Green is good when it comes to your diet, as long as it doesn’t come from processed items made with green food coloring. Why greens? Green vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, collard greens, cabbage, kale and a variety of other veggies colored green by nature are a rich source of natural antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, including natural chemicals that may lower the risk of some forms of cancer. Plus, research has linked diets rich in fruits and vegetables with a lower risk for a variety of health problems including heart disease and all-cause mortality.
Some green vegetables, like spinach and leafy greens, are rich in beta-carotene, an orange-yellow antioxidant that gives sweet potatoes and carrots their bright orange color. You might wonder why they aren’t orange in color. Leafy greens are so abundant in chlorophyll (green in color) that it masks the orange-yellow tones of the beta-carotene.
If you’re like most people, you need to add more green stuff to your diet, but you might be bored with the “same old, same old.” Recently kale has been on a roll with people clamoring to enjoy it in a variety of forms – kale chips, kale salads, and sauteed kale. Now, kale is slowly losing some of its luster as people look for the next “green veggie sensation.” Need some inspiration? Here are some less common ways to add more green to your diet.
Grab a Handful of Micro-Greens
Micro-greens are a relatively recent addition to the green scene. Once relegated to the role of garnish on high-end restaurant plates, micro-greens are coming into their own. No wonder! Research shows they have more vitamins and minerals than their mature counterparts. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed microgreens have between 4 and 40 times the nutrients of mature veggies.
For example, this study found immature red cabbage microgreens have 40 times the vitamin E of mature red cabbage, while cilantro microgreens contained large quantities of lutein and beta-carotene, nutrients that support healthy vision.
Where do microgreens come from? They’re less mature versions of herbs and vegetables, including popular ones like cabbage, chard, kale, radish, arugula and more. When you bite into a salad made of micro-greens, you’re enjoying the mildly flavored leaves and stems of immature plants. In return, you get flavor and tons of nutrition.
Although microgreens cost a little more and are harder to find, you can grow your own in a sunny spot, like a windowsill, in your home and enjoy microgreens anytime.
Fight Cancer with Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli is well-known for the anti-cancer chemicals it contains, including active compounds called glucosinolates that are converted to active chemicals called isothiocyanates by an enzyme called myrosinase. The best example of an isothiocyanate is sulforaphane, a compound with strong anti-cancer properties. Without myrosinase, uber-healthy sulforaphane can’t be formed in large quantities. Cooking mature broccoli destroys most of the myrosinase your body requires to form cancer-fighting glucosinolates. So, you may not be getting the full anti-cancer benefits when you eat cooked broccoli. That’s where broccoli sprouts come in.
Don’t give up cooked broccoli, it’s full of vitamins and fiber, but eat those broccoli sprigs with broccoli sprouts. Three-day-old sprouts from the broccoli plant are rich in myrosinase and because you eat them raw the myrosinase isn’t destroyed. Just what you need to squeeze more health benefits out of the cooked broccoli you currently eat. Add broccoli sprouts to a salad or sprinkle a few on top of cooked broccoli dishes. Cooked broccoli and broccoli sprouts – it’s a healthy marriage of anti-cancer ingredients that work together to keep you healthy.
Interestingly, a recent study discussed on the John Hopkins website found sulforaphane, the chemical produced by the myrosinase in broccoli sprouts, shows promise for treating autism. Kids with autism who got this chemical daily experienced improvements in verbal communication and were more socially interactive.
Green Vegetable Powders
It’s best to get your greens from whole foods sources, but if you need a quick way to add more green veggies to your diet, explore the world of organic, green vegetable powders. Vegetable powders are made by grinding dried vegetables into a fine powder. Organic, powdered spinach, broccoli, kale, and broccoli sprout powder are just a few of the options you can keep on hand.
What can you do with them? Add a spoonful to soups, stews, salad dressings or to a smoothie for added vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Be aware that broccoli powder doesn’t have much of the important enzyme myrosinase that produces the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane, but it’s still a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Turn a Smoothie Green
Add a handful of fresh greens to your next healthy smoothie. You might be thinking – who wants to drink greens in a smoothie? Don’t let the green color fool you! As long as you add a little fresh or frozen fruit to balance out the greens, your smoothie won’t have a vegetable flavor. Use a ratio of 2 parts green, leafy vegetable, like spinach or kale, to 3 parts fruit. Add 2 parts liquid base and blend in a high-speed blender.
What kind of liquid base can you use? Coconut water, almond milk, dairy milk, and coconut milk are good options. For best results, blend the greens and liquid together before adding the fruit and re-blending. Many veggie haters, particularly kids, find getting vegetables in smoothie form enjoyable.
The Bottom Line
However you choose to do it, add more green to your diet. Most people fall well short of getting their 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Hopefully, these simple ways to add green to your diet will give you inspiration!
WebMD. “Tiny Microgreens Packed With Nutrients” August 2012.
Xiao, Z. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Aug. 22, 2012.
John Hopkins Medicine. “Chemical Derived from Broccoli Sprouts Shows Promise in Treating Autism” October 13, 2014.
Nutr Cancer. 2011;63(2):196-201. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2011.523495.
BMJ 2014; 349 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g4490 (Published 29 July 2014)
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