Whatever diet you may be following, my continual advice is to EAT MORE VEGETABLES!
Now I know that for some health issues, this isn’t always easy. A number of health-supporting diets require restrictions on certain foods, including some vegetables.
For example, if you are working to keep oxalates low in the diet, then a number of vegetables – even those with ‘SuperFood’ labels, may need to be avoided or reduced.
Oxalate can be thought of as a ‘natural pesticide’, a part of many plants, including root vegetables, stems, leaves, nuts and fruit. In fact, in some plants it forms the bulk of their dry weight.
Oxalate is very effective at deterring small insects and pests from damaging the plant, but even in large animals such as cows, horses and sheep it can cause problems if they eat high-oxalate plants such as sorrel. Farmers and vets have noted that if animals are put in high-oxalate pasture, they can develop staggering, stiff legs, weakness, depression and diarrhoea.
In most people dietary oxalate passes through the bowel without being absorbed. However, in some people oxalate is allowed to pass into the body. Theories behind why this happens include:
Once oxalate is in the blood stream it combines with calcium to forms crystals. It may then be deposited in the muscles, brain and urinary system, causing widespread symptoms.Key symptoms potentially associated with oxalates include muscle pain, tingly legs, fatigue, irritable mood, bladder irritation, poor concentration, restless legs and poor sleep.
Oxalates are found in plant food, so it requires careful meal planning to ensure that low oxalate vegetables and grains are included in the diet. The very highest oxalate vegetables include sweet potatoes, spinach, Swiss chard and beetroot.
A nutritional consultation can help highlight if oxalates are playing a role in your own health.
Another increasingly common factor affecting choice of vegetables is histamine intolerance.
Histamines are basically chemicals produced as a result of an allergic response. When an allergen triggers the immune system, a type of white blood cell called mast cells release histamines as part of the inflammatory immune reaction. Histamines can also be absorbed from histamine-containing foods or be produced by certain bacteria in the gut.
The presence of histamines should usually be balance out by an enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO) which naturally breaks down histamines. However, some people have a deficiency of DAO, allowing histamines to build up in the body, leading to varying symptoms. Typical allergy-type reactions include rashes, hives, runny nose, swelling throat and itching. These symptoms may also be experienced resulting from an overload of histamine. Migraines, digestion problems, low blood pressure, anxiety and mental health symptoms may also be experienced from a build-up of histamine.
The biggest source of histamine is not always the food itself, but bacteria on the food. Therefore, aged and fermented foods should particularly be avoided, and even left-over food may increase symptoms. Overripe vegetables have increased levels of histamine. Anyone looking into histamine levels of foods will find that no two charts are the same, so you may need to test how you get on with some suspect foods. Generally acknowledged as high histamine vegetables are avocado, mushrooms and spinach.
Histamine releasing foods don’t necessarily contain high levels of histamine. They do however, cause the body to release histamine. Tomatoes fall into this category
Although low in histamine themselves, histamine liberators are foods that encourage histamine from other foods. Tomatoes, spinach and aubergine, peas and lentils would fall into this category.
Do get in touch if you want help in assessing whether histamine is featuring in your own health story.
There are other diet plans which may limit vegetable intake. Even the basic ‘anti-Candida’ diet avoids any fermented vegetables and fungi-veg. Some arthritis and psoriasis sufferers find they do better without the nightshade vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine and pepper. Clients with respiratory issues may see encouragement without salicylate foods, which include the vegetables cucumber, spinach and tomato.
So while I continue to advise people to eat as broad a cross-section of vegetables as possible, you can see that there are situations where our choice of vegetables needs to careful and informed. One of my main roles in providing nutritional recommendations is to provide replacement ideas for any foods that might need to be avoided for a period of time.
Overall however, all of us benefit from increasing vegetable intake. One excuse that I frequently hear is that the vegetables go bad before they are eaten. Working out how much to buy each week, together with space available in the fridge is an important part of incorporating more vegetables in the diet. Whilst my problem is the opposite – getting through the veg too quickly! – I was interested to find the Nanology Fruit and Veg Saver to help keep salad and veg fresh in the fridge. I particularly like that these Nanology Fruit and Veg Saver discs are organic, and once their life-span is over, you can add the contents to plants as a natural fertiliser!
The Nanology Veg Savers are little discs which are completely safe, non-toxic, organic and can be fully re-cycled. Simply place one in each of your fridge drawers or fridge storage containers, and see how they prolong the life of fresh food.
So on your quest to increase vegetables in the diet, you may find that this handy product keeps produce fresher for longer, allowing you to enjoy vegetables throughout the week, right up until your next green-grocery shop.
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