Canadian Firefighter Magazine

WellBeing: January 2015

By Elias Markou   

Features Health and Wellness Wellness

Did you know that cabbage is the new kale, and that broccoli is back in style? I wanted to kick off the new year with a fun discussion about vegetables. Many of you woke up on Jan. 2 and probably made a few weight-loss and diet resolutions. If we have this discussion on dieting a few weeks from now, I won’t be surprised to find a few of you have already moved on to sugar and muffins. I want to expand this discussion about food into an inspirational talk about the power of vegetables. Don’t think of this shift to vegetables as another weight-loss diet; rather, look at it as the right way to eat as the human species. I can already hear the moans and groans. If you’ve ever questioned the power of what we choose to put in our bodies daily, then you need to read on. I just might make a believer out of you.

The science of food is moving at a serious pace. The work of universities and naturopathic doctors on the food file has taken let-food-be-thy-medicine theory to a whole new level; we’re taking advantage of all this great research on food and vegetables and helping you apply it to your own health. The science and evidence is hard to dispute, and this should make avoiding those colourful vegetables hard to do.

Eating a diet abundant in supercharged vegetables is the ideal way to care for your firefighting body. Driving your natural detoxification pathways and supplying your body with very important vitamins, mineral, phytonutrients, enzymes, water, fibre, basic nutrients and more are all critical to prevent cellular damage. Your body is your greatest asset for fire fighting; we need to help you develop a strategy that stops the degenerative breakdown of your body.

Many of you will go out and buy the supercharged version of a Sea-Doo, a motorcycle or a specific car with a supercharged engine. Let’s consider for one moment that you have embraced this new approach to food and have decided to buy supercharged foods when you purchase groceries. What constitutes supercharged vegetables and how can they help firefighters?

Supercharged vegetables are whole, living foods, unprocessed and filled with essential nutrients for every single cell in your body. All 100 trillion cells in your body need these nutrients to live – call them the oxygen for your lungs, the water for your body, or the food to survive. These vegetables pack the life force for every single one of your cells in your body.  


Spinach, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli all belong to the brassica family of foods. We know these vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, water, fibre and plant chemicals called sulforaphane. British scientists have proven the sulforaphane in these vegetables helps to fight cancer; this phytochemical works with prostate cells that don’t have anti-tumour gene and helps fight the cancer in the prostate. We also know that sulforaphane helps to remove toxins from the liver. What an easy way to eat healthy, be healthy and fight cancer. As a firefighter, selecting any combination of these vegetables will put you ahead in the health game.

Spinach, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, endives and arugula are all raw, leafy-green vegetables that contain high volumes of bio-available proteins, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and chlorophyll. All of these fresh, raw greens, when combined, can make a wonderful, mouth-watering salad that packs amazing medicinal properties. Study after study has confirmed that people who eat a diet high in raw, leafy-green vegetables have lower risks of heart disease and cancer.

Turnips, beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes and yams are all root vegetables and are called nature’s carbohydrates. Many of us will reach for pasta, grains and cereals to get that carb fix; why not reach for vegetables grown underground? Mother Nature has packed all these vegetables with fibre, water, minerals and high levels of vitamin C.  The most important part of root vegetables is the starch or natural sugar found in these foods. These carbs don’t behave like white table sugar; they are far from processed, and are considered healthy.

Coloured peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplants are all vegetables from the nightshade family. This family of vegetables has its own unique properties we need to note as they all contain active ingredients called lycopene and beta-carotene. When cooked, lycopene is a powerful anti-oxidant that can help your eyes and goes as far as preventing certain cancers. Beta-carotene, on the other hand, is a powerful fat-soluble vitamin that drives liver function and helps keep skin healthy. When you look at this impressive list of health benefits, you can’t help but want to eat a pepper.

After all the marketing on television, the peer pressures of social gatherings, and what society tells us is the way to eat, most of us no longer recognize the way that our bodies prefer foods. We have already shifted the evolutionary tables and have moved the human species in a direction toward poor health and chronic disease. Firefighters will fall further into this reality if they don’t make the appropriate dietary changes.  

Fire scenes can be highly stressful; firefighters can be exposed to toxins and their bodies can take a real beating. It is time to look at what you are eating; your body is your greatest asset – take good care of it.

*Cover photo by Steven Lilley

Dr. Elias Markou is one very busy naturopathic doctor. He is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Dr. Markou was a firefighter for six years; he is a firefighter health expert and blogger who is regularly featured on television and radio and in print. Contact him at

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