Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eating a Ton of Vegetables Isn't a Good Idea

I love vegetables. There are so many foods that I can't eat that meals would be boring without them. In fact, I like them so much that I planted five kinds of lettuce and two kinds of tomatoes in my garden today. All the same, stuffing yourself with vegetables (or anything else) isn't good.

1. Fibrous vegetables can drive up your blood sugar if you eat enough of them. In one of his books, Dr. Richard Bernstein discussed a patient who ended up with a very high blood sugar after eating a head of lettuce. There are stretch receptors in your intestines that, when they sense you've eaten a big meal, release hormones that can end up raising your blood sugar. Bernstein calls this the Chinese Restaurant Effect.

2. All food is inflammatory. As Michael Eades put it,
Eating is an inflammatory process. A number of scientific studies have shown that eating a meal, regardless of the macronutrient composition, causes acute inflammation, which makes sense when you think about it. Food coming into the body is a foreign substance that fires up the innate immune system – but it does so briefly until the food is digested and the various fats, proteins and carbohydrates are broken down into their basic units and absorbed into the blood stream. (Although it might seem strange that food that we absolutely need to live could cause inflammatory problems, it makes sense when you realize that the very oxygen we breathe and that we would be dead in about four minutes without is slowly killing us also.) 

Caloric restriction is no fun, but is it worth it to stuff yourself with inflammatory brussels sprouts?

3. Certain vegetables can upset your stomach. Contrary to conventional wisdom, if you're in distress after eating certain vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and best known for this), the answer isn't to adapt to it, unless you're punishing yourself or the person who has to smell your gas. The answer is to eat less of them, or in some cases give them up. Given our digestive system is more like that of a carnivore than an herbivore, it's natural that some people have limited tolerance for vegetables and surprising that some people can eat so much of them.

4. Fibrous vegetables are calorie-poor. People have been so focused on cutting calories for so long that this might seem like a good thing. But many people have described problems on low-carb diets such as low energy, poor mood, hair loss and feeling cold--all things that are symptoms of low-calorie diets. Many report the symptoms go away when they add starch to their diet. You could also say they've added calories to their diet. This phenomenon seems to have come up at the same time that it became fashionable to gorge on fibrous vegetables. The low-carb diets of decades past called for a generous amount of fat, not fiber.

5. Finally, it's wasteful to gorge on anything. If you recycle your trash, compost your peelings, drive a Prius or take public transportation, eating pounds of vegetables every day (far in excess of what you need) doesn't make sense. Vegetables have to be irrigated, fertilized, sprayed for pests (even organic vegetables), and shipped to market. And they cost money! There's no need to give them up entirely, but there's no need to gorge on them, either.


Galina L. said...

I also want to add that the modern concept that your vegetables have to be as close to the raw state as possible adds to the problem of a vegetable digestion. It is especially true for the cruciferous veggies.

Lori Miller said...

Agreed. Food in general is easier to digest when it's cooked.

Almond said...

I think Dr. Bernestein's "Chinese Restaurant Effect" is really illuminating and explains why a high-volume, low-calorie diet may not be in one's best interests. So people loading their plate with 80% plant matter and only 20% protein/fat may be doing their body a disservice.

Lori Miller said...

Yes, when you consider that we have guts very similar to carnivores and not much like herbivores, some people are going to have significant problems on such a diet.