Yes, yes, I’m supposed to be on sabbatical but sometimes I just can’t resist. A Swedish study recently published in the International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health found that eating fruits and vegetables didn’t lower the risk of coronary heart disease… unless said fruits and vegetables were consumed with high-fat dairy products!
Why would this be? The answer is simple biochemistry. Many of the vitamins and micronutrients in food are fat-soluble, which means they cannot be absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. That means that if you eat fruits or vegetables without fat, you’ll absorb only a fraction of the nutrients you would absorb if you ate them with fat.
Tara Parker-Pope, the health columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article about this some time back. She actually gives the ratios of nutrient absorption with and without accompanying fat.
She reports on a study of the nutrient absorption from fat-free salsa with and without extra fat:
For the salsa study, 11 test subjects were first given a meal of fat-free salsa and some bread. Another day, the same meal was offered, but this time avocado was added to the salsa, boosting the fat content of the meal to about 37% of calories. In checking blood levels of the test subjects, researchers found that the men and women absorbed an average of 4.4 times as much lycopene and 2.6 times as much beta carotene when the avocado was added to the food.
And here’s a study with and without avocado:
The first salad included romaine lettuce, baby spinach, shredded carrots and a no-fat dressing, resulting in a fat content of about 2%. After avocado was added, the fat content jumped to 42%. When the salad was consumed with the avocado, the 11 test subjects absorbed seven times the lutein and nearly 18 times the beta carotene. Lutein is a carotenoid found in many green vegetables and is linked with improved eye and heart health.
Another study done a few years ago at Ohio State University showed that salad dressing with oil brings out the best in a salad when compared to no-fat, low-fat dressings.
When the seven test subjects consumed salads with no-fat dressing, the absorption of carotenoids was negligible. When a reduced-fat dressing was used, the added fat led to a higher absorption of alpha and beta carotene and lycopene. But there was substantially more absorption of the healthful compounds when full-fat dressing was used.
Consuming adequate amounts of fat with fruits and veggies is especially true in the case of children. Vitamins and micronutrients are crucial for proper physical and mental development. Without adequate fat in the diet, children are literally starved of these nutrients.
Parents will often be very worried if their toddler doesn’t like vegetables. But Dr. Tom Cowan, a practitioner of functional medicine in San Francisco, CA, counsels such parents not to be too concerned about vegetable intake in the first few years of a child’s life. It’s far more important to ensure that the child is getting adequate saturated fat. What’s more, most parents find that if they slather some butter on the veggies they’re serving, their kids actually like them!
So, next time you eat broccoli or feed it to your kids, remember to add a big pat of butter! And have some full-fat cream with those strawberries while you’re at it.