When I examine people’s diets, one of the most common weak areas is insufficient vegetable consumption. I understand the issues: sometimes it is the flavor of certain vegetables, the time it takes to prepare them, and I see very few people who crave vegetables like they might other foods. But I also understand the advantages of increasing vegetable intake to the recommended 3 cups per day. Vegetables and fruits are not only high in vitamins and minerals; they are also rich in diverse antioxidants that are as vital to our longevity. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of diets high in antioxidants from foods in helping prevent cardiovascular disease. When they study a single antioxidant like Vitamin C, they don’t find the same preventative benefit as with the complete package offered in produce. The natural matrix and cofactors found in fruits and veggies enhances the absorption of vitamins so that getting a few milligrams of a vitamin from vegetable might be the equivalent of hundreds in a supplement.
To help you get more of these benefits, here are some of my favorite tips for increasing vegetable intake.
- Keep it colorful. Every different color represents a different antioxidant.
- Use prewashed salad mixes to add quick salads to any meal.
- If you make smoothies, add greens to them. Try baby greens or sprouts or anything else tender that your blender can grind up.
- Throw sprouts or grated vegetables on sandwiches, wraps and salads. Broccoli sprouts highly concentrate the cancer preventing compounds of broccoli.
- Keep frozen veggies around for when you don’t have time to chop some up yourself. Freezing doesn’t destroy too many of the nutrients.
- Add flavor to nearly any vegetable by sautéing it with olive oil and garlic. Add a splash of vinegar at the end, I like balsamic.
- Use veggie sticks from carrots, celery, cucumber and/or bell pepper to dip in hummus or other healthy dips.
- If you are still not getting enough veggies, consider adding a green food powder to your regimen.
A recent study on heart disease served as a dramatic eye opener about the impact of risk factors like elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. Having two or more of these risk factors at age 55 gives you a 30% chance of death from cardiovascular disease by age 80. Even more shocking was the finding that only 5% of the thousands of people in the study had optimal blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and non-smoker status. This optimal profile was associated with about a 5% lifetime risk of cardiovascular death. Even if you are not in this 5%, there is still hope that reducing your cardiovascular risk factors can improve your odds. In another study on male doctors, the number of cardiovascular risk factors that were controlled correlated with decreased risk of a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. With each risk factor that was managed, the odds of a heart attack dropped further. Those participants with uncontrolled high blood pressure had nearly a 70% greater risk compared to people with normal blood pressure. When blood pressure was controlled, this risk of a serious cardiovascular event dropped to 34%. Their odds weren’t as good as participants who had never had blood pressure issues, but the drop was enough to warrant intervention.
Natural medicine offers many options to help control high blood pressure. Individual options tend have fairly mild effects so I often warn people that with more elevated blood pressure that they may need to use a combination of intervention, including sometimes medication. Whether medications are part of the plan or not, lifestyle factors are extremely important for cardiovascular health. In a recent study, fitness was found to be better predictor of heart disease risk than body weight. Numerous other studies have shown the heart protecting benefits of eating a diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. Potassium is another nutrient that may help lower blood pressure, and many Americans don’t get enough of this mineral. The RDA recommends we get 3500 mg daily, but many people only get half this much. While potassium supplements are available, they are limited to 99 mg per capsule. Instead, look for potassium rich foods. One of my favorites is coconut water, but to find a full list of potassium powerhouse foods check out the website for World’s Healthiest Foods.