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Do super veggies really work?

Monday, May 21, 2007
We all have it drummed into us from childhood — "eat your vegetables". Why? Because they're good for you.

But there are some vegetables that are more than good for you — we're talking super vegies: carrots, corn, broccoli, beans and peas. These are the so-called super vegies blessed with all sorts of amazing qualities.

At least, that's the claim — but what's so good about them? And do they really work?

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Well, we're about to find out.

The test

First, what makes super vegies 'super'? Dietitian Voula Koufariotis says the magic ingredients are antioxidants.

"Antioxidants are good substances that help fight the free radicals. Free radicals increase our risk of heart disease, cancers, diabetes. So therefore getting rid of these things helps us maintain a healthier lifestyle," she says.

Do super vegies live up to their reputation?

It's time to meet our fatty food foursome who have agreed to hold fire on their fast food diet and eat super vegies for six weeks to find out whether or not they're the holy grail of healthy eating.

Helen Tolios has been trying to get her son Nick to eat well for years. But he keeps sneaking in junk food. But Nick's starting to pay the price for his wayward diet — over the past 10 months he's packed on 10 kilos.

"I do know that he eats secretly behind my back — junk. I'd like him to get into the habit of healthy eating," says Helen.

So Helen's participating in our test too, to set an example for her son.

Next is 33-year-old maintenance technician and lifesaver-in-training, James Hately. He eats rubbish all day, every day and knows it.

"With my lifesaving training it's not really good to be eating junk food whilst training — I'm not going to get anywhere, he says.

Number four in the team is 19-year-old Cassie whose dietary habits are of the quick and easy meal variety and not often healthy.

Before they kick-off their vegie fest, our foursome gets their cholesterol and weight checked, then it's goodbye saturated fats and hello super vegies for six weeks.

These are the rules of engagement:

  • Our four participants must include five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit in their diet every day.
  • At least two of the vegies in those servings must be super vegetables: corn, carrots, broccoli, beans or peas.

But James has one last concern, "so I can still eat my meat?"

"You can still eat your meat, of course," says Voula. "You need meat in your diet."

A few weeks in, how have our foursome been coping?

Well, James has had to survive crib room lunches with workmates who still eat the way he used to, while Cassie's been throwing herself into the diet with gusto — prowling supermarket aisles for healthy fruit and vegies.

"I'm excited to be doing this. But at the same time very nervous. I've got to be strong — a lot of willpower," she says.

James and Cassie seem to be sticking with the program. But what about Nick? Is his mother Helen managing to keep him in line?

Nick: A bit of a snack on the side. Why not? You still need to binge out a bit.
Helen: Nick, you're supposed to do this for six weeks. You promised and that's what you're going to do.

Results

Our four are blood-tested and weighed-in once again to see what impact the super vegie diet has had on their health.

Voula gives them the results:

James: cholesterol went from 3.9 to 3.2.

James's general cholesterol levels dropped by almost 20 percent and are well under the maximum recommended level of 5.5. Plus his weight went down three kilos.

Voula: James, have you found any differences? Has anything improved?
James: Yeah. I've actually become more regular.

You've got to love that extra fibre!

Cassie: good cholesterol went from 1.4 to 1.7.

Cassie's good cholesterol, the HDL, improved by almost 25 percent to well above the minimum of 1.0 and like James, she shed three kilos.

Cassie: I've got a lot more energy — it's terrific.

Looks like less sludge in Cassie's diet has paid off!

Nick: good cholesterol went from 1.2 to 1.3.

Nick's good cholesterol levels also improved — by a little less than 10 percent and he only lost two kilos — looks like he wasn't able to resist temptation completely. But he is feeling a lot better.

Nick: I've been sleeping a lot better. Before I used to wake up a lot, now pretty much as soon as my head hits the pillow I don't wake up till morning.

Yes, cutting down on those fatty late night snacks will do that.

Helen: cholesterol levels were unchanged.

But Helen's levels were good to begin with and her eating habits were healthy anyway. But she was thrilled to lose four kilos and she also noticed an improvement in skin tone — yes, those antioxidants will make your skin smoother.

Conclusion

Our results support those from a recent US study where mice fed with only super vegies for four months proved to have almost 40 percent reduction in artery hardening. And just like the mice, the longer you stick with it, the better off you'll be.

So if you want to stay super fit in the heart department and keep off those unwanted kilos go for super vegies as often as you can.

Fast facts

  • We've all been told it's best to have a variety of vegetable colours on your plate. Is that because there's a real health benefit or just because they look nicer? Yes, colours do signify nutritional qualities. Vegetables are high in vitamin C, orange vegies have lots of beta-carotene and good old greens contain folate. So mix those colours up and you're guaranteed a good mix of nutrients.


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