Do We Need Fruits and Vegetables?

When people talk about how to get this country back into shape–two out of three Americans are overweight, one out of three obese–they often talk about fruits and vegetables.

In other words, we should eat more of them.  Fruits and vegetables make us healthy and skinny.  Meats and processed foods make us unhealthy and fat.

Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program

Barking up the right tree?

But I’ve long questioned this belief, in part because my own first dieting experience was with the meat-and-processed-f0od-centric Atkins diet, and it worked.  On the Atkins diet, I ate very little fruit, limited vegetables, a whole lot of meats and cheeses, and frequent heavily-processed Atkins bars.  I was never terribly heavy, but I dropped 20 pounds quickly on the diet and, except for bouts where I strayed from the Atkins diet, never gained it back.

So it’s hard for me to accept that we need to eat fruits and vegetables in order to stay skinny.  (“Health” may be a very different issue.)  And so I’ve previously advocated that, because fruits and veggies are often unpleasant thoughts for people and so tying them to a healthy, weight-losing diet makes eating healthy and staying thin sound unpleasant, we should stop tying a healthy diet to fruits and veggies.

Instead, we should stay away from what Atkins, the more nuanced South Beach Diet, and Gary Taubes’ recommended diet, says is the real culprit in weight gain: refined carbohydrates.  Do this, and weight and health should take care of itself.  For not only do refined carbohydrates add essentially empty calories, but they seem to cause us to need to obtain additional vitamins and nutrients from the rest of our diet than we’d need if we never ate those refined carbohydrates to begin with.  So, nutritious fruits and veggies may be necessary if we rely heavily on refined carbohydrates for our calories; but are they necessary if we don’t?

Similarly, there’s been lots of talk lately (see the documentary Forks over Knives) about how eating animal products is heavily correlated to higher rates of cancer and heart disease, and fruits and veggies to lower rates.  But it wasn’t clear to me that, if we cut the cancer- and heart-disease causing animal products from our diets, that actually eating fruits and veggies would be necessary.  (We could potentially live just fine off pasta, brown rice and whole grain cereal.)

But I’m starting to wonder if there’s something to fruits and veggies themselves that’s beneficial.  First off–and this is purely anecdotal–my sister and her husband have kept remarkably slender (seemingly moreso as time passes) on a diet that is remarkably heavy in vegetables.  (My sister cooks almost every night.)  Second–and also anecdotal–I’ve started regaining some weight myself, despite keeping largely away from refined carbohydrates.  Part of this may stem from my recent, and long dormant, return to lifting weights, but part of it may well be dietary.  Finally, I’ve come across Dr. Neal Barnard’s books lately on vegan, low-fat dieting, which is founded upon mixing legumes (e.g., beans), vegetables, fruits and grains–not relying unduly on any one or the other.  And Dr. Barnard looks so darned slender on his book jackets and in his media appearances.

So are fruits and vegetables necessary for staying healthy and slim?  The first part is hard to answer; the second somewhat easier, because we can test slenderness adequately enough on the scale.  And my results from following Dr. Barnard’s diet–with exceptions–for two weeks is that I am indeed losing weight, a full three pounds in 14 days.  And this is despite eating an occasional full-fat, full-sugar dessert (something I almost never do) meat, butter and cream (something I also rarely do) and French fries (something I do too often) out at restaurants or in pubs these past couple weeks.

So it’s possible that Dr. Barnard’s diet is very powerful when followed properly.  And it incorporates ample fruits and vegetables.  And the reason I’m buying into it, for now, in particular, is that I haven’t restrained myself in any way from eating as much as I want of the foods prescribed in his cookbook.  I eat until I’m full, often even beyond full; I never go hungry; I’ve been sloppy about the diet; and yet the weight has been coming off.  (And note, to put the three pounds in perspective: I wasn’t overweight to begin with.)  The diet shows promise.  I’ll continue to test it, and fruits and vegetables in general, in the future and share my findings.

Do you find that eating fruits and vegetables (and not refraining from unhealthy foods) helps you to lose weight?

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One Response to Do We Need Fruits and Vegetables?

  1. Pingback: A Resolution worth eating. Veggies and more veggies « what's for dinner

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