut short, I have listed few.
Initial measures to prevent cancer proves to be the best strategy rather than looking for treatment. You can take a few steps to cut the risk and stay protected from the most deadly disease.
Increasing vegetable intake you will load your meal with cancer protecting nutrients.
Most people complain about the healthy meal taste, so they don’t prefer to follow. If you learn to add veggies in perfect combination, you will find that veggies are much tastier and flavourful.
Wrap up: Vegetables contains a whole range of cancer protecting nutrients, like antioxidant, phytonutrients and fiber.
6. Protect From Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes is on the way to being the most common disease among elders and even in children.
The reason behind the rise of diabetes is processed food, imbalanced nutrient intake and an inactive lifestyle.
Processed foods are dense in calories more than required yet lack protecting nutrients.
Among the most important nutrient required to prevent Type 2 Diabetes is fiber.
Fiber is among the most important nutrients required for health instead body can’t digest them. Unable to diet a nutrient has proved beneficial in protecting from many health problems.
Lack of fiber increases the speed of digestion and also leads to overeating, which increases calorie intake.
Quick digestion increases blood sugar. Liver release insulin to store the excess sugar as fat, those not required for that moment.
Due to insulin resistance body needs more insulin to do the same task.
With continuous load to produce excess insulin the pancreas burnout, thus it loses the ability to produce enough insulin.
When each meal continuous enough fiber,
- You eat less or the required,
- Food breakdown slowly thus there is a slow release of sugar thus there is no need for storage,
- Increased satiety prevents unwanted craving thus reducing the intake of unwanted calories.
High fiber intake can increase insulin sensitivity, thus lowering the insulin need which lowers the burden on the pancreas. (29)
Including leafy green and other fiber-rich veggies with each meal can lower the Glycemic load of the meal. If you are eating high glycemic index food than a serving of veggies will help to lower the Glycemic Load.
With low Glycemic load, the meal doesn’t have any major impact on blood sugar thus preventing the initial cause of type 2 diabetes.
Fiber rich diet can also protect from complication due to Type 2 Diabetes. (30)
Wrap up: With high fiber intake through vegetables, the risk of Type 2 Diabetes lowers. While it can have a positive impact on insulin resistance, a beneficial effect that cuts the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
7. Improves Digestion
A healthy digestive system starts with a healthy intake of fiber.
Veggies contain fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
Fiber rich food is often low in calorie, good for health, prevent diabetes and other health issues. Along with those benefits, they have a positive impact on the digestive system.
People with a high fiber diet have a much lower rate of constipation than who eat less. (31)
Fiber provides bulk thus improves bowel movement.
Soluble and insoluble fiber both are important for overall digestion and detoxification. With better detoxification, the body easily gets rid of waste without much hassle.
Without enough fiber in the diet, the risk of constipation increases and it can lead to other problems like haemorrhoids and diverticula (outpouchings) in the colon.
Wrap up: With an ample supply of both soluble and insoluble fiber, the functionality of the digestive system improves.
8. Weight Loss and Weight management
The rate of obesity is rising, so the health problem.
To stay healthy it’s recommended to lose excess weight. If you are planning and looking for the solution, then the intake of veggies can be the best solution.
Veggies aren’t just good for weight loss, they are even potential to manage weight.
Losing weight is a tough process, it challenges at every step, but if you don’t manage it, all the efforts will be ruined.
When you bulk your diet with veggies, you start to lose weight; while continuing it will prevent weight gain.
Fiber is beneficial for weight loss and weight management goal due to;
- Slow Digestion
- Higher Satiety
The common reason for increased weight gain among people is the intake of processed food. Processed food is prepared by separating nutrients in food, especially fiber.
Without enough fiber in a food, you will eat more of that food without realizing as your meal lack satiety nutrient, fiber.
With lack of fiber, a meal is digested quickly which is responsible for the storage of excess calorie (not required for that moment) as fat.
As the food are digested quickly there is a need to eat frequently than compared to high fiber diet.
With high fiber, food digest slowly thus there is no need for storage of sugar (calories). While slow digestion of food will supply energy for a long period.
You don’t need to adopt any unhealthy practices to achieve your weight loss goal.
You can achieve your weight loss and weight management goal by eating healthy food.
Wrap up: High fiber diet prevents overeating, slow digestion, prevent energy crash, improves satiety – all support healthy weight loss and weight management.
9. Supports Healthy Guts
Higher consumption of fiber can provide protection from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other health problem. (32)
Human gut microbiota was forgotten but research and growing evidence are showing its importance. (35)
- Responsible to produce metabolites (a substance formed in or necessary for metabolism)
- Provides immune boost
- They have a great impact on host health and lowers the risk of disease.
- It has been linked that it provides protection against irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), asthma, allergy, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer
Non-digestible carbohydrate (fiber) is the primary energy source for the gut microbes. Fiber especially soluble fiber is considered best for gut health.
If you are looking to improve health, there are many benefits mentioned earlier. A healthy microbe which has a positive effect on health and there is no doubt that eating fiber dense vegetables is a great deal.
Research on gut health and host health is still limited. Yet the benefits of high fiber diet proves that it’s important to eat high fiber food.
To get the benefit you don’t need to know everything about the gut microbiota, just start eating high fiber foods.
Wrap up: Dietary fiber is the energy source for the gut microbiota which promotes a healthy microbiome. With a healthy microbiome, the risk of many health problems lowers like bowel disease, colon cancer, and metabolic syndrome. They have a great impact on immunity thus have much more benefit than listed.
10. They Are Alkaline
And the last benefit in the list but not the least.
Foods can be divided into acid-forming or alkaline-forming.
Acid-forming food are
- certain dairy products
- processed foods
- fresh meats and processed meats, such as corned beef and turkey
- sodas and other sweetened beverages
- high-protein foods and supplements
Alkaline-Forming foods are
Due to the high intake of acid-forming food, there is an increased risk of Chronic Kidney Disease. Reducing the loaded of acid has found to benefits patient with Chronic Kidney Disease. (49)
A high protein diet or other acid-producing food is part of today’s modern diet. They increase the acid load which is neutralized by kidney through the mineral buffer such as calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. (50)
High acid-forming can increase the loss of calcium from the bone which degrades bone health, while it can also lead to kidney disease. (51)
To cut the risk you need food that balances the acid and alkaline level.
Vegetables are among that food that can help to buffer the acid without adding any load on the kidney or damaging the bone matrix.
It is always recommended to eat multiple food types in every meal and sure it’s one of the reason. Maintaining a healthy balance in acid-forming and alkaline-forming food can reduce the risk of many health concerns.
Wrap up: Vegetable are alkaline-forming food thus they can balance the pH level in the body. With a healthy balance in the acid, the risk of health issue lowers.
So what’s your view on vegetables.
Do you still think that vegetable intake isn’t important?
If you planning to add them to your diet, then start slowly. Start with few serving and keep on increasing till you reach 3 to 4 serving of vegetable. You can add a small serving of vegetable in each meal.
The benefits mentioned should change your mind, if not then, look over the diet of healthiest people living in the Blue Zone. The people with higher longevity and their diet have a stronger connection, it should be enough to make a better choice for you and your families health.
Tips To Add More Vegetable
- Add broccoli to scrambled eggs
- Add veggies to the sandwich
- Smoothies (Kale, spinach, carrot)
- Load your pasta with mushroom and spinach
- Veggies salad
There are many more ways to add veggies to your diet. Try a different combination and find out what you like.