Photo: Karen Baxter

Photo: Karen Baxter

Paddle Healthy: 5 Super Veggies

We recently explored five unusual fruits with nutritional 'superpowers' that you can benefit from by including in your diet. This week we're turning our attention to five super veggies that you can mix in alongside the usual suspects like broccoli, carrots and kale. One of the great things about vegetables is that they're almost always low in calories, so you get a lot of nutrients per calorie and can eat a lot of them without gaining weight.

It's prime time for farmers markets, so in addition to checking out the picks on this list, we encourage you to try some new local, organic veggies that can improve your health and paddling performance. One tip we recently found interesting was consuming vegetables with a little cheese, butter or other fat-rich source can help your body better absorb the phytochemicals (naturally occurring chemical compounds) in veggies—but, don’t use this as an excuse to drown salads in a gallon of ranch dressing–a few drops will do!

Now, on with the super veggies list:


Women's SUP sensation Olivia Piana regularly eats spirulina, which technically is an alga, but it's going on this list! Many athletes like Piana become deficient in zinc due to the demands of training and racing, which can compromise their immune system. Spirulina is a great zinc source, and also contains the essential fatty acid GLA, which helps fight inflammation and may lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol. One study also found that compounds in spirulina may improve VO2max (your body's capacity for oxygen uptake) by preserving glycogen stores and increasing fat oxidation. For athletes like Piana, this means increased endurance on long downwinders.

Purple Cabbage

Pretty much every kind of cabbage is good for you—yes, even that sauerkraut you put on your hot dogs. But, only purple cabbage contains a high level of anthocyanin polyphenols, which have the triple threat benefits of being anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. What's more, red cabbage is high in vitamin K, which helps decrease bruising, promote injury recovery and regulate blood clotting. The same compounds that give this heavyweight veggie its purple color also have anti-cancer capabilities. If you're not a big fan of red cabbage's slightly spicy flavor, mix it with its milder-tasting green cousin and some shredded carrots to make homemade coleslaw.


Nope, this isn't broccoli's Italian cousin, even though it is in the same family. In fact, broccolini is a mash up of kai-lan (a Chinese vegetable similar to broccoli) and broccoli, with a distinctive, slightly sweeter taste. Much like broccoli, broccolini is a potassium powerhouse, so if you're eating a fair bit of sodium to replenish electrolytes depleted during exercise, consider adding this mean green as a side dish. If you've been out on the water and didn't re-apply sunscreen often enough, the glucoraphanin in broccolini helps repair your skin, and your body turns the same nutrient into sulforaphane, which may lower the risk of gastro-intestinal cancer. If you're vegan and don't get calcium from dairy products, broccolini is a particularly rich natural source, with high levels of vitamin K for added bone-boosting capability. This tasty veggie also provides lutein, which promotes good cardiovascular health, and vitamin A to protect vision and prevent macular degeneration.


A while ago we touted the potential impact of beets on endurance, due the increase in nitric oxide that it stimulates. Well, it turns out that this is only the beginning when it comes to the health and performance benefits of TV character (from The Office) Dwight Schrute's vegetable of choice. Beets also reduce blood pressure, provide disease fighting power from a unique antioxidant named betalains, and support 'phase 2' cell detoxification by binding to any toxins in your body and making them water-soluble so you excrete them. Plus, this brightly colored veggie is high in folate, which is integral in red blood cell production and heart function. "I've been making a real effort to eat more healthy food in the past two years, and beets are now one of my go-to's for smoothies," says 3-time M2O champ Connor Baxter.


Yes, this sounds more like a fashion brand, but it's actually a vegetable that you can use as a salad substitute for or complement to kale, spinach or lettuce. Popular in Mexico and Greece, purslane–also known as pigweed or hogweed–is chock full of melatonin, which may promote improved sleep and restfulness, as well as fighting illness. When it comes to heart-healthy and inflammation fighting omega 3 fatty acids, purslane is the undisputed vegetable champ–a bonus if you're not a fish eater. It's also just as high in vitamin A as many more common leafy vegetables, as well as beta-xanthins that can help reduce tumor growth. Plus, many people find purslane's salty, somewhat sour taste a welcome change to their usual bland veggie selection.
Phil White

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