“V” stands for Vegetables.
Over the centuries, human beings have been either “hunters” or “gatherers.” We hunted animals and gathered what grew from the ground. Practically speaking we were omnivores, which means we had the ability to eat both meat as well as vegetables. You can tell this from our teeth. We have sharp teeth in the front of our mouths to tear meat and flatter teeth in the backs of our mouths to grind the vegetables/grains. Animals that are purely herbivores (vegetarians) like horses and cows have only grinding teeth. Animals that are carnivores (meat eaters) like cats have only the sharp teeth.
In actuality, we were much more gatherers than hunters since it wasn’t always easy to find and kill an animal using primitive weaponry. It was much easier—and more predictable—to farm and harvest the bounty of the land. It’s been only the last hundred years or so that we have industrialized the raising of animals to the point that we no longer need to hunt for our food. Since human beings have been adapting much longer than 100 years, our bodies are more suited to the products of gathering rather than those of hunting.
Over time, our bodies adapted so that we can survive on the nutrition present in plants. Plants are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and some protein. They are low in calories and create bulk which promotes healthy bowel function. Cellulous fiber is the material in the cell walls of vegetables that gives them their basic structure and strength. It is also responsible for the bulk of the protein intake of animals like cows and horses. Animals’ bodies contain the proper enzymes to digest cellulose through a process called rumination. Unfortunately, our digestive systems lack the enzymes necessary to break down the cellulose fiber in vegetables. For us, much of the caloric value in vegetables are “locked in” and do not add to our calorie intake. Instead, they are passed through our small intestines and into our colons where they act as bulk agents for our bowels.
Vegetables are low in sodium and high in potassium, that’s why most people prefer to salt them. From a clinical point of view, this is very important. Since humans previously existed mostly on plants, our bodies adapted. Since by existing on vegetables, we were eating large amounts of potassium and much smaller amounts of sodium, our kidneys adapted to retain sodium but lose potassium. This was essential when we were mostly gatherers eating vegetables in order to retain enough sodium and not build up too much potassium as the balance of sodium (Na) and potassium (K) must be closely regulated.
Catapult yourself to present day. Since most Americans do not eat enough vegetables, we are now consuming a diet that is very high in sodium and low in potassium. Recent studies have shown that 99 percent of U.S. adults consume more sodium daily than recommended by the American Heart Association, which recommends we ingest only 1500 mg. The Institute of Medicine’s Tolerable Upper Intake Level is (2,300 mg.). Most Americans are eating far in excess of this, many routinely ingesting over 4,000 mg. per day. This leads to high blood pressure (hypertension) and all the cardiovascular complications like heart attacks and strokes. The real problem is that hypertension is a silent illness. You really do not know if you have it as it does not cause symptoms.
We are eating excess salt because our industrialized food industry can provide us with any food at any time and wants to provide us tasty food. In addition, more than 75 percent of sodium intake is from packaged and restaurant foods, which makes it difficult for individuals to reduce their own sodium intake. Since our taste buds mainly respond to salt, fat and sugar, the food industry has filled our diets with these to get us to eat their products. As a result, we are eating too much sodium and not enough potassium. The average “meat and potatoes diet” presents our kidneys with excess sodium every day and not enough potassium. As a result, hypertension (high blood pressure) is rampant. Combine this with the obesity problem, and one in three adults has hypertension today and 60 percent of diabetics suffer with it. It’s a real problem.
How do we physicians treat patients with hypertension? What do we put patients on who have hypertension? We use diuretics, one of the safest and best tolerated families of medications for high blood pressure. Diuretics lower blood pressure by causing the loss of excess fluid by forcing the kidneys to eliminate sodium. They basically interfere with the kidney’s ability to retain sodium. Unfortunately, these drugs also cause the kidneys to spill potassium into the urine, which can be very dangerous. Low potassium can cause heart rhythm issues and at times profound weakness. As a result of these medications and the loss of potassium they cause, patients often need potassium pills. The ironic thing is that most of these patients would not even have high blood pressure if they ate like gatherers as their ancestors did with a diet higher in vegetables. Eating like a gatherer—what a simple solution to a major health issue!
Eat like a gatherer rather than a hunter; it will help you control your blood pressure.
Just like protein, it is important to make healthy vegetable choices too. When we refer to vegetables, we’re talking about most green vegetables because they are the ones low in sugar. These include: broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, kale, spinach, etc. Don’t rely on the yellow or white ones like corn or potatoes which are high in sugar. Be careful with peas since they are high in carbohydrates even though they are green!
Green vegetables can be consumed with almost no restriction. Go Green with vegetables!
Green vegetables are a mainstay of the PVC diet because we absorb the healthy vitamins, potassium and proteins from them, but not the “locked in” sugar and calories. So what’s wrong with white and yellow vegetables? These vegetables, like potatoes and corn, are basically composed of starch which is just a long chain of sugar molecules. Starch is immediately converted into sugar in your stomach after you eat it. Eating a potato is no different than scooping a spoonful of sugar out of your sugar bowl. What do we do with potatoes? Since they don’t have too much taste, we put salt and fat on them! So take that spoonful of sugar, add some butter and salt to it and that is what you are getting when you eat a potato.
You really don’t need to limit how many green vegetables you eat in a day, but watch how they are prepared. This does not mean that you can cook them in butter or other oils that contain saturated fat. Deep-frying vegetables completely negates any of the health benefits. If you need to add a bit of fat to your veggies, make sure it’s a healthy type like olive or canola oil.
Even a veggie tray can be unhealthy if you’re not careful about what you dip the vegetables into. Creamy veggie dips can contain 15 grams of fat per tablespoon. Since we already told you that you have about 45 grams of fat allowed in a day, this can really add to your fat intake. Use yogurt instead.
Let’s rate the vegetables
We’ve created a “PVC Vegetable Rating,” which is based on their vitamins, potassium and proteins in correlation to their carbohydrates.
As you can see, the greener the vegetable, the better!
Half the circumference of your plate should be “green.”
It’s amazing how many of my patients, mostly men, will say, “I just can’t eat vegetables. I can’t stand the taste.” Longstanding aversions to vegetables that were poorly prepared when you were a child, along with taste buds that have been accustomed to the fat, sugar and salt present in today’s common food sources contribute to this sentiment. As I said earlier, vegetables are by nature low in sodium, sugar and fat. Since these are the main stimuli of your taste buds, vegetables need some preparing in order to make them palatable.
A favorite of mine is roasted vegetables that have been sprayed with olive oil and well seasoned. Brussels sprouts, asparagus and broccoli are all wonderful when prepared this way. Roasting vegetables is a terrific way to bring out delicious flavors in the vegetables and retain their nutrients. Too many people resort to the pre-prepared processed, frozen, boxed and canned vegetables instead of learning to take a few minutes to prepare fresh vegetables. Check out some sample recipes in the Recipes section of our website. With the wide variety of vegetables offered at local grocery stores, keeping the vegetables in your meals interesting is easy.
So, get ready to make green vegetables the mainstay of your diet. Our ancestors lived very well on them and our bodies are designed to thrive on them. There would be much less obesity, hypertension and diabetes if we all migrated to a diet that was 50 percent green vegetables.
The next letter is “C” for carbohydrates.