We’ve been told throughout our lives to eat our fruits and vegetables. They’re good for us. They help us feel good and give our body the nutrition it needs to propel powerfully through each and every day of our busy lives.
Why, though, are they so good for us? What’s in them, specifically, that helps our body and mind function so much smoother? Does eating spinach really give you super human strength? Was Popeye onto something we don’t know? It’s not as if the vegetables in your produce section have nutritional fact sheets attached to them.
The following list is a brief overview of some of the nutrients that are responsible for giving us increased health, and why. Hopefully, this will help you better understand what’s in your vegetables, and how they affect your health in a positive fashion.
Ever wonder why carrots are orange? Beta-carotene causes red or orange coloration in vegetable flesh. When ingested, the body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant. There’s no need to take this as a supplement, as many vegetables have considerably high amounts of it naturally. Carrots, as mentioned, as well as deep greens, broccoli, and apricots all have high levels. Beta-carotene is helpful in fighting various forms of cancer and heart disease, boosts immunity, and protects against high blood pressure, depression, and infertility.
The “Got Milk?” campaign really shoved calcium into the spotlight in the 90’s, encouraging everyone to binge on milk and get the calcium they need. Although one need not binge on milk to get their necessary daily dosage, it does help to have a serving a day to get what you need. Calcium can also be readily found in soybeans, broccoli, kale, and fortified tofu. If you’re calcium deficient, your body will begin to pick away at your bones to get the calcium it needs for daily function, resulting in weaker bones. Calcium is used to enable blood clotting and supports nerve and muscle functions.
Copper is an essential mineral for our bodies. For vegetarians, most copper comes from legumes, nuts, and whole grains, making it fairly easy to obtain without consciously trying. Copper is used to convert calories into useable energy, is vital to respiratory functions, and helps to form bones, red blood cells, nerves, and joint tissue. In short, copper is used all over the place in the body.
Dietary fiber has been attributed to increasing gastrointestinal health, improving glucose tolerance, reducing hypertension, reducing risk of colon cancer, and increased satiety. Fiber assists with digestion, keeping you colon clear, and keeping you regular. Fiber is present in almost all fruits and vegetables, but has especially large concentrations in beans, broccoli, and artichokes.
Iron’s main responsibility in the body is to assist in the transport of oxygen in the body. Anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the blood, resulting in decreased delivery of oxygen throughout the body, which can have detrimental effects. More likely than not, though, you get more than enough through the consumption of legumes, broccoli, nuts, and leafy greens. It’s readily found in all sorts of foods.
Magnesium is essential to all sorts of body functions, from digestion to vision to the nervous system. It is, quite literally, everywhere in your body. High levels of magnesium can be found in almonds, cashews, soybeans, spinach, and oats, as well as a bunch of other veggies that you probably already eat. Nothing to worry about, but good to know.
Manganese is utilized as a catalyst in the body, helping to convert key vitamins and minerals into useable forms. It can be found in high concentrations in pineapple, brown rice, garbanzo beans, spinach, tempeh, soy beans, and spelt grain, to name a few.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Generally, most Americans have low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in their system. This is because most of our fat content is composed of solid, saturated fats, which do our bodies no good in the quantities that we consume them. Omega 3’s are responsible for boosting performance in our nervous, immune, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. They also assist in creating healthy cell membranes, which transport and exchange nutrients all over the body. Omega 3s are found in leafy greens, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seed, and hemp oils.
Phytochemicals are found only in plants (phyto is Latin for “plant”). There are hundreds of different kinds, performing a wide array of duties in the body. They are known for their antioxidant, cancer fighting, enzyme enacting properties. Eat your vegetables, and lots of them, and you’ll have all the phytochemicals you’ll need to feel good.
Potassium is an important mineral in all cells, tissues, and organs in the body. It also helps the body conduct electricity, assisting in superhero functions (joking, of course). It’s fairly easy to obtain through regular and varied intake of vegetables and legumes. Lots of salty foods in your diet will result in an increased need for potassium in the body.
Phosphorous is often used in tandem with calcium to build bones and repair tissues and cells. Phosphorous is also used in creating DNA, and is used as a balance against a whole host of other vitamins and minerals. Phosphorous is found in beans, peas, squash, broccoli, corn, chard, brussels sprouts, and many others.
Zinc is a catalyst for the proper use of many enzymes. It plays a central role in the proper functioning of healing, cell division, the immune system, and taste and smell. This is slightly trickier to obtain on a vegetarian diet, but can be found in sufficient quantities in almonds, chickpeas, cashews, and a variety of fortified foods.