Sunday, February 19, 2012

Green and Leafy

I've been thinking about green leafy vegetables lately (uh oh, watch out right).  You know, the holy grail of nutrition.  Whether you're Vegetarian, Primal or somewhere in Normal Land, green leafs are all the rage.  They're loaded with micro nutrients and antioxidants.

But are we any good at accessing the nutrients from greens?  Can we break down the cellulose very well?  Do we have the gut bacteria required to make said nutrients available?  We have some I know, but only a fraction compared to that of pure herbivores.  Does cooking help break down the plant fibers and make the nutrients more absorbable?  Our paleolithic ancestors had fire, and no doubt cooked some of their meat, but did they cook greens as well?  Hmmmm.  So many questions.

Da Bomb?
Actually, let me take a step back.  Let me start the questioning from a different point of view.  What is meant to be food?  Fruit.  Milk for the little ones.  Ummm.  What else.  I can't come up with anything.

Looking at it from this angle, if almost all of what we eat isn't really meant to be food, or to put it another way, doesn't really want to be eaten, then what should we eat?  Everything that tastes good?  Anything that doesn't make us sick?  Yes and yes ... especially when you're eating for your very survival.  But some of us today are blessed with the circumstances and opportunity to think about what the optimal things are for us to eat.

Let's dig a little deeper here.  If most of the food that we eat wasn't meant to be eaten, then what was it meant for?

       Leafy greens - photosynthesis for the plant.  Sunshine converted to energy ... brilliant!  But of course, if you take away these parts, the plant will die.  So it naturally makes some compounds (anti nutrients) that when ingested by predators, hopefully, makes them sick enough that they don't come back for more.  Nice eh?  Herbivores have gotten around this little obstacle by utilizing their gut bacteria to 'break down' or convert the nutrients into a usable fuel for them.  It's a symbiotic relationship at it's best. 
      Tubers - nutrient 'survival' sacks for plants to last thru winter/hard times.  Wait a minute ... they're stores of nutrients?  That sounds promising.   Naturally the plant doesn't want to lose these parts as well, so surely, they too must have some anti nutrients.  And yes, they do.  Fortunately for us though, they're mostly concentrated in the skin  (this has to do with the largest threat coming from little bugs and microorganisms in the soil).  So peeling your tubers is a good idea.

       Seeds/Nuts/Grains - baby plant material.  Okay, I'm going way too simplistic here lumping these together, but hey, this isn't a botany class.  Again, plants don't want these to be destroyed (ie: digested into oblivion).  No beuano for the plant.  Eaten, possibly, but then deposited whole, out the backside of an animal, somewhere for future generations to take hold.  More ideally, spread around by the wind or gravity.  But in order not to be digested, they have anti nutrients.  Aren't these things just everywhere?  Some animals like birds and rodents have adapted mechanisms to break down anti nutrients such as phytates and gliadins in these thing, but, unfortunately, we have not.

        Animals - run around and make babies.  Now, just like plants, animals don't want to be eaten either.  However, unlike plants, animals can run away or fight.  That's their defense mechanism - not anti nutrients.  So if you can catch one, you're in business.  And lets be honest, eating animals is why we're even here today with our big brains thinking about this kind of stuff. 


    Meat, fish, eggs = good

    Tubers = pretty good

    Leafy greens, seeds, nuts, grains = why?

If you need the last group for survival, then eat them.  If not, then I don't see the reason why you need them for optimal health.  They might even be not so great for you, especially in excess.

Now, let me acknowledge that in order to fill all of my nutrient needs, I eat from the whole animal.  That includes offal and bone broth/marrow.  Just the meat, and especially just lean muscle meat, won't cut it nutritionally.  I believe including eggs and fish is important as well.

Am I hating on vegetables?  I don't think so.  Fruits (ie: with the seeds inside of them) include things we often think of as vegetables, like cucumbers, tomatoes,  avocados, and peppers.  Then there's the whole squash category, which from where I stand, falls more into the 'meant to be eaten foods' with their seeds inside.  And of course we also have tubers, which include carrots, onions, yams, potatoes, beets, yucca, garlic, ginger, and taro.  Lots of variety really.

Is there some sort of botanical/anti nutrient checklist I go down with every item on my plate?  Of course not.  This is life and I just like to think about things sometimes.  I'd say overall, though, I do try to minimize anti nutrients in the entirety of my diet.  That's why I'm just not completely sold on loading up on leafy greens every day.

No comments: