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Bringing traditional foods back: Paleo man’s fruit & veg written by Jillaine Williams
Part two of a four part series
In the last edition we ventured into the controversial territory of dietary fats and learned that good quality fat – yes, even saturated fats are beneficial – giving you the green light to bring real flavour and satiety back into your diet. Today we look at the time-honoured staples – fruit and vegetables. Surely there’s not a lot more to learn about this… or is there?
We all know the story too well – a couple of serves of fruit and 4 or 5 of veg a day – right? In my experience as a Clinical Nutritionist, most people are very confused by contradictory information: raw or cooked, organic or modern day farming, juiced or whole, starch or no starch, low carb or high carb and on it goes.
We take a look at each of these points as we begin taking a ‘Paleo’ supermarket tour and compare what we find today with what was available to Paleolithic man (1). Oh – and just in case you’re thinking – ‘didn’t primitive man live a much shorter life than we do now?’ It may be that on average, the lifespan was shorter living as a hunter-gatherer, there is however good evidence from as recently as the early 1900s, that people eating their traditional pre-industrial diets were free of degenerative, modern diseases (7).
Science Has Changed Our Understanding of Fruit & Veg
Thanks to modern science we now know why we should eat more fruit and veg – they contain phytochemicals and flavonoid compounds found to be effective defenders against degeneration, ageing, disease and premature death (4). In my practice however, I see many people especially children quite addicted to sweet fruits and juices at the expense of other nutritious foods.
By just increasing fruit & veg intake, we have not recognised the loss of phytonutrients due to centuries of farming practice as discussed in an article by Maria Godoy. (6) It’s only when we take a scholarly supermarket tour with Jo Robinson that we begin to understand that the pre-agricultural fruit and veg were often bitter and higher in protein than carbohydrate or sugar. For further information on Jo Robinson’s work, check out YouTube. With this knowledge in hand, with a basket filled with rocket, purple carrots, sweet potato and dandelion greens, we can begin to replicate more closely the nutrient density of our pre-agricultural forefathers and reduce some of our sugar fuelled health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease (8). Check out the illustrated article by Marsh and Curtius, comparing the phytonutrient levels in wild, heirloom and domesticated fruits and vegetables (2).
Raw food and green smoothies – what’s the verdict?
The research is mixed, however there are a few phytonutrients boosted by cooking. For example sauté your tomatoes in good fat (11), steam your heirloom carrots and toss your spinach, asparagus and cabbage into the stir fry to alter some nutrients to maximize their nutritional content. If you’re still tempted to down a glass full of kale and spinach a day – just ask someone how painful kidney stones can be (12)! If you have a history of kidney stones or a medical condition that is complicated by the consumption of oxalate-rich foods, you should contact your doctor or health practitioner for advice. There is some helpful information on the web which lists oxalate levels of many foods.
The Importance of Iodine in Foods
One of the most common causes of goiter formation worldwide is iodine deficiency. To avoid a very lumpy neck, (the enlargement of the thyroid gland referred to as ‘goiter’) and sluggish metabolism, eat crucifers like kale, broccoli and cauliflower (10). Also add seaweeds such as dulse, kelp and noi, (nori is used to wrap sushi rolls) all of which contain the highest level of iodine in plant form.
For Autoimmune Issues & Digestive Complaints
The ‘Paleo’ diet (13), you may have noticed, is extremely popular in the blogosphere. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘blogosphere’ congratulations, you may be getting your life/internet balance right. One thing that the Paleo movement has highlighted is the matter of ‘nightshades’- the Solanaceae family and their toxic defence systems which despite being grouped in with ‘healthy’ fruit and veg, can wreak havoc for many who might be sensitive to their ravaging effects. If you suffer from an arthritic or autoimmune condition or even digestive complaints, it would be well worth discussing with your health care practitioner, the removal of tomato, eggplant, peppers, goji and white potato from your shopping basket (14).
Should I juice or just eat my fruit and veg whole?
The answer to this one is ‘it depends’. If you have major digestive issues, diarrhoea and bowel inflammation, then juicing to remove the fiber from your veg, may help with absorption of nutrients. If on the other hand you tend towards constipation, fibrous juices and whole fruit and veg may help. For each of these cases however the GAPS (Gut & Psychology Syndrome) diet would be of benefit in helping to restore digestive function (15) in consultation with your GP.
Add a Little Fat Quality to Paleo Foods
As I mentioned in my previous article, fat quality is everything when it comes to fuelling your body – choosing certified organic, local produce will ensure that you are receiving the best quality nutrients for your body (16). Whilst we’re on the subject of fats, do add organic butter to your steamed veg and extra lard to your roasted sweet potato. Go ahead and add a good splash of virgin olive oil to your mixed salad. This will ensure good absorption and assimilation of protective phytonutrients discussed earlier and more importantly makes eating vegetables a pleasure (17).
What can we take away with us in our market garden baskets as a result of research to date?
Choose organic, brightly coloured heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruit and enjoy them daily. Mind that you’re not eating too much sweet fruit.
Note which veg are better cooked and which ones are OK to have raw. Don’t overdo it with the raw green juices! Oh – and don’t forget to make up a yum full-fat dressing for your veg! Avoid ‘nightshade’ fruits and vegetables for 6 weeks or so to determine if they are contributing to your painful joints.