In blog post of 9/29/2014: So, what should you eat for optimal health?, I listed the seven basic principles I have extracted from the many diet books and resources I have studied. These principles are:

  1. What you eat, how much you eat and when you eat, all matter
  2. Eat clean
  3. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits
  4. Use only healthy fats and fat sources
  5. Incorporate sufficient proteins in your diet
  6. Best beverage to drink is pure water
  7. Add or subtract specific foods based on your personal needs

In the last two posts, we discussed the first two of these principles, what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat, all matter and eating clean. Today, let’s focus on the third principle: Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. And, as usual without any fluff stuff, let’s get to it.

First, why eat fruits and vegetables? Why does everyone, moms, USDA, doctors, most diet books, even the first lady Michelle Obama, all harp on eating lots of fruits and vegetables?

In the first post of this series, we talked about what makes up everything that body needs:

  • Oxygen
  • Water
  • Macro nutrients: carbs, proteins and fats
  • Micro nutrients: vitamins and minerals
  • Enzymes
  • Bacteria
  • Certain molecules

Turns out that fruits and vegetables can deliver everything on this list other than oxygen.

Number one content of most fruits and vegetables is water. Here is how.

Carbs, protein and fats are all available in fruits and vegetables. Most people have no problem imagining how fruits and vegetables are rich source of carbs. And, may be the same is true for fats too. After all olive oil must come from olives, vegetable oil must come from vegetables, and corn oil must come from corn etc.

It is the protein that most people have hard time imagining in fruits and vegetables. While most vegetables and fruits contain some protein, as the following list shows, it is the nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and grains that contain the most. I extracted this list from the USDA Nutrients Database. Weight, protein, carbs and fats are in grams.

Description Weight Measure Protein Carbs Fats
Soybeans, green, raw 256 1.0 cup        33.15          28.29        17.41
Soybeans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1.0 cup        22.23          19.89        11.52
Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 170 1.0 cup        14.43          40.39          1.12
Lima beans, immature seeds, frozen, baby, unprepared 164 1.0 cup        12.45          41.23          0.72
Edamame, frozen, unprepared 118 1.0 cup        12.10          10.12          5.58
Lima beans, immature seeds, frozen, baby, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1.0 cup        11.97          35.01          0.54
Lima beans, immature seeds, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 170 1.0 cup        11.58          40.19          0.54
Peas, mature seeds, sprouted, raw 120 1.0 cup        10.56          32.53          0.82
Lima beans, immature seeds, frozen, fordhook, unprepared 160 1.0 cup        10.24          31.73          0.56
Beans, pinto, immature seeds, frozen, unprepared 94 10 oz          9.21          30.55          0.47
Garlic, raw 136 1.0 cup          8.65          44.96          0.68
Peas and carrots, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 278 10 oz          8.59          28.13          1.17
Soybeans, mature seeds, sprouted, cooked, steamed 94 1.0 cup          7.96            6.14          4.18
Potatoes, Russet, flesh and skin, baked 299 1.0 large          7.86          64.11          0.39
Peas, green, raw 145 1.0 cup          7.86          20.95          0.58
Beans, kidney, mature seeds, sprouted, raw 184 1.0 cup          7.73            7.54          0.92
Potatoes, scalloped, home-prepared with butter 245 1.0 cup          7.03          26.41          9.02
Broccoli, frozen, chopped, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 184 1.0 cup          5.70            9.84          0.22
Taro, tahitian, cooked, without salt 137 1.0 cup          5.70            9.38          0.93
Turnip greens, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 164 1.0 cup          5.49            8.17          0.69
Asparagus, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1.0 cup          5.31            3.46          0.76
Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 165 1.0 cup          5.23          33.53          0.63
Asparagus, canned, drained solids 242 1.0 cup          5.18            5.95          1.57
Squash, winter, hubbard, baked, with salt 205 1.0 cup          5.08          22.16          1.27
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, vacuum pack, regular pack 210 1.0 cup          5.06          40.82          1.05
Potatoes, mashed, dehydrated, flakes without milk, dry form 60 1.0 cup          5.00          48.70          0.25
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, brine pack, regular pack, solids and liquids 256 1.0 cup          4.99          35.48          1.97
Spinach, canned, regular pack, solids and liquids 234 1.0 cup          4.94            6.83          0.87
Turnip greens and turnips, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, with salt 163 1.0 cup          4.87            7.73          0.62
Potatoes, mashed, dehydrated, prepared from granules with milk, water and margarine added 210 1.0 cup          4.47          33.87        10.08
Broccoli, frozen, chopped, unprepared 156 1.0 cup          4.38            7.46          0.45
Potatoes, mashed, dehydrated, prepared from granules without milk, whole milk and butter added 210 1.0 cup          4.30          30.16        10.42
Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, raw 145 1.0 cup          4.28          27.30          0.51
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels cut off cob, boiled, drained, without salt 165 1.0 cup          4.21          31.84          1.11
Tomato products, canned, puree, without salt added 250 1.0 cup          4.12          22.45          0.52
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels cut off cob, unprepared 136 1.0 cup          4.11          28.17          1.06
Peas, edible-podded, frozen, unprepared 144 1.0 cup          4.03          10.37          0.43
Mushrooms, portabella, grilled 121 1.0 cup          3.97            5.37          0.70

In addition to the macro nutrients, i.e., carbs, proteins and fats, fruits and vegetables also contain lots and lots of micro nutrients, i.e., vitamins, mineral, enzymes, good bacteria and trace elements of other molecules, some of which are known to be beneficial to health and others that are still being discovered. For example, just click on the corresponding words to see how many different micronutrients are contained in broccoli and apple.

Finally, fruits and vegetables also provide both soluble and non-soluble fiber, which are important for digestive and elimination systems. Fiber in diet helps slow the digestive process and is great for sugar management. On the other hand, it also means that not 100% macro nutrients are extracted and absorbed by the body. So, if you want to, say get 80 grams of proteins from fruits and vegetables, you may need to ingest enough fruits and vegetables to provide 100 grams of protein.

The second part of this principle is to eat a “lots” of fruits and vegetables. This implies both quantity and variety.

These days, USDA recommends that you should fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. USDA’s earlier standard used by 6 to 8 serving of fruits and vegetables each day. Check out fruitsandvegetablesmorematters.org.

So, basically “lots” really means that if you were getting all your protein requirements met by eating fruits and vegetables, you have to make sure you are eating enough of the right kinds of fruits and vegetables so your protein intake requirement is met without busting your fat or carbs intake.

Bottom line: Still sounds confusing as to how to live with this principle? Here is what I have figured out for myself:

  1. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to your fill at meals and for snacks.

For example, in a typical week, I might eat apples, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, black berries, bananas, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, two three variety of beans/lentils, rice, couscous, spinach, lettuce, baby bokchoi, other spring greens, green beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, cucumber, radishes, almonds, cashews. If I don’t eat sugar or sugar added products, fruits and vegetables taste absolutely delicious.

  1. Stay away from (or eat sparingly or with great portion control) breads, tortilla, pastas.

It is pretty easy to stay within my budgets for carbs, and fats without much effort, while having my fill with fruits and vegetables, cooked and/or raw. If I was to have my fill with breads, tortillas, pasta, or rice I would not be able to eat the quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables without busting my carbs and/or fats budget.

  1. Use quality protein sources (meats or protein shakes) to meet the minimum protein requirements.

While I may be getting a lot of protein from beans, lentils, nuts and vegetables, I still rely on whey protein to get my minimum required protein intake, especially, for muscle building.

What do you think of this approach?

Do you feel that this simplifies the confusing statement “eat lots of fruits and vegetables”?

Do you see a hole in this approach? What would you do differently?