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Five Myths About Vegetables

Vegetables have been credited with a lot of accomplishments, in their time. They are the boy scouts. The good guys. The foods that help your body stay healthy and fight off a variety of maladies. But are they all they’re cracked up to be? Was everything you learned in school or at your grandma’s house accurate?

 

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

This week…

Five Myths About Vegetables

Vegetables have been credited with a lot of accomplishments, in their time. They are the boy scouts. The good guys. The foods that help your body stay healthy and fight off a variety of maladies.

But are they all they’re cracked up to be? Was everything you learned in school or at your grandma’s house accurate? The disappointing truth, below.

5. The more vibrantly colored it is, the healthier it is

Rooted in an environmental “don’t mess with the brightly-colored frogs” sort of expertise, a longstanding bit of advice in the world of fruits and vegetables claims that the more richly colored a food is, the more nutritional value it contains. As in the case of “spinach over iceberg lettuce,” there’s no denying that in certain instances, this rule absolutely applies. However, there are plenty of exceptions to this idea of which we should all be made aware.

White cabbage (as dully colored as its name suggests) is one of the most vitamin and nutrient-packed foods available, containing Vitamins A, B, C, and K as well as calcium, iron, and fiber. White cauliflower is basically just a bundled chunk of antioxidants. Celery has protein and calcium (in addition to boasting a miniscule amount of calories). Red and pink pinto beans? They’ve got nothing that the white variety doesn’t have.

4. Fresh is always better than frozen or canned

If you’re growing fruit and vegetables in your backyard then you can skip this section – produce straight off of the vine is the healthiest form you will find. However, that “fresh” produce sitting out in the grocery? It’s usually traveled quite a distance to be there and distance means time, which means that many of the nutrients in that produce have been lost, despite what the signs claim.

The above issue of shipment depleting the inherent nutritional value of certain veggies played a big role in why the business of quick-freezing and canning vegetables took off in the first place. Freezing peas, for instance, ensures that they are just as full of vitamins and minerals when you thaw them in March as they were when they were bagged up in February. The conditions afforded to canned spinach and pumpkin can actually increase the amount of vitamins contained in each.

(And if the can is dented, you get a discount. Win-win.)

3. Raw veggies are superior to cooked veggies

Not accounting for taste, there is no clear-cut nutritional benefit to choosing either raw or cooked vegetables. While the heat (and moisture, if you’re boiling) involved in cooking can sometimes cause some vegetables to lose some nutrients, the cooking can also increase the amounts of other nutrients. The most cited example of this is in tomatoes, which – when cooked – release more lycopene than their raw counterparts (and lycopene can help your body against diseases like prostate cancer). Additionally, the process of cooking can break down fiber in many vegetables, making that vital nutrient easier to process.

Many variables factor into any comparison (type of vegetable, how fresh it is, how it was stored, how it is cooked, how it is prepared, etc.) but unless you lit them on fire, vegetables are going to give you a pretty heavy dose of nutrition whether or not you cook them.

2. Spinach is high in iron (and will make you strong)

Popeye ate spinach and it made him strong. Iron is strong. Basic cartoon-watching logic suggests that that must be cause-and-effect, right? Wrong.

The reason the myth began (and the reason that later informed the Popeye character’s mythology) was because of a misplaced decimal point in an 1870 German study about how much iron was contained within the leafy green.

Later, more accurate studies discovered that spinach had no more iron than comparable vegetables and that, coincidentally, the human body could not easily absorb the type of iron contained within, anyway. Oh well. It’s still strong to the finish.

1. Eating carrots will improve your eyesight

While it would be awesome if eating five pounds of baby carrots everyday would eventually grant one the power to see through walls and/or unleash optic blasts a la Scott Summers, the truth is that carrots really won’t improve your eyesight. This theory grew out of the fact that carrots contain beta-carotene, which the body converts into Vitamin A (which is used for vision, bone growth, and skin health) and a deficiency of Vitamin A can lead to what is called night blindness (which is exactly what it sounds like – an inability to effectively see in low-light situations).

Sounds logical enough, right? Well, the main issue here is in the word “improve”.  Like all other vitamins, ingesting an abundance of vitamin A will not improve anything past a normal human level, it will simply help to maintain health (in this case, the health of your retinas) and then your body will either store or eliminate the excess (both can be problematic, in some instances).

(Also: if this one were true, your mother would have also encouraged you to eat foods like liver, broccoli, sweet potato, butter, and spinach to correct your vision – they are all loaded with vitamin A.)

Feature photo by Rick

About

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

 

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