43 of the Best Green Foods You Should Have in Your Diet
Each year as St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, we think of green - green cookies, cupcakes, and even green beer. But don’t forget nature's own green foods that you should have in your diet and can add a boost to your health all year long.
Health experts recommend eating at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but did you also know that you should strive to eat a variety of colors of foods as well? What better time to try a new green food than St. Patrick’s Day.
Green fruits and vegetables contain chlorophyll (the primary pigment that gives the foods their color), lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium, folate, vitamin C. calcium and beta-carotene. Like most other fruits and vegetables, they are also great sources of fiber. These nutrients can help reduce cancer risk, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, normalize digestion time, support eye health, fight harmful free-radicals and boost the immune system.
Here is a list of green foods to add to your daily diet today (listed in alphabetical order):
Did you know that in the 16th century it was considered scandalous for women to eat artichoke? At the time, the vegetable was considered an aphrodisiac that was reserved for men only. Thankfully, today, artichokes are not off-limits to anyone because they are an excellent source of fiber – providing 6 grams – and is low in calories, only 60 per serving. Artichokes contain nutrients and phytochemicals that are thought to contribute to the prevention of certain types of heart disease, cancer, and birth defects.
Arugula is a peppery green popular in Mediterranean dishes. It is only 20 calories per serving, low fat, cholesterol free, very low in sodium and a good source of folate and calcium. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Folklore says this vegetable can cure everything from a toothache to a hangover! Nutritionally, asparagus is rich in vitamin C, folate and vitamin A. It also contains 69.6% of the daily value for vitamin K, a nutrient that helps the blood clot to heal wounds. Asparagus contains many anti-inflammatory nutrients as well, including sarsasapogenin which may have a role in preventing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.
The avocado gets a bad rap among vegetables because of its high fat content, however the fat contained is unusual – and healthy – in three ways. First, avocado contains phytosterols that are key supporters of the inflammatory system that keep inflammation under control. Second, avocado contains polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFA’s) which also have anti-inflammatory properties. And third, avocados are rich in oleic acid which helps our digestive tract process certain beneficial nutrients.
Basil is a seasoning herb used in small quantities, but still packs a powerful punch. It is rich in vitamin K (providing 60% of the recommended daily value), iron, calcium, vitamin A and other essential vitamins and minerals. The herb also contains anti-bacterial properties, protecting against unwanted bacterial growth. A certain form of basil, called holy basil, may even help to decrease the stress hormone cortisol.
Also found in yellow, orange, and red, bell peppers are an excellent source of carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin) and vitamin C. They are also good sources of folate and other B vitamins and fiber.
Bok Choy, or leafy Chinese cabbage, is very low in calories (just 13 per serving) but a rich source of many vital phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. As a member of the Brassica (cruciferous) vegetable family, it contains compounds thought to be protective against many types of cancer, including breast, colon and prostate. Bok Choy also contains B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin A and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium.
Part Broccoli, Part Cauliflower, this lime-green colored vegetable is delicious raw or can be substituted for broccoli or cauliflower in any recipe. For a great recipe, try this one for Lemon Dijon Broccoflower found on the Farmers’ Almanac website.
Broccoli is good for your heart. The fiber-related compounds found in the vegetable can help lower cholesterol, especially when eaten cooked. Broccoli compounds are also supportive of the body’s natural detoxification system, helping to eliminate toxins and other unwanted compounds. Another recent study found that broccoli is particularly helpful in those with vitamin D deficiency. The supply of vitamin K and vitamin A helps to keep vitamin D metabolism in balance.
Studies also suggest that the unique combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pro-detoxification components in broccoli make it extremely important for cancer prevention.
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini, broccoletti)
This common vegetable in southern Europe and Chinese cuisine is also a member of the Brassiceae family with many of the same nutrients, such as those that fight cancer. It is often sautéed with garlic over low heat and used as a side dish for pork or sausages. Choose plants that have bright-green leaves that are crisp, upright and not wilted.
Brussels sprouts may have unique health benefits in the area of DNA protection. One recent study found that daily consumption of the vegetable can help provide stability inside our white blood cells that are essential to the functioning of our immune system. It is very important not to overcook Brussels sprouts – not only will they lose some of their nutritional value, but they will also begin to emit the unpleasant sulfur smell associated with overcooked cruciferous vegetables.
In addition to being rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, scientists have now discovered that celery has other beneficial antioxidant nutrients that protect us against unwanted damage to our cells, blood vessels and organ systems. Celery is also rich in vitamin K and a good source of folate, vitamin A, potassium, and fiber.
Cilantro has many potential health benefits, including anti-inflammatory capacities that may help conditions such as arthritis, cholesterol-lowering properties, and may be protective against bacterial infection. Cilantro is a good source of fiber, iron, and magnesium. It is also rich in vitamin K, which helps the blood clot.
These greens may have the greatest cholesterol-lowering ability of all the commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. They also contain cancer-preventive properties which support our detox and anti-inflammatory systems. Like all dark, leafy greens, they are rich in vitamins A, K, and E, folate, manganese and fiber. For a heart-healthy collard green recipe, visit Emaxhealth’s article “Traditional Southern New Year’s Dinner, Vegetarian Style.”
Cucumbers are the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world, behind tomatoes, cabbage and onions. These belong to the same botanical family as melons and squashes an d have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain polyphenols known as lignans which play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers such as breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.
Edamame is just a fancy name for boiled green soybeans and they are a delicious, healthy snack. In each half-cup serving, you will get only 120 calories but be supplied with 9 grams of fiber, 11 grams of protein, and 10% of the daily value for vitamin C and iron. The beans are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Endive is a member of the chicory family which includes other lettuces such as radicchio, escarole, frisee and curly endive. It has a crisp texture, a sweet nutty flavor and is great served raw or cooked. For a wide range of recipes using endive, visit Discover Endive! for appetizer, salad, soup and side dish ideas.
Escarole is actually a variety of endive, but whose leaves are broader, paler and less bitter. The lettuce is high in folic acid, fiber, and vitamins A and K. Try tossing a few escarole leaves into a mild salad, quickly wilt the leaves and then toss with lemon juice, or stir chopped escarole into a soup.
Fennel is a crunchy, slightly sweet vegetable most associated with Mediterranean cuisine. It is a good source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, manganese, and folate. It also contains phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper. Next time you want to spice up a sandwich, add a slice of fennel instead of onion along with the traditional toppings of lettuce and tomato.
Remember that “An Apple a Day Can Keep the Doctor Away.” Apples contain phytonutrients that can help regulate blood sugar. It also contains a good amount of fiber, important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and possible certain types of cancer (remember to eat the whole apple, skin and all!)
In addition to its nutritional properties linked to being green, these beans are also an environmentally “green” food as well. Recent surveys have shown that 60% of all commercially grown green beans are grown right here in the US in Illinois, Michigan, New York Oregon, and Wisconsin. Green beans (or string beans) contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, quercetin, and kaemferol. They are also an important source of silicon, a mineral that is important for bone health and for the healthy formation of connective tissue.
One of the most traditional St. Patrick’s Day foods, cabbage is another vegetable that provides a greater source of nutritive compounds when steamed rather than when eaten raw – in particular, its ability to help lower cholesterol. Cabbage in general is a good source of sinigrin, a nutrient being studied in cancer prevention research – especially for cancers of the bladder, colon, and prostate.
Several grape phytonutrients are linked to longevity. Resveratrol, for example, has been found to affect certain genes related to a long life. Grapes also have a low GI value, making them a good fruit choice for diabetic patients. Another important grape nutrient is manganese, a mineral that is essential for bone health.
The green onion, or scallion, is a young shoot of a bulb onion, but milder tasting than large bulb onions. They are available year-round and can be used in a wide variety of ways.
Pears actually can be a variety of colors, but probably the most recognizable are the green/yellow Bartlett pears or Green Anjou pears. Pars are rich in many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients including flavanols, flavonols, hydroxycinnamic acids, hydroxyquinones, and carotenoids. Being rich in fiber, they are also good for the prevention or management of heart disease and diabetes.
Peas have been recently been noted to contain a phytonutrient known as coumestrol which may help protect against stomach cancer. Another class of nutrients known as saponins are almost exclusively found in peas and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
A serving of honeydew melon has only 50 calories, no fat, very little sodium, and 1 gram of dietary fiber. They are high in vitamin C. Choose a well-shaped melon that is nearly spherical. It should have a waxy, not fuzzy, surface and feel heavy for its size.
A jalapeno chili pepper is green before it is fully ripe (it turns red when it is ripe). The best known compound within a jalapeno is capsaicin which is thought to increase the production of heat by the body for a short time, burning more calories and potentially aiding in weight loss.
Kale’s risk lowering benefits have recently been extended to at least five different types of cancer: bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. It might also be a factor in skin cancer protection. Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, K, and C and a great source of manganese, fiber, copper, tryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron.
Did you know that one kiwifruit has more vitamin C than an equivalent amount of orange? It also contains fiber and potassium at only 45 calories per serving. Kiwi has phytonutrients that may protect the DNA from oxygen-related damage and may be helpful in reducing the severity of conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.
Including at least one serving of an allium vegetable (one that contains sulfur), such as leeks, is recommended for the prevention of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergic airway inflammation.
There are four main types of lettuce: Romaine, Crisphead (in which iceberg lettuce is a variety), Buttehead (Boston and Bibb lettuces), and Leaf lettuce. All lettuces are nutritionally important, but in general, the darker the color, the greater the concentration of nutrients. Romaine lettuce for example is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and vitamin C. Mache, also called lamb’s lettuce, has been cultivated in France since the 17th century but is gaining interest here in the US. This baby lettuce has a mild or sweet flavor says Julia Moskin, a food writer for the New York Times.
Sometimes called butter beans, these beans are very rich in molybdenum, an integral component of the enzyme sulfite oxidase which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites. Lima beans are also a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other legumes.
Limes are at their peak from May to October. They are a good source of vitamin C. Limes also contain a flavonoid known as flavonol glycoside which have been shown to stop cell division in many cancer lines as well as having an antibiotic effect, particularly against cholera. Limes and lemons contain limonin which may help fight cancers of the mouth.
Okra is usually available fresh year-round in the South and from May to October in many other areas. You can find it frozen, pickled, canned, and even breaded for deep frying. Okra is often used in soups, stews and gumbos but can also be served raw, marinated in salads or cooked as a part of a vegetable medley.
Parsley, once thought of as an inedible garnish, is actually a highly nutritious herb. It contains over 150% of the daily value for vitamin K, almost 17% of the daily value of vitamin C and nearly 13% of the daily value for vitamin A – all in just 2 tablespoons. Myristicin, a volatile oil in parsley, has been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, particularly those of the lung.
A poblano pepper is a mild chili pepper that when dried can be found under the name chile ancho. After being roasted and peeled, they can be preserved by either canning or freezing. It is a popular component in Mexican dishes such as chile relleno.
A new category of health-supportive nutrients found in spinach is called glycoglycerolipids which are fat-related molecules which may help protect the lining of the digestive tract from damage. Spinach is so full of vitamins and minerals that it ranks on top of the list of the most healthful foods for nutrient richness. It contains vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, tryptophan, vitamin E, fiber, copper, phosphorus, choline, omega 3 fats, and selenium.
Sugar snap peas
Snap peas have edible pods. They are similar to snow peas, however the snap pea pod is round as opposed to flat. These can be served in a variety of ways, including being served in salads, eaten raw as a crudite, or as a side dish after being stir-fried or steamed.
Chard leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants including kaempferol, the cardioprotective flavonoid also found in broccoli and kale. Chard also contains phyotnutrients known as betalains which provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.
A tomatillo is a plant in the nightshade family. The fruit is surrounded by an inedible, paper-like husk but the fruit inside can be green, yellow, red or even purple. FoodieCrush has 10 recipes so you can try this “mexican tomato” today.
Eating watercress daily can significantly reduce DNA damage to blood cells, which is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer. The beneficial changes were greatest among smokers, found the researchers from the University of Ulster.
Zucchini, or summer squash, is at its peak during the summer months but typically available year-round. It is an important source of carotenoids such as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene as well as antioxidants such as vitamin C.
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