All About Vegetables

"19. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." -1 Corinthians 6:19-20 KJV

Introduction

19What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.1 Corinthians 6:19-20 KJV
God tells us that the body is a temple; it's something He has given us that we are tasked to take care of. From both a Biblical and a scientific perspective, it is important to eat properly as part of taking care of our body. As such, the Spirit has laid on my heart the desire to learn more about nutrition and the wonderful foods God has placed on this Earth for us. This post is the first in the nutrition series, in which I will be researching food groups in general (e.g., vegetables, fruits, grains, etc.), nutrients (e.g., vitamin A, iron, protein, etc.), and specific foods (e.g., okra, mango, rice, etc.), then share what I find. I'm kicking off the series with vegetables.

I don't have to tell you vegetables are important to your diet; you know that. Nonetheless, I've compiled some info of the benefits of vegetables anyway. From identifying what actually is a vegetable to determining whether to go for fresh veggies, frozen veggies, or canned alternatives, there's a lot to dig into for this food group.

Defining a Vegetable

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/NeON RAND
We all know the age old debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but did you know that cucumbers, squash, eggplant, zucchini, corn, and pumpkin also belong to this confusion? The confusion stems from the fact that the botanical classification of foods does not match the culinary classification of food. Botanically speaking, a fruit comes from the flower of a plant and carries the plant's seeds, while vegetables come from the rest of the plant.[4] From a culinary perspective, however, the distinction is about taste. Fruits are generally used to garnish something or as a dessert, while vegetables are typically more savory. This difference enables us to think of something as a vegetable even though it is a fruit scientifically.

Generally, if it seems more like a vegetable than a fruit (e.g., tomatoes, eggplant, etc.) you can count it toward daily vegetable intake. I base this assumption on the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Choose My Plate website, which lists recommended serving sizes under vegetables for foods that can be classified as fruits scientifically but are thought of as vegetables.[2] What determines this distinction? I'm not sure, but I would guess it has to do with the nutrients these foods provide.

Vegetable Nutrition

That brings us to the question of what exactly vegetables give us that is important for our diet. They're always listed separately from fruits in nutritional eating diagrams, but what does a vegetable give us that a fruit won't (especially since many vegetables are actually fruits!)?

According to the USDA, they provide the same nutrients.[3] Healthline makes the claim that fruits have more sugar and thus, more calories.[4] Although I have not been able to verify this as a fact, it makes sense logically, considering that fruits are generally more sweet than vegetables. I think it is very possible that the reason fruits and vegetables are separated in diagrams is to make sure you don't overdo it on sugary fruits (which we typically prefer) and neglect vegetables which may provide different nutrients, or the same nutrients with less sugar. (I'll dig into variance of vegetables later in the post.)

Healthline also tackled the question of nutritional differences between vegetables and fruits.[11] As could be expected, they found the difference is merely what vitamins, minerals, etc. are more easily extracted (if extracted at all) from the food. They also point out that fruit is higher in calories

Benefits

According to the USDA, vegetables:[2]
  • are low in fat and calories
  • do not have cholesterol
  • rich in the following vitamins and minerals
    • potassium
    • dietary fiber
    • folate (folic acid)
    • vitamin A
    • vitamin C

Harvard's School of Public Health lists even more benefits studies have proven we reap from eating more vegetables. Among these benefits are reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, improved eye health, lowering high blood pressure, and relief from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).[12]

Raw vs. Cooked

Some people think it's healthier to only eat raw vegetables; in fact, there's a group of people, known as raw vegans, who don't eat anything cooked. I'm not here to debate their food choice, but after watching a few raw vegan bloggers, I was definitely curious as to the research behind eating raw versus cooked vegetables.

After comparing 22 studies, researchers found that both raw and cooked vegetables have inverse correlations to cancer, meaning those who ate more vegetables had a lower risk of many types cancers. This relationship was found more often for raw vegetables than cooked vegetables, but there was one instance in which cooked vegetables were found to lower the risk of a type of cancer that raw vegetables did not.[5]

Another study found a decreased risk in breast cancer among women who consumed raw vegetables.[6] Cooked vegetables neither increased nor decreased the risk, according to the study.

Based on the studies I've read, cooked vegetables are not harmful and in some cases makes it easier to absorb nutrients.[5][6][7] Raw vegetables, however, have been proven to reduce the risk of cancer for more cases. As such, it is important for us to get an adequate supply of both.

Fresh vs. Canned vs. Frozen

You can probably guess that if there's a debate about raw versus cooked there's probably a debate about fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables as well. Personally, I've always disliked canned vegetables; it's something about the preservatives that make them taste funny to me. I was a stickler for fresh vegetables for most things until I went graduate school and became poor. During that time I learned to love frozen vegetables. Not only can you buy in bulk without worrying about expiration, it's cheaper! Of course, that probably matters less if one is significantly better for you, huh? My gut instinct says that fresh and frozen are the better options. I would assume the preservatives in canned food have some kind of effect—but that's just a hunch, so I did some research.

Most of what I've seen asserts that it's impossible to know. Studies couldn't seem to find an absolute correlation to say fresh or frozen vegetables were better than the other.[9][13][14] In some cases the frozen vegetables retained more nutrients, while in others, the fresh vegetables were more nutritious. Seems like the theme is going to be variety!

How Much Should You Eat

The USDA suggests that about a quarter of your plate should be vegetables. Personally, I think looking at it in terms of ratios is much easier to deal with. Of course, in the US we typically over eat, so it's good to know how much that actually should be as well. Bearing in mind that age, sex, and activeness play a role in how much you should eat, adults should be consuming somewhere between 2-3 cups of vegetables a day.

What Does A Cup Look Like?

Measuring out a cup of vegetables is one way to determine if you're meeting the requirement, but in some cases that's too much extra work, or not quite accurate. Leafy greens, like spinach and kale, can be eaten raw or cooked; a cup of raw spinach can easily cook down to a much smaller portion size. For both spinach and kale, you can count 1 cup toward your daily vegetable intake with 2 cups in the raw state or 1 cup in the cooked state.[19]

Variety

Values from ChooseMyPlate.gov
It is also important to vary the type of vegetables you eat. I use the "eat the rainbow" method to check my eating habits—basically, I make sure I'm eating fruits and vegetables of every color. According to the USDA, the bulk of our vegetable intake should come from red or orange vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, carrots, and peppers) and starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes, corn, and peas). We should also have a portion of beans/peas, dark leafy greens, and all the other vegetables.[19]

In the Bible

God created vegetables with the intent for us to eat them—in fact, they were one of the few foods that were actually included in our original diet. So, you know He had to mention them throughout scripture. He may not be as heavy handed as our earthly parents when it comes to telling us to eat our vegetables, but He definitely makes the point.

Genesis

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Genesis 1:29-31 KJV
Unlike processed foods, and meats, vegetables were given to us for food from the very beginning of God's design, back when everything was perfect. Genesis 1:29-31 gives us permission to eat herbs and fruits from seed bearing plants. Although it could be mere coincidence, the time in which mankind was only permitted to eat fruits and vegetables is also the time when people lived into their 900s. Given that research today shows increased vegetable consumption promotes good health and prolongs life, I don't think it was a coincidence.[3][15][16][17]

Daniel

Another place where the Bible promotes vegetables is in Daniel 1:8-16, often referred to as Daniel's fast.18 In this passage, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (the latter also known as Shadrach, Mesach, and Abendego) refuse to eat the meat of Babylon's king. The person in charge of them was worried that a vegetarian diet would make them weak and frail, which is very reminiscent of the feedback I receive when telling people I'm vegetarian today. However, after a trial period of only ten days, the 4 men proved to be stronger and healthier than those who were consuming meat! While this diet includes fruits, it says a lot about how important vegetables are to our health.

Romans

1Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.Romans 14:1-3 KJV
An oft misunderstood passage, Romans 14:2 is also about vegetables. Many take this passage to be permission to eat unclean meats, but that is a topic for another post. Right now, I want to concentrate on the juxtaposition of eating "all things," versus "herbs." Clearly, "all things" includes both herbs and meat and refers to an omnivorous diet, whereas herbs would be a vegetation only. Paul says that those who believe they can only eat herbs are weak, causing many to associate vegetarianism with weakness.

Before we dechiper what Paul meant in this passage, ask yourself this: was Daniel weak?

Romans 14 is addressing the issue of belief; he starts out telling us that those who are weak in faith are doubtful, then goes into the famed verse about those eating only herbs being weak. In context, this is clearly an issue about faith. Ask yourself, why was there a dispute about whether the people could eat meat or not? Vegetarianism hadn't been the standard diet for that region since before the flood—the Israelites even complained about the lack of meat while they were in the wilderness (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). Furthermore, this letter is addressed to the Romans, who were Gentile converts to Christianity. The issue they had was actually very similar to the issue Daniel had: meat given to them at their neighbors' homes was meat sacrificed to idols.

Remember, as converts, Paul's audience may have participated in these pagan religions before finding truth in Jesus. Being around paganism was a temptation for them the way being in a bar is temptation for a recovering alcoholic. They were weak because they were not yet confident in their faith to resist that temptation, not because of their food choices. I can't wait to really dig into this verse in it's on post, but for now, I think it's sufficient to establish that it is not condemning vegetarianism, after all Isaiah 11 sounds like the ideal society is a vegetarian one from God's viewpoint.

Other

The examples above are food-focused, meaning the consumption of food is a major point of the synopsis, so it's hard to miss (though many forget about this specificity in Genesis). However, there are many other times the Bible shows God's people enjoying vegetables, it which it's just a passing fact.

In 1 Samuel 17:27-29, the people who take in King David during his son Absalom's rebellion bring a feast for David and his men. The feast includes "corn," lentils, and beans. I put corn in quotations because the word translated to corn in the Bible doesn't mean corn in the sense we think of it today. It was likely referencing some type of grain.[10] Newer translations such as the New International Version (NIV) or English Standard Version (ESV) show the word grain instead of corn.

Another example can be found in Numbers 11:4-5. The Israelites had just escaped bondage in Egypt and were complaining about the food supply. While they do ask for flesh (i.e., meat), they reminisce on fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Obviously fish is the only meat, and melons are fruits, but the majority of the foods they list are actually vegetables. Stop and think about us today; you've just been freed from being held in captivity and you aren't asking for potato chips, pizza, or any other junk food; you're not even asking for steak! Instead you want cucumbers, leeks, onions, and garlic, all of which are vegetables (not the first vegetables that would come to my mind to ask for, but oh well).

References

  1. "My Plate". USDA; visited March 2018
  2. "Why is it important to eat vegetables?". USDA; visited March 2018
  3. "Why is it important to eat fruit?". USDA; visited March 2018
  4. Rachael Link, MS, RD. "What's the Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables?". Healthline. April 5, 2017
  5. Lilli B. Link and John D. Potter. "Raw versus Cooked Vegetables and Cancer Risk". Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Volume 13, Issue 9. September 2004
  6. Karl-Heinrich Adzersen , Patricia Jess , Klaus Wilhelm Freivogel , Ingrid Gerhard & Gunther Bastert. "Raw and Cooked Vegetables, Fruits, Selected Micronutrients, and Breast Cancer Risk: A Case-Control Study in Germany". Nutrition and Cancer; Volume 46, Issue 2, pg. 131-137. 2009
  7. Stephanie Brookshier "Raw Vegetables Vs. Cooked Vegetables". SF Gate. April 2, 2018
  8. Cheryl L. Rock, Jennifer L. Lovalvo, Curt Emenhiser, Mack T. Ruffin, Shirley W. Flatt, Steven J. Schwartz. "Bioavailability of ╬▓-Carotene Is Lower in Raw than in Processed Carrots and Spinach in Women". The Journal of Nutrition; Volume 128, Issue 5, pg 913–916. May 1, 1998
  9. DJ Favell. "A comparison of the vitamin C content of fresh and frozen vegetables". Food Chemistry; Volume 62, Issue 1, pg. 59-64. May 1998
  10. "Corn". Bible Study Tools; visited April 1, 2018
  11. Rachael Link, MS, RD. "What's the Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables?". Heathline. April 5, 2017
  12. "Vegetables and Fruits". Harvard School of Public Health; visited April 2018
  13. Joy C. Rickman, Diane M. Barrett, and Christine M. Bruhn. "Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture; Volume 87, Issue 6, pg. 930-944. March 14, 2017
  14. Roni Caryn Rabin. "Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Nutritious as Fresh?". NY Times. November 18, 2016
  15. Carlos A. Gonz├ílez, et. al. "Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of stomach and oesophagus adenocarcinoma in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC–EURGAST)". International Journal of Cancer; Volume 118, Issue 10, pg. 2559-2566. May 15, 2006
  16. Luc Dauchet, Philippe Amouyel, Serge Hercberg, and Jean Dallongeville. "Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies". The Journal of Nutrition; Volume 136, Issue 10, pg. 2588–2593. October 1, 2006
  17. Lydia A Bazzano, Jiang He, Lorraine G. Ogden, Catherine M. Loria, Suma Vupputuri, Leann Myers, and Paul K. Whelton. "Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of cardiovascular disease in US adults: the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 76, Issue 1, pg. 93–99. July 1, 2002
  18. "What is a Daniel fast?". GotQuestions.org; visited April 2018
  19. "What foods are in the Vegetable Group?". USDA; visited March 2018

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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