How the nutrient content of one tomato, for example, compares to another is a function of how and where it was grown, the season, how ripe it was when it was picked and how it was stored. But still there are plenty of common denominators — substances that play critical roles in keeping you healthy, no matter whether you are eating a hothouse tomato or one you just picked in your own garden.
Fibre — Ironically, what you can't digest in fruits and vegetables is one of their most beneficial components: fibre. It helps delay the absorption of sugars and fats into the body, reducing spikes in insulin and thus decreasing the risk of heart attack and diabetes. It also relieves constipation and helps prevent the painful inflammation of the colon. The fibre found in oats and other grains and a seed traps cholesterol and causes it to be eliminated in stool, thus lowering serum cholesterol and with it the risk of heart diseases.
Vitamins — More and more research is indicating that cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and other chronic illnesses are, in part, diseases of deficiency — and it's possible that the phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables will become tomorrow's vitamins that prevent them.
Antioxidants — Deficiencies of a special class of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables called antioxidants seem to be implicated in the early stages of heart disease, cancer and age related declines in memory — and possibly even in ageing itself. Antioxidants capture and snuff out highly reactive substances called free radicals which can cause damage to cells in every organ.
Essential elements — Vegetables and fruits are great sources of elements such as magnesium and potassium that the body needs to accomplish critical tasks, including controlling blood pressure and keeping a steady heart rhythm.
Go ahead. Eat as much as you want of these — cooked or raw, plain or sensibly sauced, or dipped into something good. When you are hungry, they will provide plenty of chewing and satisfaction and adding them will help you raise your optimal health.
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, all dark green leaves, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, carrots, celery, fennel. Cucumbers, edible-pod peas, salad greens, Brussels sprouts, radishes, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, beets.
These are higher in carbohydrates and calories than the A-list ones so try to limit to one or two servings per day.
Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, turnips, parsnips, water chestnuts.
Spare the spuds
Your all-time favourite white potatoes have been pulled from the vegetable category and moved to the carbohydrate group because they are mostly starch. Like white rice and white bread, they are easily digested, increasing levels of blood sugar and in response, insulin-more quickly and to higher levels than equal amounts of calories from pure table sugar. So it is recommended eating potatoes not as a daily vegetable but only occasionally that also in small amounts.
Discomfort with the vegetables
Adding a lot of fibre to your diet all at once can sometimes lead to abdominal cramping and flatulence because fibre is a form of carbohydrate that humans can't digest. It reached the colon intact, and once it's there, the bacteria that inhabit the colon cause it to ferment which generates short chain fatty acids that are absorbed and used by as a fuel — but it also releases gas that needs to find an escape. So your best bet would be — first, try cutting back a bit on fibre until the symptoms resolve, then gradually increase your fibre intake. Most people comfortably adjust to a higher fibre intake in a relatively short time.
Monika Seth/Nutritionist and diet consultant specialising in weight loss at Al Raffah Hospital