Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hold the Tomato

I’m forever going on about plant-based foods such as vegetables and why they should be the bulk of our diets; however, I am also the first to acknowledge that there are no perfect foods and for many of them, how they’re prepared will make a big difference in what we gain from them.  Here are some things to be aware of:

Cruciferous vegetables - This wonderful bunch of vegetables in the genus Brassica, including bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and many others, contain something called goitrogens which suppress thyroid function by interfering with the uptake of iodine.  In their raw form, they are mildly goitrogenic; however cooking inactivates their thyroid suppressing activities.  Culturing or fermenting also works.

Legumes - Legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all high in fiber and protein, but they also contain enzyme inhibitors that block the digestion of proteins as well as phytic acid that prevents the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc.  To reduce these antinutrients, soak the legumes for several hours in water and replace the water for cooking.  Also, skim any foam off the top of the pot that accumulates from boiling.  Sprouting will also reduce both forms of toxin. 

Grains - Similar to legumes, grains such as wheat, rye, barley, brown rice, and oats contain enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid and should be soaked for several hours and rinsed before cooking.

Greens - We love leafy green vegetables for their health promoting qualities; however, a few greens, including beet greens, Swiss chard, and spinach, contain fair amounts of oxalic acid, which binds calcium and interferes with its absorption.   To eliminate the oxalic acid from these vegetables, boil, steam, or sauté them before eating.

Nightshade vegetables - This group includes vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and most peppers (except black pepper), including cayenne, as well as paprika.   They contain relatively small amounts of compounds called alkaloids, which plants produce for protection, so in that way they act as pesticides for the plant.  There are several types of alkaloids; a well known one is nicotine. 

At high levels, the steroid alkaloid solanine, in potatoes have been shown to block the activity of an enzyme in the nervous system called cholinesterase, which is normally responsible for breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  Inhibition of this brain chemical results in a loss of control of muscle movements, including twitching, trembling and difficulty breathing.   And although there is no solid scientific data to back it up, it’s often recommended that anyone with arthritis, gout, or GERD avoid nightshade vegetables.   In potatoes, alkaloids will accumulate around potato sprouts and green potato skins, so they should be removed completely, or simply not eaten.  And they should also never be eaten raw.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

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