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Greens – The Pot of Gold at the End of the Healthy Eating Rainbow

on March 11, 2013

In honor of the nearing St. Patrick’s Day (my favorite holiday next to Halloween, by the way), I thought I would be very cliché and do an article on GREENS and why they are my favorite food (and I don’t mean artificially colored foods that are green…aghast!).  Something about the color green itself is so lively, as if anything in nature that is green screams life and vitality.  Nobody ever looks at a sprawling green lawn or lush tropical gardens and thinks, “Wow, that looks like garbage.”  While many of us will be sporting shades of emerald in a few days to partake in St. Patrick’s Day festivities, here are some reasons why you should be rocking as many greens into your family’s diet on a daily basis.  (And if your kids complain, tell them that if they don’t eat their greens, the leprechauns will come after them.  Just kidding.  That would make for some horrible bed time routines explaining away the fears of mystical creatures lurking around…..)

This awesome compound called CHLOROPHYLL is what makes these fabulous green fruits and veggies the color that they are.  If chlorophyll could be transformed into a person to represent its value, it would probably be Warren Buffet – that’s how rich in phytonutrients (tiny little compounds that boost immunity, fight disease and free radical damage, and build and repair cells) it is.  In fact, (flash back to 1st grade science lesson…awesome!) chlorophyll is the food that sustains life for plants and algae through transferring the sun’s energy into a chemical powerhouse.  Ingesting chlorophyll that has been undamaged by heat or chemicals can do wonders for the body, and the longer your body gets this wonder food, the better chance it has as becoming strong and resilient (which is why you need to get the kids hooked on as many greens while you can!).  Drop some of this knowledge on everyone as you hand them a tasty green smoothie:

  • Chlorophyll in green plants acts as a blood detoxifier, binding to toxins and carrying them out of the bloodstream.
  • Green plant foods balance the body’s pH level, making it more alkaline (which is desirable).  Many foods are acidic in nature and can lead to health issues, so balancing your body with neutralizing foods like greens keeps your body’s pH at a healthier level (too much acidity in the body can lead to disease and degradation of cells).
  • Some dark greens such as kale and spinach include omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are important to many of the body’s functions, especially for brain function.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables are, calorie for calorie, probably the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins, including vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins.  This is even more important as many foods in the Standard American Diet (processed and refined foods like white bread, sugar, and packaged foods deplete the body of minerals and vitamins).
  • One of the greatest vitamins that greens contain is Vitamin K.  A cup of most cooked greens provides at least nine times the minimum recommended intake of Vitamin K, and even a couple of cups of dark salad greens usually provide the minimum all on their own.  Recent research has provided evidence that this vitamin may be even more important than we once thought (the current minimum may not be optimal), and many people do not get enough of it (Here’s a little ditty on Vitamin K in case you were wondering):
    • Vitamin K: regulates       blood clotting, helps protect bones from osteoporosis, may help prevent       and possibly even reduce atherosclerosis by reducing calcium in arterial       plaques, may be a key regulator of inflammation, and may help protect us       from inflammatory diseases including arthritis, and may help prevent       diabetes.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, so make sure to eat your greens with some healthy fats like avocado or oils.

  • Greens contain a variety and great amount of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect your cells from damage and your eyes from age-related problems.
  • Greens are powerful antioxidants, and they support the immune system (always a bonus for mucous/puke season!).
  • Are you tired of your kids telling you they are hungry the nanosecond after they eat something you prepare?  Well, another perk to greens is that they have very little carbohydrate in them, and the carbs that are there are packed in layers of fiber, which make them very slow to digest. That is why, in general, greens have very little impact on blood glucose.

So now that I’ve bombarded you with many reasons why you should be incorporating greens into your diet, here is a great link that showcases the particular greens that you can look for in the grocery store, farmers’ market, etc.  Some people had no idea that some of the vegetables listed were even edible (dandelion greens!??!  I thought those were weeds that my elderly neighbor used to attack with his garden spade):

http://www.joybauer.com/food-articles/leafy-green-vegetables.aspx

And now, the best part…. You’re all probably wondering, “Now how do you expect us to get our kids, families, etc. to actually EAT these greens???”  Drumroll, please.  Here’s another decent link that breaks down the three basic ways to prepare greens (raw, light cooking, and cooking):

http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/cooking/a/greensrecipes.htm

Here are some other suggestions:

  • While costly (and a bit adventurous for bland tastes), wheatgrass is actually an excellent source of greens.  Have you ever heard of taking wheatgrass shots? Why a shot? Well, concentrated grass juice is pretty potent, and a “shot” is usually about as much as most people can handle to get down.  So, you can do shots of just green juice like wheatgrass or dandelion greens, or you can use juice recipes and mix greens with fruits like apples. Adding apples is a great way to make the juice more palatable.  (I swear, some people are able to get their kids to try this….and actually make it fun by turning it into a game to see who can finish the shot first).
  • Even for those who like to eat their veggies raw, there are ways of making green foods warm for those cold winter months. Having a powerful blender like a Vita Mix is a great way to blend foods and warm them without cooking them on the stove. The longer you blend your ingredients the warmer they will become. This is a good way to make soups without getting them too hot and destroying the important nutrients and enzymes in the food.
  • Another way to warm foods without cooking them, if you want to keep the integrity of the plant to protect the nutrients and enzymes, is to use a food dehydrator. In the raw food world, keeping food under 115 degrees when preparing it is the basic standard used to keep food from being denatured.
  • Another way to get greens into your diet is through adding them to smoothies. This way is actually touted as being healthier, because you are getting the fiber as well, which has important nutrients in itself. Plus, fiber is the broom that cleans out your digestive system.  Here is my no-fail, go-to smoothie recipe I have been using for years to get greens into my diet (and I can honestly say my 1 year old drinks these like they were made out of magic or something):
    • In a blender combine 1 cup filtered or distilled water.  Another alternative is aloe juice, which is very healing and gentle on the digestive system or coconut water, which is high in potassium and electrolytes.
    • 1/2 cup organic frozen berries of your choice
    • ½ or 1 whole banana
    • 1 handful of organic raw/uncooked greens washed.  I prefer to use organic kale and/or organic spinach.
    • You can add a scoop of protein or hemp powder if you choose
    • I add a dash of organic stevia (preferably liquid) to balance out some of the taste
    • On some days, I change out the fruits and use an orange and less berries; some days I use an apple instead of a banana, etc.  Pretty much, you make up your combo.  Just don’t add junk to your smoothie.
    • Blend on high for a good minute to make sure all of the greens are pulverized.

While your family may not be a fan of all of these greens at first, it’s important to give them a try and explain WHY greens are so important.  For some, it may seem like you’ll need the magic of a leprechaun to get your kids to try, but you’ll be surprised to see how much of a hit new recipes (especially the smoothies) can be.  Here’s to your health and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Your health is definitely something not to leave to the luck of the Irish. 😉

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