Veg has nutrients AND anti-nutrients.
The plant world is like a landmine field that's dangerous to navigate. Explore the veg terrain, learn which veggies are the worst offenders, and decide whether you should rethink your green smoothies.
Phytic acid is just one of many types of
bioactive compounds found in many plants.
What are anti-nutrients?
Anti-nutrients are bio-active compounds, made by plants, to evade predation. Just think - animals avoid predation through camouflage and through locomotion. Plants avoid predation by CHEMICAL WARFARE - poisons, endogenous pesticides, endogenous insecticides, semiochemicals, toxins, endocrine disrupters, digestive inhibitors, and much, much more. Plants are clever at not getting eaten! Caterpillars are susceptible to these anti-nutrients, and so are humans.
But, don't I need veggies to get my vitamins?
I'm definitely trying to disrupt the myth that we should eat our veggies "to get our vitamins." Not only are animal products wildly nutrient-dense, but the nutrients in them are more bio-available (absorbable by humans) and more compatible with human biochemistry.
Riddle me this...if you lived in the PNW 400 years ago. Where would you get your asparagus in November? How about in February?
Throughout most of human history, humans ate plants SEASONALLY. That meant they ate what was available, when it was available.
In some cases, like with berries, they may have dried SOME for use in the winter, but it was a limited amount. And in other cases, they would ferment the vegetables to (1) improve their bioavailability, (2) to reduce the antinutrients (fermentation does this), and (3) to preserve the food longer than it would last without fermentation. Think sauerkraut as a method to preserve cabbage. Check out our fermentation 101 resources here.
So, other than dried and fermented plants, we ate very, very seasonally. What would have been available in the winter and early spring in the PNW where I live? On the animal side, fresh meat, fish, shellfish as well as dried and smoked meats, fish, and shellfish. On the plant side, dried fruits, maybe some dried "vegetables," and maybe some fermented veg. One of my friends from the Duwamish tribe shared that his mother used to say that "the animals eat the plants so that we don't have to."
At the time, I was a vegetarian and I scoffed at this idea. Now, I have a greater appreciation for ancestral wisdom and I have reviewed much of the modern science about...well, how "complicated" plants are.
Nowadays, we are being told to eat 6 servings of veggies with no regard to seasonality, every day of the year. This is inconsistent with human ancestral practices. If we simply look at the data, it becomes very clear that animal foods are typically the most nutrient-dense.
Which veggies are the worst offenders?
I personally steer clear of spinach because of its ridiculously high oxalate content. I no longer think it's fit for human consumption. The same is true of rhubarb, sorrel, beet greens, and turnip greens. I eat other high-oxalate foods like chocolate, almonds, and beets in moderation only.
Next, when it comes to the brassicas or crucifer family which includes broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy, I definitely limit my intake to very infrequently. The brassicas are problematic for a lot of reasons. If you boil them for at least 30 minutes (roasting, sauteeing, or streaming are not comparable) then it deactivates some of their insidious compounds. In other words, eat it the way you hated eating it as a kid and it's not as problematic. But at that point, many of the nutrients are destroyed, so what's the point?
Nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, goji berries, and paprika) contain solanine, so I only eat those in moderation and prefer peeled/deseeded preparations as the solanine is often concentrated in the skins and seeds. And just think, grandma peeled her potatoes! And the Italians traditionally peeled and deseeded their tomatoes! Implicitly, our ancestors knew better.
Middle of the road veg includes artichokes, asparagus, carrots, onions, garlic. Green beans and peas can be problematic because of the lectin content. Lectins are linked to leaky gut. So, I might eat them occasionally, but not day-after-day-after-day.
The best veg options include lettuces, winter squashes (no seeds, no skin), summer squashes, jicama, cucumber (peeled/deseeded), olives, and avocado.
Should I keep drinking green smoothies?
That question is for you to answer for yourself.
But first, let's take a look at what's in a typical green smoothie.
Fruit (basically a nutrient-poor sugar bomb)
Nut milk (high in phytic acid, oxalate, and fillers like carrageenan)
Seeds (high in phytic acid and oxalate)
RAW vegetables (loaded with a whole array of anti-nutrients)
Is that really how you want to start your day?
Once I had reviewed the research, I personally stopped drinking green smoothies. I also got rid of my juicer. And, I feel better than ever.
1. Eat them if and because you actually enjoy them, not because you think you "should eat them" because you think they are healthy.
2. Diversify your selection. Try not to eat the same veggie day-after-day-after-day. This can overwhelm the body's ability to detoxify that particular plant's chemical warfare defense systems.
3. Eat what's seasonal. If you eat veg seasonally, you'll be forced to diversify.
4. Cook your veggies! Cooking can help deactivate or reduce the load of many types of bioactive plant compounds (but not all!). Generally, cooked is the better way to go. And brassicas should be boiled for at least 30 minutes.
5. Spinach is probably not worth it. Haha, just take that off the grocery list for now.
People often think of meat and seafood as a good source of protein. And then, in contrast, we tend to associate high vitamin content with fruits and veggies. Get ready to test your assumptions in this jam-packed feature.
The "right" ratio of the three macro-nutrients - proteins, fats, and carbohydrates - is a hotly contested topic in the nutrition world. The "right" ratios are probably unique for each individual, however, these core principles can help you find the right balance for you.
I'm not saying we should revert back to a hunter and gatherer lifestyle, but attending to what we evolved to eat has benefits. Take a look at this quick timeline of humans and food to see just how abnormal our current eating patterns are in the scope of human history.