Missing Lettuce in China

October 13, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Diabetic Menu Item, Mediterranean, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

We are back in America and it’s good to be home. We’ll never be the same after spending a month in China; the Chinese people touched our hearts and their diversity and the diversity of their land is imprinted on our lives forever. There are many things that were common to humanity and some that were very ‘foreign.’ The one that I’ve chosen to write about today is leafy greens.

Because we Americans don’t have a large enough collection of bacteria in our intestines, we had to be fairly careful about eating raw fruits and vegetables in China. I guess that we would have not had to be so careful, but if you want to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge (or Genghis Khan’s, in this case), it’s the way to go. When you’re traveling with 26 other people, I can’t imagine telling the driver of the giant bus, “I need to visit the sand dune of the Gobi Desert; I’m talkin’ NOW!” Our group was lucky and none of us got the ‘revenge.’

After a couple of weeks of eating ‘Chinese-style’ every day, there were little comments made at the table; some that I heard were: “I would love a cup of Starbucks.” “I’d like to bite into a piece of meat, large enough to need chewing.” “I’d sure love to have a burger.” “Did you know that fish has bones; lots of little ones?” “Before China, did you ever eat your entire meal off a little saucer?” Most of those issues weren’t much of a concern for Vic and me; but not being able to eat fresh lettuce or other greens, was missed. It’s not that there were no greens, but they were always cooked.

It didn’t happen often, maybe only once or twice in the month, there were fresh greens offered. But our group had been fully indoctrinated with the fear of the ‘revenge’; so we passed on the offering – but I must say it was tempting.

Now we’re home – see the pictures of today’s lunch and last night’s dinner below.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal has found a correlation between eating more leafy greens and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. As you know by now, type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide; and it is growing even in countries like China, where it used to be almost unheard of. For those of you, who have joined with us in striving to avoid diabetes and the long list of health problems that go with it, I share the findings of this study. This is just one more evaluation (meta-analysis) of the research that supports the growing body of evidence that lifestyle modification is an important factor in the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Even if you already have impaired glucose tolerance, you can reduce the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes by about 60% by making changes in your diet. The changes that have already been published include: reducing the intake of fat and especially saturated fat; increasing the intake of vegetables, fruit and whole grain cereals, and increasing physical activity. These changes lead to weight loss, which is the most important factor contributing to the decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes.

First let’s try to describe what nutrition researchers commonly recognize as green leafy vegetables. An important and fairly extensive part of the group is brassica; it is the mustard family and includes cabbages and mustards. Some are commonly eaten as roots (rutabaga, turnips), some as stems (kohlrabi, collards), some as leaves (cabbage, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, bok choy), some as flowers (cauliflower, broccoli), and some as seeds (mustard seed and rape seed for oil). Other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica group are arugula, Daikon radish, horseradish, radish and watercress.  Another group is Compositae; which includes lettuce, Romaine, Salsify, Jerusalem artichoke, endive, dandelion, chicory, chamomile, sunflower seeds, and artichokes. Umbelliferous vegetables are plants that are grown for their leaves and stems and are often consumed as herbs, such as caraway, celery, cilantro, cumin, parsnip, parsley, dill, and fennel. Amaranth, beets, chard, and spinach are in the Amaranthaceae family.

The point is that green leafy vegetables are not always green (think cauliflower), nor are they always leafy (think broccoli).

Interesting observations from this British study is that the researchers discuss their thoughts about what it is about leafy green vegetables that cause the benefits in the prevention of chronic diseases and specifically type 2 diabetes.  Could it be the antioxidant content, could it be the beta carotene, alpha linolenic acid, fiber or magnesium, or vitamin C, or the polyphenols?  They finally say that there are several possible mechanisms that could explain the benefit of consuming green leafy vegetables. I especially like it that they finally get around to making a statement that “foods” rather than isolated components such as antioxidants are beneficial for health. (My guess is that it may be a combination of a number of nutrients in the leafy green vegetables.) And they state that the results from several supplement trials have produced disappointing results for prevention of disease. The bottom line stated by these researchers is that further investigation is needed to understand the relationship between green leafy vegetables and the reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

Another interesting bit of information is that the researchers were only comparing those that consumed the highest intake (1.35 servings per day) with those that consumed the lowest (0.2 servings per day). That difference (between one and a third servings a day and almost none) yielded a 14% reduction in getting type 2 diabetes. Look through the list of vegetables above again – I bet you can find some that you already enjoy; or maybe make a goal to try some new ones. Consider taking the next step; buying them and getting them into your home so you can actually get them into your tummy. You may want to consider including frozen versions, so that you’re prepared when in a hurry. Or the already cleaned broccoli florets, or spinach, for example. Easy, easy, easy!

The British study found the link specifically between the leafy green vegetables and a decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes – it did not find a link between consumption of fruit and vegetables and the decreased risk. But there are many other studies that have shown fruit and vegetable intake protects against overweight and obesity. And since the major factor that causes type 2 is overweight and obesity, then it follows that vegetables and fruit should be an extremely important component of the diet. It has already been shown that fruit and vegetables protect against cardiovascular disease, and in addition, they lower blood pressure. A reduced risk for certain cancers has also been linked to fruit and vegetable consumption. Three other studies have consistently shown that fruit and vegetables are important components of the dietary patterns associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

We missed fresh lettuce while we were in China, but we don’t believe that a day passed without bok choy. A variety of vegetables were identified as spinach during our trip. So the good news is that, not only did we eat to keep our risk of diabetes down, it also lead to some weight loss while we were there. The take away lesson is that you don’t need to go to China or wait to start finding ways to include leafy green vegetables in your diet on a regular basis – start today.

Quick Chicken Broccoli Soup

Quick Chicken Broccoli Soup


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cups onions, chopped

6 cups chicken broth

8 cups broccoli florets

Wondra flour

12 ounce canned chicken breast

ground black pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg


Saute onions in oil, until onions are clear. Add broth and broccoli, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend with stick blender or ladle into a food processor (be careful to follow the directions for a hot liquid).

Use a couple shakes of Wondra flour (instant flour)  directly in the boiling soup to thicken to desired thickness. Don’t over thicken, as it will thicken more when cooled off.

Add the chicken chunks, pepper and nutmeg to the soup; and serve.

Today's lunch - Salad with Sun-dried Tomato Hummus