USDA dietary guidelines

Veggie Despair

You read it everywhere: Americans should be eating three cups of non-French-fry, non-creamed-corn vegetables daily. For an adult, that equals a salad for lunch and maybe a cup of vegetables as a supper side dish. For a kid, that equals something INSURMOUNTABLE. I think my twelve-year-old boy gets three cups of vegetables per week, and that's if I count things like cooked carrots and onions in soup, sauce, and chili.

Sigh. Thinking of you, Willie Green's.

Worse yet, the recommended three cups of veggies a day come from the USDA's ChooseMyPlate.gov, which means more would probably be better, since the USDA recommendations are still hamstrung by meat, dairy, and grain lobbies.

Then there were these three articles that hit this week:

1. The Minneapolis Heart Institute found that "[w]omen who ate a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables as young adults were much less likely to have plaque build-up in their arteries 20 years later compared with those who consumed lower amounts of these foods." That is, starting early with the veggies pays off over a lifetime.

2. Then MedPageToday added fuel to the fire, reporting on an English study which found that super-veggie eaters--those who ate seven or more servings per day--had significantly lower death rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease than veggie-avoiders.

And finally, 3. The L.A. Times reported on a Cell Metabolism article claiming those of us middle-aged or approaching middle-age folks who skimp on the veggies and replace them with protein, protein, and more protein, are "more than four times as likely to die of cancer or diabetes, and twice as likely to die of any cause, than those whose diets were lowest in protein." Yikes! (If you're over 66, however, keep pounding the steaks and cheeses because the high protein levels counter "a period of growing frailty" characterized by "loss of weight and muscle mass." You go, Paleo Senior Citizens!)

So not only are we all not getting enough vegetables for today, we're crippling ourselves for the future. Sigh. What can be done? I can keep pushing the salads and vegetables, but it's not like my family's consumption is going to change overnight.

There may be one possibility: I made my first veggie-centric smoothie yesterday. Spinach, banana, apple, ginger, and lemon. A little ice and a little water. Not bad! I liked it, the 14YO drank 1/4 cup, the 10YO drank 1/4 cup, and the boy--the boy drank 1/8 cup!

In my book, that counts as a serving. I could be onto something. Keep you posted.

Your Total Food Makeover

Valentine's Day is over. Time to back away from the box of chocolates and get back to eating healthier! Just in case threats don't work on you, I have some findings, dear readers:

Cuter and perkier than this girl? Yes, you!

1) If Valentine's Day this year was a bust for you, consider eating more carrots in 2011. The Week reports a recent study wherein folks who ate lots of carrots, bell peppers, strawberries, and leafy greens developed attractive, healthy glows that test participants preferred to non-veggie-devouring people with suntans. Of course, they neglected to run this study in the glorious Pacific Northwest, where lack of sunshine prevents having any sort of group to compare against. I don't know if I buy these findings one bit, but it's a good one to tell your kids.

2) Not only can eating poorly make you pastier and less attractive, it can also bum you out. (Perhaps a chicken-and-egg situation?) A pair of universities studied the effects of trans-fat consumption on mental health and discovered the olive-oil camp was considerably less depressed. Out of the 12,059 study participants, 657 developed cases of depression over the course of the study, with trans-fat eaters recording a monstrous 48% increase in risk. Yikes! Their conclusion: for optimum mental health, stick with olive oil and polyunsaturated fats, including fish oil.

3) If you've been wondering how all this vegetable consumption will affect the bottom line, the USDA assures us that the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables can be had for $2-2.50/day. Unfortunately, being the USDA, they include juices and processed fruits/veggies in these daily servings, with the real McCoys being on the more expensive end. Nor do they account for the added costs of organic produce, but I suppose a pesticide-laden bell pepper will still be better for the bod than a bag of Doritos. All that veggie goodness, for less than a daily latte at Starbucks!

4) And lastly, speaking of the USDA, you might have heard about the new dietary guidelines they've put out, in the exalted tradition of the Four Food Groups and the Food Pyramid. Naturally concessions had to be made to powerful agro-industrial interests, but they're worth checking out. One key recommendation: "Eat less." Dang. Marion Nestle offers a collection of takes on it, for your reading pleasure.

So there's your makeover! Drizzle your $2.50-worth of vegetables in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, give them a roast in a hot oven, skip the processed snacks and heavy desserts, and voila! A glowing, perkier you. Enjoy.