Seeing Shamrocks? Try Green Super Foods!

Fresh greens and carrots

It’s March! That means it’s one month closer to spring (it can only get warmer at this point, right?) and St. Patrick’s Day is a week from today. This means there’s lots of “green” everywhere you go. However March isn’t the only month we should be seeing green.

Eating foods in a variety of colors should be part of your diet every day of the year. So in the spirit of St. Patty’s Day, I thought I’d share some amazing and healthy green foods.

Eating green isn’t that hard when you think about it. I love bitter foods so I’ll eat almost any vegetable. My 4-year-old daughter loves anything green, but my 7-year-old son won’t even touch his plate if there is anything a shade of that color within a 5-mile radius. But as a typical consumer, one walk down your local grocer’s produce aisle will lead you to many green fruits and veggies and your options are endless. My family’s personal favorite “green” food is avocado!

Avocados

  • What they are: Avocados are actually a fruit. They’re a large berry with a big single seed in the center. They grow on trees and 95 percent of the avocados found in the United States are the “Hass” variety and grown in California.
  • Health benefits: Avocados are high in a variety of healthy fats. They contain around 20 nutrients in total, as well as vitamins B, C, E and K, and phytonutrients (read a more in-depth nutrient analysis here.
    • The “official” serving size of an avocado is only 30 g, which equates to 1/5 of the fruit, but most of us tend to consume about ½ (68 g), which is approximately 114 calories according to a NHANES analysis.
    • Avocado’s dense healthy fat content may be responsible for healthy blood lipid profiles, and aid in vitamin absorption. That study concludes with: “Avocado consumption is associated with improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake, and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.”
    • Another paper published in 2013 by Dreher cites studies that have shown some benefits of eating avocados as well. One study by Grant (1960) demonstrated that a diet ranging from ½ to 1 ½ avocados per day helped men lower their total cholesterol levels. Other studies that have shown how avocados may help in weight management and healthy aging were also cited. Time magazine published an excellent article that goes into more details on the powers of avocados.
  • What to look for: When shopping for avocados you want to look for a couple things. If you want to buy them unripe, look for ones that are still green, firm, and have the stem still attached. If you want to eat them relatively soon, look for ones that are soft and dark brown. The best method for ripening your avocado is to place it in a brown paper bag along with a banana peel and leave it on the counter for a few days. If you have a ripe avocado that won’t be consumed quickly, you can place it in the refrigerator.

Kale

  • What it is: A member of the brassica family like broccoli and brussels sprouts. It has long stem with crinkly, green leaves. For the longest time I thought that kale’s only purpose was to garnish salad bars, but now I grow it in my garden and find many ways to enjoy eating it!
  • Health benefits: All deep green colored leafy greens (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, spinach, chard, etc.) contain about the same variety of nutrients. These can include carotenoids; vitamins A, C and D; folate; minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron; as well as lots of dietary fiber. All that means that it’s good for the eyes, bones, blood vessels and brain.
    • One of the most regarded super foods is kale. It’s rich in the vitamins mentioned above, as well as vitamins C and K. Kale’s calcium is more easily absorbed by the body than spinach, and has 1000 percent more vitamin C. It also contains more than 40 flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, containing many anti-inflammatory properties. However because of kale’s vitamin K content, people on blood thinners need to be cautious when eating a diet rich in these greens.
    • It seems like you can find numerous health studies toting the benefits of eating kale. Some of those perceived benefits include lowering your risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The fiber helps promote a healthy GI tract, and helps regulate blood glucose levels, which can be helpful in those suffering from Type I or Type II diabetes. You can read an article on those mentioned health claims and more here.
  • What to look for: Choose bundles with dark leaves; avoid those with yellow or brown spots. You can store kale in the refrigerator in a zip-close or other plastic bag. I like to wrap a wet paper towel around the base of the stem to keep the leaves crisp. Keep refrigerated for up to five days.

Green Tea and Matcha

  • What it is: I’m sure most of us are familiar with green tea, but some people are just now discovering “matcha.” Remember that scene in “The Karate Kid II” when Daniel-san is taking part in a tea ceremony with that lovely Japanese girl? That wasmatcha! It’s essentially green tea ground into a fine powder.
    • Green tea leaves are known scientifically as Camellia sinensis and originate from China although today it’s grown all over the world, including the U.S. The methods for processing the raw leaves vary from location to location, but most are done using the methods used in China or Japan. Matcha, however, is only grown in Japan.
    • The key difference between the green tea used to make matcha and “regular” green tea (like you find loose leaf or in packets) is that the leaves of the plant are covered for a few weeks before harvest. The tea is also prepared differently. While you usually steep or use a press for green tea, matcha requires different instruments such as a whisk and a bowl. The end product is a rich, creamier drink—similar in the way that espresso is to coffee.
  • Health benefits: There seem to be more benefits to matcha over traditional green tea because you are actually consuming the leaves (since they’re ground up), unlike drinking tea made from loose leaves. Nutrient-wise, matcha provides a boost of antioxidants, vitamin C, protein, and minerals such as calcium and potassium. (An excellent table comparing the nutrient values of matcha, green tea, and coffee can be found here.)
    • A class of antioxidants called “catechins” is thought to yield many benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer, improving brain function, lowering your risk of heart disease, increasing fat oxidation, and helping to increase bone density in elderly women.
    • So you can see there are many possible benefits. Personally I enjoy the calming effects it has on the body. It seems to give me an overall sense of well being.
  • Where to buy: If you do an online search, you’ll certainly come across a number of sites that give you fancy names and varieties, but really what it comes down to is finding a brand you enjoy.
    • For green tea (in tea bags) I recommend buying products from Japan, Korea or China, which you can easily do at any Asian grocery store. I like this tea from Amazon, or I pick it up from my favorite Korean store (Han Mi Mart in Troy).
    • As for matcha, you can find it most places online and in some local stores like Teavana. I suggest finding a local coffee shop that offers this type of tea and trying it there, then ask where they get their matcha from. That way you know it’s a brand you’ll like.

A few other green super foods:

  • Kiwi: The little, round, fuzzy balls of fruit are considered to be the most nutrient-dense of the 27 most commonly consumed fruits. They’re full of antioxidants and vitamin C, as well as fat-free, high in fiber, have a low glycemic index, and contain more potassium than a banana.
  • Edamame: Probably the only time I ever eat edamame is when I’m having sushi, but these delicious soybeans are a good source of plant protein; antioxidants; omega fatty acids;  nutrients such as vitamin K, copper, manganese and potassium; and are high in fiber. New research suggests edamame may protect against certain types hormone-dependent cancers such as prostate and breast cancer, but shouldn’t be consumed as much if someone is already diagnosed with one of these cancers.
  • Pistachios: These nuts are a great source of healthy fats that help keep levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) low. They contain antioxidants such as vitamin E to protect cells from oxidation and maintain the integrity of cell membranes. Pistachios are also high in B vitamins and many minerals such as iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium to name a few.
  • Beans: They are full of fiber, high in protein, and are known to help lower cholesterol and decrease your risk of developing diabetes, cancers of the colon, heart disease, and so forth. Not only do they contain fiber, but also antioxidants, vitamins A and B, carotenoids, and minerals such as iron and calcium.

Summary

Green fruits and vegetables all seem to have the same healthy benefits:

  • They are rich in most vitamins.
  • They contain antioxidants, carotenoids, and many minerals.
  • They’re good for the heart (and as one of my professors says, “What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain”).
  • They may help prevent certain types of cancer, aid in vision, boost your immune system, and provide your GI tract with a good source of fiber.

There are numerous health claims for these “super foods”, but one thing I want to caution is that many claims have anecdotal evidence, so it’s important to consult with your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions. As mentioned before, some of these foods may have a synergistic effect with certain drugs and can be very dangerous. With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to incorporate more of these foods in your diet as long as you’re eating a variety and in moderation. I do have some bad news though…

Green beer is not considered a super food.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Sources:

  • Clausener, Andrea. “From Avocados to Yogurt: 15 Super Foods for Super Health.” International Journal of Humanities and Peace 21.1 (2005): 85. ProQuest. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.
  • Dreher, Mark L., and Adrienne J. Davenport. “Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53.7 (2013): 738–750. PMC. Web. 4 Mar. 2015.

2 Responses to “Seeing Shamrocks? Try Green Super Foods!”


  1. 1 Anonymous March 10, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Such a great article! It is surpising how many things that I did not know about these particular super foods.I am up for the challenge to add more greens into my diet. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. 2 stephanie-ambient March 10, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Reblogged this on Ambient body & mind and commented:
    Here you go some ‘whys’ as to why eating greens is so important for us


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