Mean Greens: Five Veggies to Supercharge Your Diet
With the juicing and smoothie craze reaching critical mass, green liquids are everywhere—from kitchens to supermarket shelves to coffee shops and dedicated juice bars. But, while smoothies and juices are easy to digest and allow you to get a lot of superfoods into your body in just one serving, there’s something to be said for eating vegetables, too. For one thing, most juicing reduces fiber, which is one of the nutrients many Americans are lacking and can help you feel full for longer. Secondly, you can spice up just about any meal by adding a variety of veggies.
All vegetables have beneficial phytonutrients that help your body perform at its best on the water or land. Here, we’ve picked five of the best green vegetables, which you can enjoy in just about any way—from raw, to steamed, to roasted. While some people are against slower cooking methods because they argue it destroys certain compounds, roasting or frying with healthy oils like olive, coconut, and canola can in fact be beneficial, as these ‘good’ fats can help your body absorb vitamins and minerals. Also, such oils hold the promise of lowering the risk of heart disease.
Another myth we need to dispel is that frozen vegetables are less nutritious than their fresh counterparts. In fact, flash freezing can preserve nutrients, while they may have diminished in fresh vegetables that have sat in trucks and warehouses and on store shelves for weeks. Now, on with the list!
Popeye may have talked funny, but he was right on when it came to the powers of spinach. It’s high in iron and is also rich in folate, which your body combines with vitamins B12 and C to help break down protein into usable amino acids. Spinach is one of the vegetables that’s better for you cooked than raw, as cooking increases the amount of calcium that’s usable in the digestive process.
OK, we know you’re probably as sick of hearing about kale as we are. It’s in virtually every health magazine, and so many celebrities are pushing kale you’d think the Kale Society of America was sponsoring them. But, there’s a reason it’s the vegetable du jour. In fact, lots of reasons, including sky-high vitamins A, C and K. It’s also a good non-dairy source of calcium, offering 10 percent of the RDA in a one-cup serving. Some people find the harsh taste of kale too much to take by itself, so think about putting lemon juice on it if you’re adding a handful to your lunchtime salad, or baking with sesame seeds and olive oil.
Yep, the Swiss know about mountain climbing, skiing and Army Knives, and they also know about chard, apparently (yes, we know it’s not technically from Switzerland). If you can handle the slightly bitter taste, this is a great green to add into your regular veggie rotation. Chard is not only high in vitamins K, A and C, but will also help you get enough of potent minerals such as phosphorous, manganese and copper, which help regulate all kinds of bodily processes. One of the great things about chard, in terms of value, is that you can eat the stalks/stems as well as the leaves, though of course these require extra cooking time.
This is another green vegetable that’s approaching sainthood among nutritionists. In addition to being high in vitamin C, it also contains cancer-fighting compounds (reducing the risk of colon, pancreatic and breast cancers, to name a few), and is one of the best natural sources of potassium, one of the essential electrolytes we covered in our recent series (others include bananas and kiwis). If you consume a lot of salt elsewhere in a meal—such as with pizza or Chinese food—try adding broccoli to the main course or as a side to help maintain or restore your sodium-potassium balance.
Collard, Mustard, and Turnip Greens
If you’ve been the store recently you’ve probably noticed a numerical score on certain foods. What’s that all about? Well, these numbers represent how high a food rates on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI)—i.e. how many nutrients nature has packed into it. The ANDI isn’t the ‘be all and end all’ when it comes to choosing fruit and vegetables, but it is telling that mustard, turnip, collard greens are top of the list when it comes to green veggies. Why? Well, they’re chock full of all the usual vitamins mentioned in this story, plus folic acid, selenium, and magnesium. In addition, the caretonoids, flavonoids, and indoles help ward off cancer.
Honorable mentions: Beet greens, water cress, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, cabbage, Bok choy (aka Chinese cabbage)
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