The Case Against Vegetables

According to mainstream nutrition science, there are basically six categories of healthy foods:

  1. Vegetables
  2. Fruits
  3. Nuts, seeds, and healthy oils
  4. Fish and natural meats
  5. Whole grains
  6. Dairy

According to various popular diets, five of these six food types are actually unhealthy. Fish, for example, is forbidden by “plant-based” diets even though science gives it a thumbs-up. Grains are forbidden by the Paleo Diet despite mainstream scientific approval. Even fruit is condemned by the new high-fat, zero-sugar diets, something that probably nobody thought possible until the last decade or so.

The one category of “officially” healthy foods that has so far escaped condemnation by any popular diet is vegetables. I find this ironic, because vegetables are the only supposedly healthy food type that people really should avoid. That’s right: Despite everything you’ve heard, vegetables are not good for you.

Skeptical? Let’s have a closer look. First of all, as everyone knows, vegetables are packed with fiber. This nondigestible form of carbohydrate may have a glowing reputation, but in fact it is an antinutrient that keeps your body from absorbing the essential nutrients that are needed to support good health. A little fiber may not be so bad, but if you load up on vegetables the way most diets tell you to, all you’re doing is canceling out the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are in them.

Speaking of phytochemicals, if you are a health-conscious eater, you are undoubtedly aware that vegetables are chock full of these mostly unidentified nutrients, many of which function as antioxidants in the body. What you may not know is that phytonutrients are toxins. Plants manufacture them as natural pesticides. In humans, these little poisons provoke a tiny stress response that strengthens the body’s own built-in antioxidant defenses. This process is known as hormesis and it is basically what is meant by the expression, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Lots of other compounds work the same way. Alcohol, for example, is a toxin that enhances human health when taken in small amounts by provoking a stress response. But what happens when a person consumes more than small amounts of alcohol daily? Bad things! And what do you suppose happens when a person overloads the body with phytonutrients by eating vegetables by the truckload? Personally, I hope I never have to find out.

Some vegetables also contain a nasty form of carbohydrate known as a FODMAP. Many people have trouble digesting these nutrients. In fact, if you think you have a gluten sensitivity, there’s a 92 percent chance you don’t, and that your real problem is FODMAPs, which are found in broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and other vegetables. Best avoid them.

Vegetables in the nightshade family—which includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant—contain nutrients that promote inflammation. And systemic inflammation, of course, underlies many common chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s and certain cancers. Best avoid these vegetables too.

It may not be strictly fair to blame vegetables for how they are grown, but these days they are grown either organically or inorganically. Pick your poison. Organic vegetables are fertilized with manure. About 4 percent of the organic vegetables you buy from your local grocer are contaminated with fecal bacteria. On the other hand, the toxic pesticides that are used on nonorganic veggies are even scarier.

Add it all up and you get a category of foods that should have little or no place in the diet of a person who cares about his or her health. These three little words could add years to your life: “Hold the veggies.”

Seriously, though

Yes, I’m joking. But I’m joking with serious intent. My point is that if you look at any type of food too closely, out of context, and with an agenda, you can make it seem dangerous. All food types contain nutrients and non-nutritive constituents that have the potential to negatively impact health or that are processed by the body through mechanisms which have links to negative health outcomes. But none of this matters. What matter are final outcomes, or the answers to questions such as: Does this type of food raise or lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes? Is this category of food associated with a longer or a shorter lifespan?

Advocates for various popular diets—or diet cults, as I call them—have tried to make you terrified of the proteins in fish and natural meats, the lectins and starches and gluten in whole grains, the saturated fat in dairy, and the fructose in fruit. But these reductionist smear jobs have no more validity than the one I just subjected vegetables to in the first part of this article. Why? Final outcomes.

Stacks of research have shown that fish eaters maintain more youthful brains in old age, that eating lots of whole grains reduces markers of systemic inflammation and lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, that dairy consumption is associated with healthier blood lipid profiles, and that people who eat the most fruit gain the least weight in adulthood.

It’s time to fight back against the diet cults. You don’t have to be afraid to eat like a normal person. I’m not saying that “anything goes” with diet. Mainstream nutrition scientists agree that consumption of processed meats, sweets, refined grains, and fried foods should be kept at low levels. But everything else—fruit, fish and natural meats, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and, yes, vegetables—is good for you.