Lowcountry GI Gut Health Blog

Posts for tag: Plant-based Diet

By Will Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI ("Dr. B")
August 21, 2016

Imagine your favorite supermarket. You walk through the front door, and – BOOM – there are the juicy strawberries, watermelons, and blueberries. Have you ever noticed that every supermarket puts their produce right out front? Seriously, I can’t think of a single time in my entire life that the produce section was hidden in the back. It makes sense though; the produce section is filled with vibrant colors that are easy on the eyes, inviting you into their store that you now associate with freshness and (hopefully) quality.

When I asked you to imagine your favorite supermarket, you probably thought of the one with the best produce section. High quality fruits and vegetables are inherently refreshing and satisfying when you get them just right.  By the end of this article you will be the master of the produce section, ready to go out there and find the sweetest fruits and ripest vegetables without breaking the bank.

1. Organic matters!!!

Organic food refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed. In order to qualify as organic, the crops cannot be grown with bioengineered genes (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, or petroleum-based or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Pesticide exposure can lead to leukemia, lymphoma, brain, breast and prostate cancer. You had me at no genetically modified organisms, let alone sewage-based fertilizers.

But there’s more… Organic food is often fresher because it lacks the preservatives that allow it to last longer. Therefore, organic produce will generally need to be produced on smaller farms that are closer to the store where it is sold. Additionally, organic farming practices have a myriad of environmental benefits, including reducing pollution, conserving water, increasing soil fertility, and limiting exposure of the nearby birds and animals to chemical pesticides.

2. If the skin is thin, buy organic to win.

If we lived in a perfect world with unlimited money and resources, I would buy organic produce every single time. Unfortunately, that’s just not reality. Like most everyone else, I work very hard to provide for my family and must be judicious with my spending.

Thankfully, we have the Environmental Working Group to sort things out for us. They are a nonprofit organization that analyzes U.S. government pesticide testing results. Their findings allow us to objectively separate foods into those that we should always buy organic (the “Dirty Dozen”) versus those that we can feel more comfortable buying non-organic (or “Clean 15”).

Beyond the Dirty Dozen, buyers should also purchase leafy greens (kale, lettuce, etc.), blueberries, raspberries, pears and carrots in their organic form. The general takeaway here is that thin-skinned plants should always be bought organic. On the flip side, if you have to peel away an outer layer to get to the fruit or vegetable, then you’re probably okay to buy it non-organic.

3. Look for signs of freshness.

For most plants, the outward appearance is important. Yellow bananas are ready for consumption, while green ones need to ripen and brown ones may be past their prime. For thin-skinned fruits like apples, blueberries, cherries, grapes and strawberries you’re going to want your fruit to have a deep color and natural shine without wrinkles or bruises. Pineapples and honeydew melon are best when they look golden rather than green. Watermelons that matured long enough before harvest should have a yellow or light spot on the bottom, a sign of being ready to eat. Corn is best when the husk is green and moist. The ideal broccoli head is dark and tightly compacted. Leafy greens start losing their nutritional value when they wilt and start turning yellow. And finally, the color of a mango just flat out does not matter, so when it comes to mangos fuggedaboudit!

4. Toss your produce in the air then squeeze it.

There are two things to look for when feeling your produce. First, if the produce is watery then the weight of it is important. You want it to be heavy for its size, which indicates inherent juiciness. So pick up your orange, lemon, watermelon, pineapple, celery, squash, tomato or even cabbage. Get a feel for the weight among a few of them, and go with the one that feels a little heavy.

Second, if produce has “meat” to it, your goal is to find one that is firm but slightly soft to the touch. So give your apples, peaches, pears, potatoes, and avocados a little *honk honk*. With time you will get the feel for it and can pick out the better produce with your eyes closed, a unique skill that has the possibility of impressing your friends.

5. Buy local!

The farm to table concept has gained traction in recent years, and with good reason. Locally grown crops have less travel time, which means they can be picked at the peak of their flavor before delivery. Shorter time between harvest and consumption means increased preservation of nutrients.

The added benefit of buying local is that it supports local families and helps the environment and wildlife. The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is every Tuesday from April until the end of September at the Moultrie Middle School on Coleman. The Sullivan’s Island Farmer Market ran from April until the end of June on Thursdays. Shopping at a farmers market allows you to connect with the person growing your food. You can ask questions, get advice, and in most cases will save some money in the process.

Dr. Bulsiewicz is a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. He believes that the gut is the root of all health and wellness and therefore food is medicine and that we can unlock our innermost potential with healthy gut bacteria. His clinical practice includes the full spectrum of gastroenterology including colon cancer screening, colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, GERD, Barrett’s, hemorrhoids, and liver disease. Follow Dr. B on Facebook (Lowcountry Gastroenterology), Instagram (@happygutmd), and Twitter (@happygutmd).

The entire content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional. Copyright 2016.

Have you ever been peacefully snoozing when a loud sound startles you from your sleep? One Sunday morning a few years ago the shredding sound of a chainsaw shot me out of bed. I rubbed my eyes and went out to the kitchen to see what was going on. There was my wife cramming a giant cucumber into a motorized stainless steel cylinder like she was loading a torpedo into the shoot. She did the same with some carrots, apples, kale and a lemon. Out of the spigot came the different colors in order, mixing together in the glass pitcher to produce green juice that was surprisingly delicious and refreshing. Afterwards, I felt energized, clean, and wanting more.

Fresh juice is a great way to unleash the power of plants. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes are five of the most common causes of death in our society. Yet, study after study has shown that consuming a plant-based diet can prevent and in some cases even reverse these illnesses.

This comes as no surprise. Organically grown plants are densely packed with health-promoting nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. They also lack the harmful components of processed foods: refined sugars, artificial flavors and colors, MSG (monosodium glutamate), high fructose corn syrup or synthetic trans fats just to name a few. In short, organic plants have all of the good stuff and little to none of the bad stuff!

My personal favorites are the phytochemicals. These are the naturally occurring compounds in plants with varying health promoting qualities: preventing cancer, optimizing the immune system, or healing blood vessels just to name a few. So far there are over 120 drugs derived from plant compounds, including aspirin, morphine and digoxin. But that is a fairly small number considering there are more than 5,000 phytochemicals that we’ve identified (so far), most of which we know very little about. Beta-carotene, caffeine, and resveratrol are just a few examples of the phytochemicals that we have started to study.

Sadly, only 1 in 10 Americans actually meet the goal of five cups of fruits and vegetables per day. As you can see in the pie graph, our diet is dominated by processed foods including fats, flour products, and sweeteners. We are also substantially outpacing our fruit and vegetable consumption with animal products including meat, dairy, and eggs. The pathway to better health is fairly straight forward, and it involves reversing these trends and increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption.

Juicing is a great place to start. You can pack all of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from a couple pounds of produce into a few glasses of juice. By playing with different combinations, you can create juice that tastes great and features a diverse variety of plants. For example, kale, garlic and turmeric offer tremendous health benefits but are individually difficult to consume. Not so fast, my friend! Just mix in a few apples, carrots and some lemon to make yourself a refreshing and tasty beverage.

There are some limitations to drinking juice. For one, the fiber is separated from the juice. Therefore, you miss out on the health benefits of fiber including lower blood sugar and cholesterol, prevention of diverticulosis, and prebiotics for a healthy gut garden. Second, if you add a lot of fruit to your juice you can end up with a beverage very high in sugar. Third, there can be loss of nutritional value during the process of creating the juice due to oxidation.

My recommendation is to use fresh juice as a way to add even more plant nutrition to your diet. Don’t cut out the salads or fresh vegetable dishes and don’t use juice as a meal replacement! Instead, keep getting those plants the old-fashioned way but crank it up even more by adding fresh juice or a smoothie a few times per week. To maximize the nutritional value, I recommend drinking the juice immediately after it is produced. In the very beginning, you may want to incorporate more fruit to assure sweetness. Over time you can increase the vegetable to fruit ratio to maximize the nutritional value of your beverage as your taste buds adapt.

If you decide to take the plunge and get juiced, below is your first recipe to help you get started:

  • 6-8 large leaves of kale with stem
  • 1/2 large cucumber
  • 1/2 bunch parsley (or cilantro)
  • 1/4 to â…“ pineapple meat, no skin
  • 1 medium apple (either yellow or green)

Dr. Bulsiewicz is a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. He believes that the gut is the root of all health and wellness and therefore food is medicine and that we can unlock our innermost potential with healthy gut bacteria. His clinical practice includes the full spectrum of gastroenterology including colon cancer screening, colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, GERD, Barrett’s, hemorrhoids, and liver disease. Follow Dr. B on Facebook (Lowcountry Gastroenterology), Instagram (@happygutmd), and Twitter (@happygutmd).

The entire content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional. Copyright 2016.