Green food, or whole green food (definitely doesn’t include the processed stuff), is most notably associated with cardiovascular health, which is significant as almost a third of deaths worldwide are due to heart disease. But that is not all it is good for; the gift of nature is so spectacular that nutrients don’t just work for one body system; they elevate overall health. So, when we include green food in our daily diet, everything from our DNA to our organs benefits from the nutrients, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Naturally, not all green foods have the same nutritional profile, but, they do share many key nutrients at various levels. The trick is to ensure diversity in your diet and not eat the same green food each time, like spinach. (Eating green food does not just mean spinach). Your diet can include many variations of green food.
Green Food List
Before we discuss green food’s nutrients, let’s look at what green foods are available. (This is not an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to give you a few options).
Green Leafy Veg (Cruciferous Greens)
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard and so on are the go-to when we think of green food, and for a good reason. Cruciferous vegetables are packed with many healthy nutrients attributed to green foods, all in a neat green leafy package. Kale is considered the pinnacle of leafy greens, but it isn’t everyone’s favourite, and that’s ok. As you can see, there are plenty of other options, which is where including a diverse selection is beneficial.
Nutrients That Make Green Food So Awesome
Vitamin K is vital in protecting your arteries and promoting appropriate blood clotting, which is particularly helpful with conditions such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and overall heart health. It’s also important for bone health and helps prevent osteoporosis.
Vitamin K is easily accessed through diet, especially if you include healthy whole green foods into your diet. Of course, leafy greens are at the top of the list, but so are Brussels sprouts, watercress, cabbage, parsley and apples, to name just a few.
Not to be confused with stuff serial killers use in movies (chloroform). Nope, chlorophyll is the good stuff you find in green leafy veggies, herbs like parsley and Rocket (arugula) and peas. It’s also available in supplement form that can withstand the digestive process better.
Chlorophyll is believed to help with inflammation, improve the quality of your red blood cells and help with getting toxins out. You want to focus on veggies and herbs that are entirely green. If you cut them, they are also green on the inside.
Nitrates and nitrites are naturally found in fresh vegetables and our bodies. Nitrites are often used in the food industry to keep meat pink. There has been a lot of controversy about the nitrites used in the food industry. The concerns are primarily around high heat cooking, turning them into a carcinogenic compound called nitrosamines.
It’s improbable you are cooking your veggies at such high heat, and unlike the nitrates used in the food industry, naturally occurring nitrates are not isolated and concentrated. Nevertheless, there are studies underway on naturally occurring nitrates and their use to reduce the risk of some cancers and their anti-microbial properties.
Folates (A.k.a – Vitamin B9. Supplement Form – Folic Acid)
Again our leafy greens are a go-to, as are beans, sunflower seeds, broccoli and apples, among many other sources. Folates are necessary to help us metabolize proteins properly and form DNA and RNA. It helps break down harmful amino acids (homocysteine) and is a key nutrient during pregnancy.
I did an entire blog on Magnesium – 10 Things You Should Know, but the short version is that magnesium is a crucial nutrient. It’s involved in some way or another in every cell in our body. Mostly known for helping with aching muscles, magnesium is just as essential to our nervous system and heart and bone health.
Look to avocados, pumpkin seeds, and edamame, among many other options.
The number of phytonutrients found in whole fresh foods is in the thousands. So it’s sort of hard not to get them into your body if you eat fruit and veggies every day.
You may have already heard or know of some of them, like folates (see number 4), carotenoids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, and isoflavones.
Now that we know they are easy to get let’s look at what they can do for us.
They are potent antioxidants, which in everyday speech is the stuff that stops the breakdown of cells (the beauty industry touts them as anti-ageing). But, essentially, they gobble up oxidative damage in cells. So phytonutrients aid the body in dealing with everything from inflammation to cardiovascular disease to helping reduce cancer risk.
How To Eat More Greens
Unless you’re a foodie or chef or are very experimental in the kitchen, incorporating more green foods into your diet may seem a bit challenging. We tend to get a tunnel vision with food and only think of it in specific contexts. For example, when I was young, I would never have dreamed of adding spinach to a smoothie; according to my younger me, if it wasn’t creamed spinach, it wasn’t spinach.
Phew, I have officially used the word green 45 times – I think it’s time to wrap up all this talk about green and get to actually eating green… or drinking green.
- ZUCCHINI – we all know we can throw spinach into our smoothies, but have you ever considered adding a little frozen zucchini? It has a fairly neutral taste, so you won’t even notice it. For those of you that are dairy intolerant and looking to make your smoothie more creamy and the fibre adds to keeping you feeling full, frozen zucchini is the way to go.
HOW: Chop it into chunks, lay them out on a tray and freeze. Once frozen, put them into a freezer-safe container and use them when needed.
- COLLARD WRAPS – collard leaves are large and fairly tough, which means they can be used in place of normal wraps. Often referred to as a raw wrap, they add vibrant colour and can hold a fair amount of filling.
HOW: Clean and flatten your collard leaf, cut off the stems and thin out the spine by sliding a sharp knife gently down the length of the spine. Be careful not to cut the leaf. In a large saucepan, boil enough water to submerge the flattened collard leaf. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and one by one, submerge the leaves in the simmering water for 30 – 45 seconds. You just want to soften them enough to be flexible and not break, not wilted. Dip the cooked leaf into an ice water bath for 5 – 10 seconds, pat dry, and add fillings.
- HERBS – omelettes are a great way to add greens; not only does it add to the taste, but it can be a little bit of fun for the kids. You could make a green-themed breakfast and have broccoli as trees on a green (omelette) meadow.
HOW: Add your eggs and green veg or herbs to the blender and blend well until the mixture is the consistency you are happy with and the colour has changed. Then cook as you normally would an omelette.
- FENNEL, APPLE & GINGER JUICE – One of my favourite things to whip up. Fennel and apples are great in many things like salads, roasts and soups, but together in a juice with a bit of ginger, so yum!
HOW: See my recipe here.
- PINTEREST – This may seem like a lazy add-on, but seriously, if you want quick visual inspiration, Pinterest is the place to go. Just type in eat-more-greens, and you will have thousands of options.
I also have a few meal planning booklets available in the Free Stuff section that include recipes with tons of green food. You need to subscribe to get access, and then you are welcome to download as you need.
I now raise my green glass of Fennel, Apple and Ginger juice and wish you a green day!