Veggies, Fiber, Sleep Quality, and a Healthy Immune System

I love Paleo Mom. She’s a scientist who never fails to substantiate her claims and make research accessible to the masses. In the blog post below, she talks about new research that suggests that eating more fiber improves sleep quality.

And here, she talks about why veggies are important for gut health and a healthy immune system.

Much as my blog is about incorporating fat, seafood, and offal into Nora’s diet, my first love is still veggies.


One Weird Trick to Get Babies to Eat Veggies

steamed arugula with chicken stew

It’s pretty amazing. On the first page of Google hits for “how to get babies to eat veggies,” there’s a lot of advice to do the following (none of which worked for me):

  • Just keep exposing the baby to veggies repeatedly.
  • Mix the veggies with fruit or sneak it into baked goods.
  • Feed the veggies first when the baby is hungrier.
  • Set a good example yourself.

A few sites suggest mixing veggies with something other than fruit or carbs. These suggestions include chicken or beef stock, cheese, yogurt, and meat. One site even suggests adding salt or roasting with olive oil. These are all good suggestions.

But no one mentions the “F” word at all. It’s as if everyone is scared to talk about fat.

Nora will not eat plain veggies, but she happily eats bitter, strong-flavored veggies such as steamed arugula, kale, and cabbage if I chop the greens finely and add some full-fat plain yogurt, avocado, egg, meat, or fish (the ratio varies betwen 50-50 and 80-20 in favor of veggies). The fats don’t disguise the strong-flavored veggies the way added sugar or salt does. Rather, they enhance the flavors and make them taste good.

Also, vitamins in vegetables are much better absorbed when ingested with some fat. This is pretty mainstream nutritional information, but it never seems to make it into baby food cookbooks or guides.

I find it extremely sad that Americans are so afraid of fat, they try to make a virtue out of feeding babies fat-free vegetable purees. What on earth is the purpose of this convention? What adult eats veggies without a little bit of fat? Salad dressing and stir-fries are what make veggies taste good. The notion that babies are somehow a blank slate and will learn to enjoy fat-free purees if that’s all they’re exposed to seems ridiculous to me. They’ve tasted breast milk or formula; they know what fat is and they know that it tastes good.

I can believe that Nora developed a taste for bitter greens by being exposed in utero and via breastmilk, but I have a hard time believing that Nora’s preference for fat is remotely unique to her or me. It just strikes me as being too useful a survival instinct. I suspect that Americans’ preference for feeding cereal and fruit to babies as first foods creates a (diabetes-inducing) loop where sugar and carbs beget a craving for more sugar and carbs, pushing much-needed fat and protein off the table.

So. Want the baby to eat more veggies? Lay off the sugar and bring on the fat.

(Note: I’ve never been one to calculate percentages of macronutrients, but Ellyn Satter says in Child of Mine that as much as 40% of a baby or toddler’s diet should come from fat, and that the American average of 30% to 33% is too low. Paleo Mom suggests that 40% is a sensible upper limit for most adults as well.)

Why Eat Veggies

Nora is not always the biggest fan of veggies. She’ll eat them as long as they’re nice and soft and mixed with avocado, yogurt, or eggs, but she just doesn’t get excited the way she does with fish or meat. Which left me wondering: why are veggies so important and why do we push them so hard? I knew about all the vitamins they contain, but I just learned from Paleo Mom about their importance in the acid-base balance of the body.

At the level of kidney filtration, some foods are acidic and some are alkaline. Extra acid is passed into the urine, but if the body is lacking in alkaline foods, it will use extra calcium from your bones to process the acid.

Basically all fruits and veggies are alkaline. Eggs are effectively neutral. Nuts and seeds are a mixed bag, with some being alkaline and some (especially the high omega-6 ones) being neutral. Meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, grains, legumes, dairy, modern vegetable oils, and salt are all acidic.

Consuming vegetables is still an important way to protect your bones  and your kidneys, while also providing many key vitamins and minerals unavailable in meat.  And it is still true that the more alkalizing foods you consume, the better.