Provision #475: Powerful Plants

Laser Provision

When it comes to optimal wellness, the nutritional powerhouses are fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. These foods are the star performers with a delightful quality: there’s almost no way to eat too much of them. That’s why the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype sets a minimum daily level of consumption for fruits and vegetables with no maximum. They are the go-to foods when you are feeling hungry. Want to know how these foods fit in with the other plants you may be eating? This Provision covers them all.

LifeTrek Provision

Before moving on to our discussion of plants, I want to highlight one more reader response concerning water, our focus for the last two weeks:

“When I saw you were doing another Provision on water I hoped there would be a mention of the number of people in the world who are without access to this resource (often clean or otherwise). The figures reported two years ago (see below) are no different today. I think at least a reference to the incredible privilege it is to have water available, let alone in various formats, should at least be mentioned, and I’m sorry I let a week go by without writing to you • I’ve been meaning to. ”

“26 AUGUST 2004 | NEW YORK/GENEVA • More than 2.6 billion people – over 40 per cent of the world’s population – do not have access to basic sanitation, and more than one billion people still use unsafe sources of drinking water, warns a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.”

“‘Around the world millions of children are being born into a silent emergency of simple needs,’ says Carol Bellamy, UNICEF’s Executive Director. ‘The growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in terms of access to basic services is killing around 4,000 children every day and underlies many more of the 10 million child deaths each year. We have to act now to close this gap or the death toll will certainly rise.'”

“‘Water and sanitation are among the most important determinants of public health. Wherever people achieve reliable access to safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation they have won a major battle against a wide range of diseases,’ says WHO Director-General Dr LEE Jong-wook.”

You will get no argument from me as to the incredible privilege of living with clean water and basic sanitation. In fact, one of the arguments against bottled water is that it takes pressure and resources away from producing and maintaining high-quality public water sources. We would all do well to share your concern for social justice, especially when it comes to basic human needs.

This past week a friend introduced me to the movie Millions, a fanciful and touching story of a boy who lost his mother but not his compassion for others. The plight of those without clean water, especially in Africa and Asia, has a place in this movie and I would encourage you to watch it. But watch out: you may just catch the bug of doing what you can for others.

When it comes to optimal wellness, we must recognize the whole enterprise as being beyond the reach of billions of people. That does not mean we should abandon the quest; it means we need to broaden the quest to include not only personal lifestyle issues but also social concern. That is why the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype is set in a sea of benevolence. There’s no way for me to have optimal wellness while others languish and die under the weight of extreme poverty. The human experience is too connected for that, whether we see the connection or not. It is only in the pursuit of optimal wellness for one and all that we can find optimal wellness for ourselves.

Benevolence, as we understand the term, should not be confused with charity. It includes charity but is far broader than that. “Benevolence” is defined as a “disposition to good,” “causing no harm,” “showing love,” “behaving peacefully towards others,” “providing more than one must,” and “caring for others regardless of their position or ability to give in return.” When we make that our cause on all levels of existence, including the social, economic, and political, there’s reason to think that optimal wellness can become a much more common and universal experience. That is our hope, intention, and commitment in sharing these thoughts with the world. May the seeds grow into a hospitable environment for all.

Plants are the bedrock of optimal nutrition. Whether you take ancient writings or evolutionary science as your source, it’s clear that plants were the first human food. According to the book of Genesis, God created people and then said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29). This dovetails with what we know about human evolution. Long before we had the stature and tools to hunt animals, we were gathering plants to eat.

One of the fundamental principles of evolutionary nutrition is that our bodies are best suited to eat the foods we have been eating for the longest periods of time. Foods like high fructose syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oil, both invented in the past century, do not hold a candle in the grand scheme of things to plants we can eat raw, in their natural state. Raw, edible plants developed what and who we are today, over the course of millions of years. They run deep in our genes when it comes to the things our bodies crave for health and wellness.

The history of scurvy is a classic case in point. Scurvy is a disease that results from insufficient intake of vitamin C. Most animals are able to synthesize their own vitamin C from other foods, but not human beings, apes, and guinea pigs. It’s just not in our genes. That’s why human breast milk contains vitamin C, because otherwise human infants would be malnourished and would eventually die. It took a long time for human beings to figure out the connection between scurvy and diet, as in millions of years, but we eventually learned the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables (the best dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, berries, tropical fruit, and Brussels sprouts).

Of course our earliest ancestors didn’t have to figure out or know the importance of the connection, because we started out in Africa eating all the fruit and berries we could find. We were naturally protected by our environment. It was only later, as we started living on ships, army rations, and space stations for extended periods of time, that we had to develop an understanding of optimal human nutrition. That understanding is still evolving, but the more scientists learn the more it comes down to going back to what we used to do naturally: eating the foods we could have gathered and hunted near the equator more than 10,000 years ago.

From an evolutionary point of view, those are the foods our bodies are best suited to eat. And plants rank at the top of the list. They are the powerhouses of optimal nutrition, and in weeks to come we will look at different groups of plants in order to make the best food choices possible. To mention a few of the categories we will address:

— Fruits. In botany a fruit is the ripened ovary, along with the seeds, of a flowering plant. In common parlance, however, a fruit is any sweet tasting plant product associated with seeds. There’s a reason these foods are so sweet: they like to be eaten. In an evolutionary sense, it’s how they spread their seed around. It also means that our bodies are well suited to digesting these foods and to extracting their nutritional value: we’ve been doing that for a very long time. That’s why I like the recommendation to eat all the fresh fruit we want, with no daily maximum; they taste good and are good for us. What’s not to like?

— Raw Vegetables. Unlike the word fruit, the word vegetable has no scientific definition. By some accounts, it includes every plant that is not recognized as a fruit, nut, herb, spice, or grain. One thing is clear, however, some vegetables (legumes, starches, and grains) have to be cooked in order to become edible while other vegetables (leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and bulbs) can be eaten raw. Human beings were eating raw vegetables long before we settled down with fires and stew pots. That’s why raw vegetables are included in the all-you-want-to-eat category in the Optimal Wellness Prototype Click. There’s no way to eat too many fresh fruits and raw vegetables.

— Fungi. Fungi such as mushrooms and lichens are no longer officially classified as plants, but as a bridge between plants and animals. They decompose organic matter and have symbiotic relationships with almost all life. They were certainly around the equator more than 10,000 years ago, and were being eaten raw by our ancestors • at least by those who lived to tell the story. Some are poisonous while others (such as maitake, shitake, oyster, and portabella mushrooms) are high in antioxidants and have significant health benefits. The most common mushroom in the USA, the button mushroom, has the least nutritional value. Fungi are low in calories and can be eaten in abundance.

— Herbs. Herbs are raw vegetables, primarily leaves but also some roots, that are typically used in small quantities to add flavor and nutrition to other foods. Many herbs are also believed to have medicinal properties, such as peppermint for the digestive tract, St. John’s Wart for depression, Echinacea for the common cold, and garlic for the cardiovascular system.

— Spices. When people hear the word “spices,” they usually think of salt and pepper. But salt is a ground up rock that causes more problems than it solves. Keeping salt to a minimum does not, however, necessitate a bland diet. There are many dried seeds, fruits, roots, and barks that add great flavor and nutrition to other foods. As with herbs, many of these spices are also believed to have medicinal properties, such as ginger for the digestive system, cinnamon to reduce blood sugar, and pepper to turn on the body’s cooling system. As with fungi, it takes experience and wisdom to know what herbs and spices are safe and how best to use them for medicinal purposes.

— Raw Nuts & Seeds. While all nuts are seeds, not all seeds are nuts. A seed comes from fruit and can be removed from the fruit. A nut is both the seed and the fruit, and cannot be separated. Some nuts and seeds can be eaten raw, while others • most notably grains and legumes • need to processed and cooked. The best raw nuts are walnuts and almonds while the best raw seeds are flax and hemp. These nuts and seeds have great fatty-acid profiles, with lots of Omega-3’s. They also have lots of calories, so it’s important to ration them out on a daily basis. Vegetable oils, which come from nuts and seeds, are not required for optimal nutrition. If you use vegetable oils at all, keep them to a minimum and stay with olive and canola.

— Legumes. The word “legume” refers to both a particular class of plant and to the seed that come from those plants. These seeds include peas, dry beans, soybeans, peanuts, and lentils. Such foods were not in the human diet for most of human evolution, so they are to be eaten in limited quantities (if at all). Most of these seeds are inedible or poisonous unless cooked. Dry beans, soybeans, peanuts, and lentils need to be soaked and washed thoroughly both before and after the cooking process in order to remove lectins, a molecule that may compromise the immune system, as well as other anti-nutrients. Soybean products such as miso, tempeh, natto, shoyu, and tamari have reduced anti-nutrients through fermentation.

— Starchy Vegetables. Starchy vegetables are high-carbohydrate tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, tapioca, and cassava root that need to be cooked in order to be edible. Although not in the diet of early humans, the main problem with starchy vegetables are their high glycemic load: they cause a rapid spike in blood glucose levels. This can lead to problems with Type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. They are best eaten (if at all) in moderation and always in conjunction with high-fiber foods in order to mitigate the glycemic effect. Pieces of sweet potato mixed in with steamed collard greens is one of my favorite combinations.

— Grains. Although grains now feed the majority of the human race and generate the bulk of all edible calories, they were not in the human diet for most of human evolution. They are rather the products of human agriculture. Grains are starchy seeds that have to be processed and cooked in order to be edible. Examples include corn, wheat, and rice which, between them, accounted for 87% of all grain production worldwide and 43% of all food calories in 2003. There is no way the planet could support a population of 7 billion people (and growing) without grains, yet the human body did not evolve on and does not thrive on grains. Many people, for example, are intolerant or allergic to grain proteins while others suffer from the high glycemic load of grains. Grains are best eaten (if at all) in moderation and then only in their whole grain forms. Avoid grains that contain gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats.

In the weeks to come, we will circle back to these plants and fungi as part of our discussion regarding optimal nutrition. We will also spend time on animal protein and healthy fats, in order to get a complete picture of what it looks like to optimize our nutrition for optimal wellness. We hope you will join us for the journey.

Coaching Inquiries: Are raw fruits and vegetables among the staples of your diet? How could you increase your consumption of these nutritional powerhouses? Do you eat a lot of beans, potatoes, and grains? How could you decrease your consumption of these agricultural products? How could you map out a healthy menu for the next week? Who could work on that menu with you?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..


Just to say thanks for the two articles on water. I found them both stimulating and helpful.


I was very interested in your article on water clarity. In particular, the information on bottled water. Can you point me in the direction of some studies of bottled water, as in regards to quality ratings, or bottled water companies whose source are dubious, or which companies purify their water and their purification techniques. Websites or magazine references would be great. Thanks. (Ed. Note: Consumer Reports has a list, but you have join to gain access. Let me know if anyone has a better source.)



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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