This story appeared in the April issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.
The Scenario: As a child, your friend sat at the dinner table most nights protesting that bitter garbage called broccoli. The only veggies he eats now are usually sprinkled on top of a deep-dish pizza.
The Reality: Most of us actually have a subpar veggie intake. Research shows only around nine percent of Americans get the recommended two to three cups a day. (In Mississippi, that number goes down to 5.5 percent.) Plenty of people, aside from your broccoli-snubbing friends in Jackson, go long stretches without laying eyes on a fresh vegetable. In some third world countries, or during long stretches of military deployment, they're just not available. (Remind your friend of that so he feels like a jerk.)
The Worst That Could Happen: Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, or even vision loss. But relax, those won't happen right away, says dietician Georgie Fear, cofounder of One by One Nutrition. Researchers believe vegetables protect your cells from DNA damage, fight carcinogens, and reduce inflammation in the body, which is why chowing on them now could protect you from a chronic disease years down the road.
What Will Probably Happen: Some constipation and bloating from the lack of fiber. (Don't expect an arm to fall off just because you spent a week in Cancun avoiding water-sourced grub—we're much more resilient than that.) But as the days go on, the numbers on the scale will probably creep up since whatever you're eating instead isn't as low in calories. And because veggies are so rich in vitamins and minerals that shuttle nutrients all over our body, you'll probably start to feel low on energy or run down. Your immunity could take a hit, too, leading to a few more colds each year. If you're only eating crap, it's possible you could develop a specific deficiency with side effects that taste worse than kale—for instance, a lack of iron can trigger hair loss, and people low on Vitamin B might notice dry skin or those asinine little cracks in the corner of the mouth.
What You Should Tell Your Friend: Grow up and shovel veggies in if you care about living a long time. If he's a hard bargainer, tell him he can make up for some of his low veggie intake by adding more fruit to his diet (which will remedy that constipation) and whole grains. It's pretty easy to mask the taste of greens by throwing some spinach or kale into a blended fruit smoothie, too. Popping a multivitamin might help pick up some of his slack, but he should still visit the doc for a blood test yearly to check for deficiencies, Fear says.
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