Vegetables in a Pill?

This may sound like a dream come true! If you hate vegetables, or if your child stubbornly refuses to eat any, just take a pill or a flavored powder and get the same benefits. I hate to always be the one to give out the bad news, but I don’t think this is a good idea.

First of all, one of the main benefits of vegetables is what they are not. Vegetables are not junk food, so if you eat a vegetable you are not, at least at that moment in time, eating junk food. But if you take a pill.

Vegetables are also not starches. If you’ve been a reader of this newsletter for a while, you know that I am no friend of excessive starches or carbs. One way to moderate starch intake is to increase the amount of vegetables in a meal.

Let’s take broccoli and rice to illustrate this point. A cup of cooked broccoli contains 45 calories, 4 grams of protein, no fat and 8 grams of carbohydrate (raw broccoli contains less). In contrast, the same amount of cooked rice has 185 calories, 4 grams of protein, also no fat, and 42 grams of carbohydrate. In other words it would take five and a quarter cups of broccoli to match the carbs in a single cup or rice.

And what about the good things actually contained in vegetables that you would not get from a pill? The first of these is water, and to go back to our example broccoli is 90% water. This means that vegetables also help hydrate the body, something no pill will do.

The water in vegetables also forms a complex matrix with minerals and other nutrients, thus enhancing their absorption. This matrix is broken when vegetables are dehydrated and processed to make them into pills. Also, it is unclear to me if and to what extent nutrients are preserved during the process.

The next important component of vegetables missing from a pill is fiber. Our cup of broccoli contains a respectable 4 grams of fiber, not as much as found in prunes, for example, but well in excess of the 0.7 grams in a cup of white rice. Brown rice is a good source of fiber but still comes in at only 3 grams per cup. Fiber is completely eliminated or at least drastically reduced when vegetables are concentrated to make them into pills.

Finally, consider that vegetables sometimes contain bad things as well, like pesticide residues. If the manufacturer of a vegetable extract does not guarantee an organic source, it is likely that these chemicals are concentrated in the final product after the water and fiber are removed.

Some vegetables also contain naturally occurring anti-nutrients. For example, spinach is rich in calcium, but also contains oxalic acid that prevents us from absorbing that calcium. Cooking inactivates oxalic acid and thereby makes th e calcium available to us. Of course other nutrients, like vitamin C, are lost in cooking, which is why I recommend eating a mix of raw and cooked vegetables.

My point is that these vegetable pills or powders are always promoted as preserving the goodness of raw vegetables but no reference is ever made to the downside, like the lack or fiber and the presence of anti-nutrients found in raw vegetables but not in cooked ones.

Now that you know that vegetable powders or pills are not a solution, what do you do about your child who still refuses to eat any vegetable? Unfortunately this is a complex question that I cannot answer in general terms, but one that I have been working on, many times successfully, with individual families. Realizing that there are no quick and easy solutions is a good place to begin when developing a successful strategy.

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