I've just finished up this year's autumn cleanse program in my clinic, and I've definitely got food-as-medicine on the brain! Every spring and autumn I offer these seasonal healing programs as a way to help clients "supercharge" and focus on their health, with a strong emphasis on establishing nourishing eating and lifestyle habits. In addition to three restorative and balancing acupuncture/massage sessions, these two-week seasonal healing programs include a detailed nutritional outline for creating optimal health (if this sounds like it would be helpful for you, stay tuned for the spring cleanse that starts next March!). One of the primary guidelines I put forth in the guidelines, backed up with lots of recipes and meal plans, is to include a minimum of six cups of vegetables a day. This basically amounts to at least two cups of veggies with every meal.
The truth is that most of us just don't eat enough vegetables, even many of us who are generally healthy eaters. Why does it matter? One of the primary reasons is that vegetables are really the best source of fiber, and fiber is crucial to completing the body's natural detoxification process. While it's the liver's job to break down toxins, it is the job of the large intestine to make sure those toxins really get out of the body. And without enough fiber that's not going to happen. Not to be gloom and doom about it, but in our modern world we pretty much do live in a "toxic soup." If you think that's hyperbole, just consider for a moment the fact that in 2004 the Environmental Working Group did a study in which they found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants (such as pesticides, mercury, dioxins, etc.) in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. Sadly, we have such a toxic burden in this day and age that we are passing it on to our children in utero. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are even being found in our drinking water. The presence of synthetic hormones in the environment is wiping out populations of fish. From purely a health perspective, these are indeed dire times (and most of us might agree that these are dire times in more ways than one, but we'll keep it to just health discussion here!)
Every day our livers are working hard to manage this constant input: pesticides, xeno-estrogens, chemicals leached from plastics, car exhaust, chemicals in body care products that are absorbed through the skin, over the counter and prescribed medications, alcohol, drugs, synthetic hormones (and even our body's natural hormones, which also need to be detoxified by the liver)... the list goes on and on. So aside from minimizing our exposure to these toxins as much as we can, we need to also support vibrantly healthy livers that can effectively manage the inevitable exposures, AND we need a diet rich in fiber (i.e. vegetables) to make sure the detoxification process is complete with our bowel elimination.
The fiber from certain vegetables also acts as a pre-biotic, which basically means it acts as food for the trillions of gut bacteria that inhabit our intestines. These benefical gut bacteria fulfill a myriad of important physiological functions, ranging from immune system modulation to brain neurotransmitter production to hormone balancing. A healthy micro biome is nourished by a diet rich in fiber and naturally probiotic foods, and a diet that contains virtually no processed or refined carbohydrates. Equally as important as the fiber component in veggies is the fact that vibrant, colorful vegetables are our best source for phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural plant compounds that have a protective effect on the the body. A couple of common examples include lycopene, found in tomatoes, which supports prostate health, and beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes and kale, which supports lung and eye health. To get a wide variety of these phytonutrients we should eat a wide variety of different vegetables even day; different colors in the plants often indicate the presence of different phytonutrients, hence the advice to "eat a rainbow".
So now that we've taken a moment to explore WHY we need vegetables, let's discuss HOW we go about getting at least two cups of veggies with every meal. A lot of people get stumped about how to make breakfast a veggie-rich meal. This is especially the case if they are accustomed to the standard American diet practice of eating empty carbs for breakfast (which happens to be the worst thing you can do in terms of disrupting blood sugar balance and energy levels). A wonderful way to get veggies into your breakfast, especially as we move into the colder months, is to make roasted roots. Unlike flour-based foods like cereal and bagels, root vegetables are a wonderful source of healthy, slow-burning carbohydrates. Combine these roasted roots with some pasture-raised eggs for protein (maybe scrambled with leafy greens for even more veggies), cooked in a healthy fat like ghee or coconut oil, and a scoop of probiotic-rich sauerkraut, and you really do have the breakfast of champions. Many of the clients doing my autumn cleanse were amazed at how incredible they felt by making this change in their breakfast routine.
This roasted roots recipe can be kept as leftovers and reheated for 2-3 days, which saves time in the kitchen. An added bonus is that roasting veggies in the oven can take off the morning chill while you get ready for your day (an added bonus if you live in an old country house without central heating like I do!). Another thing to know is that eating root vegetables in the fall aligns us with the energy of the season. In autumn, all the energy begins to descend back down towards the earth, so eating veggies that grow underground connects us with this seasonal energetic (in the same way that eating more sprouts and young leafy greens connects us with the energetic principle of springtime). The rosemary that seasons the roots in this recipe is a great antioxidant and circulatory tonic.
Rosemary Roasted Roots
*Note: be sure to use all organic ingredients!
2-3 sweet potatoes
2 beets, red or golden
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ghee, or coconut oil
1 tsp. unrefined sea salt
2 tbsp. fresh chopped rosemary (or 1 Tbsp. dried if fresh is unavailable)
fresh cracked pepper to taste
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.