We’ve been told our entire lives to eat our vegetables.
From the time we were kids to the relentless promotion of health and fitness from the government, from the medical establishment all the way through to people like me. You know what healthy eating is, because you’ve had it shoved down your throat since you were a snotty nosed, pissy toddler refusing to have even a single bite of broccoli.
In all likelihood, now that you’re an adult, you probably feel just as enthusiastic about eating them as you did then.
You’re probably living on a diet of takeaway food, coffee, chocolate and sugar and then wondering why you have no energy.
You’re probably an adult with children of your own, being a total hypocrite, telling your kids to eat veggies but dodging salads at every opportunity.
Do you know why vegetables are so important?
Sure, you know they’re full of vitamins and minerals, but are you familiar with exactly what role these play in your body?
I am a firm believer in the question “why,” because I believe that if you are educated and you know why something is important, you’re more likely to act in accordance with the benefits it applies.
Also, because learning is fun. Well, you might get bored as fuck reading this, but it will give you some essential information that might help you swallow down another bite of broccoli.
So, here’s a bit of a crash course into the human body, followed by some very compelling reasons to eat more veggies.
Skip the crash course if you’re lazy, and just eat a shitload more of the foods listed below.
A quick introduction to the nervous system
The nervous system controls all autonomic (unconscious) and conscious (somatic) movement, so it’s importance cannot possibly be overstated. It governs your perceptions of pain and pleasure and touch, all of your actions and movements, your muscular contractions and function, your digestive system, your capacity to learn movement patterns – absolutely everything.
The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord, and then the peripheral nervous system is the periphery of your body – your limbs, fingers, toes and muscles.
Of these systems, the central nervous system contains a parasympathetic component, which governs the “rest and digest” functions of the body and help us to manage our heart rate, recover and rebuild after periods of stress (exercise, physiological and psychological expenditure). Our sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” part of the system, which governs our ability to react to danger at an incredibly fast rate, heightening our heart rate, producing cortisol and adrenalin and releasing sugars into the blood stream to fuel the periphery of our body for a sprint or a punch.
The nervous system is electrically charged
Every single action we take is fired by nerve impulses. These impulses are transmitted by neurons with an electrical charge, with various types of neurons serving different purposes in our bodies such as sensory perception or action potential.
The body works on electrical impulses as neurons are typically in a neutral state, until a charge is received which temporarily changes the positive or negative status of our cells. It is not until an electrical impulse is received to our neurons that we will receive a sensation, feel touch or move our bodies.
OK I’m bored, please get to the point now
So an un-charged, resting neuron is in a neutral state.
Just outside the cell, the positive ions are sodium.
Within the cell, the negative ions are potassium.
The two are separated by a membrane, but when you receive an electrical impulse, ions will move across the membrane to electrically charge the cell via something called the “Sodium Potassium Pump.” This is kind of like a bridge over the cell membrane, which allows two potassium ions to enter, and three sodium ions to leave. These electrical impulses, allowed by the Sodium Potassium Pump, will electrically charge your cells and create what is known as an “action potential.” Some movements have an action potential which is a low frequency, whereas others have a very high frequency where the current will continue down a line of neurons and trigger a massive amount of electrical energy. This might be the difference between bending over to pick up a pen, or squatting your 1RM.
Sodium and potassium are essential to optimise movement and everyday function
The best source of potassium is fruit & vegetables.
We need this electrolyte in massive quantities just to function, up to eight cups of vegetables and fruit per day because sixty percent of our daily intake of food goes to our nervous system, fueling everything from our muscles, heart beat, to our use of glycogen and our digestive system.
Further to helping us function on an everyday level, potassium also helps move calcium into muscle cells, to further improve muscle function, including relaxation and excitation. It also helps to enhance hydration in the body and will help to balance an alkaline cellular state when we consume a diet high in meat and sodium.
Just a couple more things potassium helps us to do;
– Allows muscles to contract and to relax
– Creates a balanced cellular state when our diets are high in acidic foods
– Controls intra-cellular hydration
– Helps produce stomach acids for optimal digestion
– Delays fatigue during periods of intense training
– Helps release glycogen for use as fuel during intense and prolonged training
– Steadies the heartbeat, controls fatigue and fluid retention
Low potassium = feeling like an unfit sack of shit
– Fatigue and low energy
– Brain fog
– Water retention
– Muscular cramps
– Digestive distress including bloating
– Altered heartbeat
– High stress levels and blood sugar swings
– Loss of strength and stamina
– High blood pressure
OK OK so potassium is tres importante, what foods are highest?
Ideally, we need about 5000mg of potassium every day or enough fruit and veg for 8 cups, so here’s the best sources;
– Passata / Tomato puree 1 cup = 1000mg (25%)
– Cooked spinach, 1 cup = 850mg (17%)
– White beans, 1/2 cup = 600mg (12%)
– Potatoes, baked per 100g = 500mg (10%)
– Yoghurt, 1 cup = 500mg (10%)
– Avocado, per 100g raw = 500mg (10%)
– Mushrooms, per 100g raw = 500mg (10%)
– Kale, Pumpkin 100g raw = 400mg (8%)
– 1 medium banana = 400mg (8%)
– Broccoli, cooked per 100g = 300mg (6%)
– Capsicums, 1 medium raw = 250mg (5%)
– Raw citrus fruits = 200mg (4%)
So as you can see, you gotta eat a LOT of damn veggies EVERY DAY to keep your nervous and digestive system happy. In addition to the wonderful world of sodium, potassium and nerve impulses, vegetables also contribute water soluble vitamins, fibre, minerals etc etc.
Keep an eye out, I’ll be putting together some potassium-loaded recipes you can whip up with hardly any effort in the coming days.