Can eating vegetables cause obesity?

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Vegetables are good for you, and the more veggies you eat, the healthier and thinner you'll be, right?


    Well, the former is probably true, but the latter may not always be.


    A Chinese study came up with the -- to Americans -- paradoxical finding that the more vegetables people ate, the fatter they were.


    Why? Because the Chinese in this population in Jiangsu Province were stir-frying their vegetables in "generous" amounts of oil, and the more vegetables they ate, the more energy-dense oil they were eating.


    I'm not suggesting that anyone eat fewer vegetables. But what this story illustrates is that nutritional "sound bites" like saying the best way to be healthy is to "eat more fruits and vegetables" may not always be true. You need to take the context into account.

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    For example, for people with diabetes, eating more fruits is probably not a great idea, because most modern fruits are loaded with sugar. But again, it depends on the context. If you've been eating gallons of ice cream, entire bags of cookies, and gargantuan portions of pie with every meal, then substituting almost any kind of fruit for the ice cream, cookies, and pie would be beneficial.


    But it also depends on the type of fruit. Berries usually have the least impact on blood sugar. Substituting supersweet pineapple for ice cream probably wouldn't be a good idea.


    So too, it turns out that for people living in China, eating a lot of vegetables can result in obesity when those vegetables are stir-fried in a lot of oil. In the past, especially during famine times, fats and oils were often difficult to get in China, and hence they were highly valued.


    I once read an autobiography of a man who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, when food was scarce. They heard someone in town was selling pork, so his mother sent him to town to stand in line and get some. The man gave him a very fatty piece with hardly any meat. I expected him to say that his mother was angry.


    Not at all. She was thrilled! She cooked off the fat from the meat and used it for frying other foods and praised him for selecting such a valuable piece of meat.


    It's logical that as times get better and people have more money, they would use a lot of formerly precious fats and oils in their cooking.


    When fat is eaten along with a lot of carbohydrate, for example with rice, the fats don't get burned for energy and get deposited in fat cells instead. This would explain the increase in obesity with increased vegetable intake.


    So when you hear nutritional sound bites, use common sense. Fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly better than potato chips or cans of icing. Eating more vegetables in place of highly processed starches is a good thing to do. But they're not magical cure-alls. You need to take your overall food intake into consideration as well.


Published On: June 23, 2008