Art of Vegetables

Vegetables are the more fibrous parts of plants. They differ from fruits, which are the expanded ovaries of plants. Fruits are generally sweeter and often contain seeds while vegetables do not.

by Dr. Larry Wilson — 

Vegetables are edible roots, stems, leaves and flowers. Although the variety of vegetables numbers in the thousands, most people deprive themselves of their delicious tastes, colors and textures by eating only a few of them.

Vegetables have been eaten for as long as mankind has been on earth. By the end of this article, you will want to try at least 10 more varieties than you currently eat.

Defining vegetables

Vegetables are the more fibrous parts of plants. They differ from fruits, which are the expanded ovaries of plants. Fruits are generally sweeter and often contain seeds while vegetables do not. Some foods that are considered vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplants, squash and peppers, are, in fact, fruits.

Vegetables differ from herbs and spices in that vegetables can be eaten in larger quantities, and on a daily basis. Herbs and spices include many leaves, stems or roots of plants. However, they either have very strong flavors or they contain other substances that make them unsuitable for everyday eating, except in very limited quantities. Vegetables differ from grains in that grains are actually the seeds of plants, not the leaves, stems or roots.

Vegetables and your health

Much research lately has focused on the health benefits of vegetables. For example, the crucifers include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which have been found to contain substances that can help prevent cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Cabbage juice may help stomach ulcers. Carrots and carrot juice have long been advocated to help regenerate the liver and are used for cancer therapy.

Books such as Raw Vegetable Juices, by Norman Walker, describe which vegetables or juices may be of help for various health conditions. However, take caution not to overdo it with the juices. It is preferable to eat whole, cooked vegetables much of the time, as the fiber and many other qualities in the whole foods are the most healthful.

Vegetables can occasionally aggravate health conditions. For example, plants in the nightshade family, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, can aggravate joint pain in some people.


Fiber is an important component of vegetables. Fiber helps keep food moving through the intestines and helps prevent constipation, diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and even cancer. It assists in the production of vitamins in the intestines and can support the proliferation of friendly bacteria. However, most vegetable fiber is cellulose, an insoluble fiber we cannot digest.

The diet of one who does not eat many vegetables may lack fiber. This is especially true if one eats mainly refined grains such as white flour, white bread, white pasta and white rice, all of which have had their fiber removed.

Fiber can, however, impair the absorption of nutrients from vegetables, since many nutrients are locked inside the stems and leaves. For this reason, it is essential to chew your vegetables. Another way of unlocking the goodness of vegetables is to cook them. Cooking breaks down the fiber and makes it much easier for the body to absorb their all-important minerals and other nutrients. One can also place vegetables in a juicer or even in a powerful blender to assist nutrient absorption.

Minerals from vegetables

Vegetables are an essential source of minerals, such as calcium, potassium, selenium, germanium and many others. The mineral content varies depending on where and how they are grown.

Iron is found in dark leafy greens and in beets. While these vegetables contain significant amounts of iron, it is not quite as bioavailable as the iron found in meats. Leafy vegetables also are rich in chlorophyll, a fascinating substance used by plants to generate energy from sunlight. The structure of chlorophyll is very similar to hemoglobin, the molecule in our blood that carries oxygen to all the cells. The only difference is that hemoglobin contains an atom of iron in the center, while chlorophyll contains an atom of magnesium. This difference causes chlorophyll to be green, while hemoglobin is red.

Leafy green vegetables are rich in magnesium. These include lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, beet greens, watercress and cilantro.

The radish, onion and cabbage families are excellent sources of sulfur, another important trace mineral. These include white, yellow, red and green onions, chives, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, red and green cabbage and Chinese cabbage.

Sea vegetables such as kelp, dulse and Irish moss contain an extremely wide variety of trace minerals from the sea. Less well-known sea vegetables are wakame, hiziki and nori. Sushi often comes wrapped in nori leaves, which feel like pieces of thin paper and have a pleasant taste.

Sea vegetables are extremely rich sources of minerals, but contain higher amounts of toxic metals because the oceans are somewhat contaminated. Kelp is unique because it contains a substance called alginate that helps prevent the absorption of toxic metals. In fact, it helps our bodies eliminate these metals. The other way to prevent our bodies from absorbing toxic metals from the air and water is by eating plenty of vital minerals found in vegetables grown in mineralized soil.

The roots — down and dirty

Root vegetables deserve special mention and are too often ignored. Carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, daikon (white radish), celery root, garlic, ginger root, red beets, golden beets, black, white and red radishes, and burdock root are among them. They have been staple foods in many civilizations for thousands of years. Although the potato is a staple food in many groups, it is not actually a root, but a tuber. It belongs to a different class of vegetables, the nightshades. These can cause joint pain and other symptoms for some people. Many prefer sweet potatoes and yams to the regular white potatoes.

Roots are more yang in Chinese medicine, as they grow under the earth, a beneficial quality for many people. They also store very well. Roots are starchy vegetables, which fill you up quite well if you eat enough of them. Yet, they are far easier to digest than starches such as breads, and far more nutritious than most breads. Most roots require cooking for 30 to 40 minutes to help break down their fibrous parts and turn their starches into sugars.

True, the roots are less beautiful than the greens and in some instances like celery root, downright ugly. Do not let this deter you from eating them regularly. Roots are among the most concentrated sources of vitamins and minerals available to us. They are also delicious steamed or stir-fried, or in soups or casseroles.

Organic or not

Organically grown vegetables tend to contain less pesticide residues than commercial produce and are usually much richer in minerals, and some vitamins. A study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition tested organic and commercial produce purchased in Chicago stores. Compared to the regular produce, the organic food had an average of twice the levels of minerals. Organic foods are often fertilized with more trace elements than commercial produce.

Eating organic also sends a message to farmers that you prefer we not poison the earth with toxic sprays. Organic vegetables, especially carrots, potatoes and celery, often taste better. Eating organic may turn a non-vegetable eater into a vegetable lover simply because of how much better organically grown food tastes.

Note that organic food may still contain some pesticide and herbicide residues, since toxic sprays can blow from one field to another. Also, pesticides used in past years may still be present in the soil used to raise the organic produce.

The variety of organic vegetables available in markets is growing rapidly. Indeed, this is the fastest growing sector of the agricultural marketplace. Organic vegetables still cost a little more, but prices are coming down and they are worth trying. Sometimes supermarkets sell organic produce without even marking it as such, because the organic food has a longer shelf life. This is just another advantage to the organic or sustainable method of agriculture.

Fresh, frozen or canned?

The best way to enjoy vegetables is to eat them fresh. They have the most nutrition in this form and often taste best. However, if you are unable to shop often, frozen vegetables are the next best alternative. Vegetables that are frozen when very fresh will retain many of their nutritional qualities.

Canned vegetables are less desirable, as they may be old and may suffer more damage in the canning process than they do when frozen. Additionally, cans that are soldered may leech lead into the food.

Vegetable preparation

The right equipment makes preparing vegetables more pleasurable. The first recommendation is to buy a vegetable knife. These have a wide, thin blade, made for slicing. Mac is an excellent brand of knives. Another great idea is to buy a vegetable steamer, as this makes cooking vegetables very easy. Just load them into the steamer and set the timer. Clean-up is simple as well. Steamers with a mechanical timer tend to last longer.

You can also use a simple vegetable steamer that fits inside a saucepan. Alternatively, steam vegetables by simply putting a small amount of water into a covered saucepan and adding your vegetables. In this case, save the cooking water for later consumption, as it will contain many minerals.

Vegetables can be prepared in many ways. Steaming is excellent. Stir-frying is another popular method. A Chinese method of stir-frying uses a wok, a pan specially shaped for lightly cooking vegetables in a little oil. Coconut oil is a tasty, healthful oil. Olive oil and dark sesame oil are also fine.

Vegetable soups are simple and tasty, and do not require stirring or other attention. Start with excellent ingredients and it will taste delicious. Some excellent frozen vegetable soups are also available.

One can also bake vegetables or roast them over a barbeque. They can be seasoned with a little oregano, rosemary and olive oil. Fancy cooking skills are not required. Be sure to start with excellent quality vegetables and they will have wonderful flavors.

What about salads?

A popular way to enjoy vegetables is in salads. Hundreds of combinations are possible. A word of caution is needed, however. You will receive less mineral nutrition from salads than by eating your vegetables lightly cooked because humans are less able than animals to break down vegetable fibers. One solution is a blended salad or gazpacho (a raw vegetable soup).

Cooking actually has several advantages. It breaks down the fiber and renders the vegetables more digestible for many people. It also helps kill some bacteria, viruses and parasites that may be found on raw vegetables, especially if they are not washed well. Cooking also concentrates some vegetables such as the leafy greens, making it possible to eat much more of them at a sitting. In summary, salads are fine. However, it is suggested to eat two servings of cooked vegetables daily as well.

Children and vegetables

Many parents have trouble getting their children to eat vegetables. Here are a few ideas:

1. Rather than talk about it, set a great example. Eat plenty of vegetables yourself. A healthy meal is one that has half your plate filled with vegetables.

2. Create tasty sauces your children can enjoy over the vegetables. These can be made from yogurt, butter, coconut oil, grated cheese, peanut butter or tomato sauce — whichever flavor your child prefers.

3. Serve vegetables in the form of soups to disguise the vegetables. To make a puree soup, cook vegetables for 10 minutes or more. Then pour the mix into a blender and blend for about 15 seconds. Then cook it some more, and most vegetables will no longer be recognizable.

4. Have fun with vegetables. Grow a garden. For young children, carve little faces on them, slice them creatively and in other ways make them attractive.

5. Start introducing vegetables when children are young. For instance, frozen peas can help toddlers when teething, and make a refreshing snack in hot weather for older children as well.

Unusual vegetables — sprouts, grasses and algae

Sprouts are young plants that are very nutritious. A favorite in Chinese food are mung bean sprouts. Sunflower and alfalfa sprouts also are available.

Wheat grass and barley grass are available at some health food stores. They often are sold as juice or dried and sold as a “green food” powder. Another green food supplement is algae. Two popular ones are chlorella and blue-green algae. Both wheat grass and algae are very concentrated food supplements.

A final type of vegetable food supplement is capsules of dried vegetables. One brand is called “Vegeasy.” All of these food supplements can supply extra vegetables for those who donot like eating them on a daily basis, or who may need more of the nutrients than standard portions supply.


It is easy to make jokes about vegetables — the soggy, limp pile of spinach tucked under the corner of a juicy steak. Yet vegetables are a major food group enjoyed by human civilizations throughout all time. They are also our major source for many vital minerals, vitamins, fiber and other nutrients.

So eat plenty of vegetables — at least one serving, twice a day. This will assure that you get a wide variety of essential nutrients, some of which are simply not available from any other food source.


1993, J. Applied Nutrition, Vol. 45, #1, pp. 35-39.


Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree and has been in the health field for 25 years. His books include Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Legal Guidelines for Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing Ourselves and Manual of Sauna Therapy and The Real Self. He also co-authored Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease and contributed to The Dangers of Socialized Medicine. or 928-445-7690.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 4, August/September 2006.

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