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Dr. Zorba Paster: Vegetable superfoods pack in nutrients and health benefits

May 19, 2021 Updated Wed., May 19, 2021 at 11:03 a.m.

Bok choy, green napa, savoy and red cabbages are among the leafy vegetables that are good to eat for your health.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
Bok choy, green napa, savoy and red cabbages are among the leafy vegetables that are good to eat for your health. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

When I was a kid, what veggies did my mom serve me? If you’re a typical child of the 1950s, you might remember them – canned green beans, canned lima beans, canned wax beans, canned peas and, if you were lucky, canned corn.

When it came to fresh stuff, it was iceberg lettuce with a side of tomato and, just perhaps, some celery.

My, oh, my, how times have changed – for the better. With the onset of good refrigeration, just-in-time delivery trucks, plentiful farmers markets and community supported agriculture, we now have fresh vegetables (and fruits) all year long.

A question I get all the time – and I mean all the time – is what veggies are best? What kind of rules might I apply when I’m looking at what to eat tonight?

First off, the darker the color, the more micronutrients you tend to get. This includes vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, flavonoids, etc.

So that iceberg lettuce you buy in the store doesn’t have nearly the nutrition of baby spinach – which, by the way, if you haven’t tried it recently in your salad, try it now. My mom would occasionally serve us canned spinach, something I’ll never eat again. But that’s a far cry from fresh spinach.

Do you remember the George H.W. Bush quote on broccoli? The late former president once famously said: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid. And my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States.”

Before I go on about the benefits of broccoli and its cousins, the other cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and collards, let me chime in on making your kids eat those veggies they don’t want.

Allow me to recommend a book: “French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.” It’s by Karen Le Billon, and her advice is stellar.

The book is a great treatise on how to introduce lots of different foods, textures and tastes when your child is young. That turns out to be the best way to make them adventurous eaters as they get older.

So, on to the cruciferous veggies. New research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that high consumption of these vegetables reduces hardening of the arteries.

Since 1998, scientists in Western Australia have been following nearly 700 older women looking at calcium in their aorta. The more calcium in the arteries, especially the aorta, the more likely you are to have heart disease and strokes. Calcium is a key marker for this, something easy to measure.

How many vegetables did the women have to eat to make the grade? Turns out, not much – about a quarter cup of steamed broccoli or a half cup of raw cabbage. If they had that amount nearly every day, they were a whopping 46% less likely to have an extensive buildup of calcium.

My spin: Eat your veggies. Find some cruciferous ones to eat regularly, and make them a superfood part of your diet.

Now, before we wrap this up, I want to circle back to kids. A study from the University of California-Riverside is the first of its kind to show eating too much fat and sugar as a child might alter your gut microbiome for life even if you later learn to eat healthier.

The new study involved mice served an unhealthy diet similar to that of a typical teenager. The mice did not have the diversity of gut bacteria demonstrated in well-fed mice.

Over the last few years, we’ve learned there is a bacterial balance in your gut that appears to affect life-long health. Some think high-fructose corn syrup adversely affects this balance, as does consuming too many chips, sugary drinks and other less-than-healthy food choices.

Our intestinal microorganisms stimulate the immune system and help us to absorb food and synthesize vitamins. And they might play a long-term role in heart disease and cancer.

So, getting your kids on the superfood cruciferous veggie boat early is something you want to make part of your 2021 action plan. It might give them a lifetime of good health. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.

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