When it comes to maintaining and improving health, "portion control" is a hot catch-phrase. The food police tell us to carefully watch serving size and control snacking impulses. I hear their voices every time I get a yearning for that second helping of pasta or a between-meal cookie.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, that advice goes away completely. When it comes to items on the produce aisle, the recommendation — loud, clear and without reservation is: "More Matters."
In the past, we heard "five a day," which typically referred to two servings of fruits and three of vegetables. And then, later on, we were told to "eat five to nine," usually meaning a higher ratio of vegetables to fruits. And now — check it out. The folks at www.morematters.org say it more engagingly than I ever will. Or how about this way of saying it: www.eattheview.org.
Recently, the Tuft's Health and Nutrition Letter added another consideration. Their front-page article this month touted fruits and vegetables as particularly important to protecting bones. For women (and some men) with osteopenia and osteoporosis, this information should have a flashing green light attached to it, "More really matters — to you especially." If you have a family history of osteoporosis or a bone density scan coming up, take particular note.
A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism clearly identified that fruits and vegetables help strengthen bones. They re-balance the excess acid in our bodies. Bone health is aided and calcium excretion is reduced when those green, yellow, red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables attack our acid/base balance. Researchers suggest, "when fruits and vegetables are metabolized, they add bicarbonate "¦ which has a favorable effect on bone resorption and calcium excretion "¦ increasing the alkali content of the diet may attenuate bone loss in healthy older adults."
As we age, the presence of protein and grains in our diets causes acidic buildup. The body responds by breaking down bone (that's what the word "resorption" means) and we end up excreting needed calcium, weakening bones and increasing our likelihood of fractures.
This information almost makes me want to steam some broccoli for breakfast. Does that seem a little drastic? Possibly, dietary patterns are well-established and I've never had anything resembling broccoli for breakfast, until now that is. Here's what I'm doing — there's no reliable research behind this idea, so you'll have to take it on faith.
My approach involves creating "vegetable flakes." I thoroughly wash and dry fresh produce (kale and broccoli are the ones I've tried so far) and cut them in small pieces. Then I whirl those vegetables in the food processor until they resemble savory green flakes. (A lot of veggies quickly become a small amount of vegetable flakes.) I place the concentrate in a freezer bag, assuring all the air is out, and close tightly. And then I freeze these little cherubic flakes — they take up hardly any space. When I need a vegetable boost, I scoop a spoonful and sprinkle it on salads, soups — and even oatmeal.
There you have it — broccoli for breakfast.
Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.