by Lauren M. Koch, RDN
Needing more green in your life?? I wish I were talking about the Benjamin Franklin variety of green (if any of my wise readers care to share how to get more of THAT kind of green, we’re all ears).
No, I’m talking about green plants! Even if you’d prefer green paper, you probably need the plants more than you realize.
We talked about phytochemicals in last week’s post, and focused on the benefits of consuming red plants. If you follow my social media, you’ve seen me creating all sorts of quick & easy dishes with my red grocery haul.
Now, we’re going to move on to the green plants. I chose this color next, because so many of the green pigmented fruits and vegetables are in season right now. I talked a bit about autumn eats & the benefits of eating seasonally a few weeks back. Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, and green pears are all ripe for the taking right now.
Why Eat Green?
As with all the colors, there are endless chemical compounds found in green plants. The most well-researched are Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), Isothiocyanate, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, and Isoflavones.
EGCG (long formal name listed above) is a potent antioxidant. Research has shown EGCG to effectively treat metabolic syndromes including obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Isothiocyanates are compounds derived from the breakdown of glucosinolates in our GI tract. Research has indicated that high intakes of these substances effectively interfere with cancer-related pathways in the body, likely due to their strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin are carotenoids, also commonly found in red, orange, and yellow plants. The green varieties are effective at protecting eye health & vision by absorbing most of the blue light entering the retina. Blue light reaches deepest into the eye, and can cause damage and age-related degeneration over time.
Sources of the GREENS
As with the red plants, the easiest way to find these powerful compounds is to use your eyes! But here are some specific places to look for the nutrients listed above.
The number one place to find EGCG is green tea, where it is the primary catechin. It is the primary reason health experts are such a fan of consuming this powerful substance! Particularly potent levels can be found in a powdered green tea known as matcha.
Isothiocyanates are found in sulphur-containing cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, and brussels sprouts. Lutein and Zeaxanthin can be found in green plants including summer squash (zucchini), avocado, and most leafy greens. Isoflavones are most commonly found in soybeans (and associated soy products), but also to a lesser extent in chickpeas and other legumes.
Meal ideas to get your GREENS
I had such a difficult time deciding what to make in order to demonstrate the full value of green vegetables! There are just too many fantastic possibilities.
For breakfast, I made this deliriously beautiful chia pudding using matcha powder and kiwifruit. You may be thinking…isn’t kiwi a summer fruit? Nope! Here in the US, it is harvested starting in late September through November. During the summer, you’re likely buying fruit grown all the way in New Zealand! The high antioxidant content of this breakfast, namely from Vitamin C and beta carotene, make it a perfect remedy for the start of cold & flu season. Isn’t Mother Nature smart?
Other ways to get your greens in a breakfast is to scramble up some spinach & zucchini in your eggs, or blend tender baby kale into your morning smoothie.
For lunch, I wanted to show you how easy it is to add vegetables to common dishes like sandwiches. In this vegan-friendly hummus sandwich, I added spinach, sprouts, avocado, and zucchini for my greens (plus the isoflavone content of the hummus!), and a bit of tomato and carrot to round it out.
Other places to conveniently add green vegetables are salads, wraps, quesadillas, pizzas, and pasta dishes. Note to parents…have you ever felt the guilt of acquiescing to your child’s request for macaroni & cheese? I know I have. I’ve gotten into the habit of substituting half the macaroni with vegetables, and BOOM, much more nutritious meal. Try vegetables like peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and tender winter squash all blend well. When puréed, choices like carrots, cauliflower, and squash blend SO well that your kids probably won’t even know they are there (score!).
For a snack, I muched on steamed edamame and sipped on some refreshing cucumber mint water. Edamame are not only a good source of isoflavones, but also a good high fiber, high protein snack to get you through the afternoon. And do we even need to discuss the importance of hydration?? Check out my latest mini-nutrition class on skin health, for one reason why (pinned to the top of my Facebook page!).
For dinner, I whipped up a real treat. A sweet pea & asparagus risotto, with shiitake mushrooms. I used this recipe for a mushroom risotto with peas, with a few alterations. I used fresh peas in place of frozen, and puréed about 1/2 cup of them with broth to stir in at the end. Gives the whole dish a lovely green glow. I also added asparagus to up the green factor, and because asparagus is AWESOME in risotto (have you ever tried it?). The key is to add the veggies in the last 5 minutes of cooking time, so that they don’t get too soggy. Because, well, that’s just not appealing. Last, I added a dollop of one of my favorite convenience items, a zucchini basil purée from Wegman’s. These awesome purées are fantastic for busy folks (or, well, anyone really) who wants to quickly add vegetables to their foods. They can honestly be added just about anything, salads, sauces, soups, sandwhiches, you name it. If you prefer to prepare vegetables purées yourself, try freezing them in ice cube containers in your freezer. Perfect portion size for a single meal, and always available!
Just to reiterate my notes from last time, the importance of consuming your nutrition from whole foods can not be understated. Supplements have their uses, absolutely. But, the thousands of bioactive compounds in plants work best when intact. Protected within the intricate cellular structure of their plant carriers. Fortunately, with a little conscious effort, vegetables can be integrated into most any dish that you make. Give it a try with some green plants today!