From avocados to Brussels sprouts to green tea, a surprising number of green foods can help fight disease and protect your health. Why don’t you give green eats a try?
Everyone knows veggies are a must in any healthy diet — the phrase “eat your greens” has been drilled into us since childhood. But fewer than 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies, a 2009 study found, and fewer still choose the dark green vegetables that boast a myriad of disease-fighting health perks.
Even if you’re not a fan of dark green produce (we recommend you give it a second chance), you can still reap tons of health benefits from a variety of green veggies, fruits, and other foods you should be eating — but probably aren’t. Read on and see why the rest of your pantry will go green with envy.
Avocados: Protect Your Eyes
Avocados do contain a lot of fat (about 23 grams in a medium-sized fruit), but it’s the cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated kind that nutrition experts love. Avocados also contain lutein, an antioxidant that protects eye health, and they’re rich in vitamin E. Research shows that people who get the most vitamin E from their diet (not supplements) have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Avocados are a wonderfully versatile addition to salads, tacos, soups, and sandwiches.
Nopales: Lower Your Blood Sugar
Nopales are another popular south-of-the border green. Also known as nopalitos or prickly pear, they’re a type of cactus leaf packed with fiber, as well as vitamin C and other disease-fighting antioxidants. Nopales are an especially healthy option for people with diabetes; research shows the cactus leaves can lower blood sugar levels.
Kale: Fight Cancer
Kale belongs to the powerhouse family of greens known as cruciferous veggies (a fancy word for the cabbage family). All cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting plant compounds and vitamin C. Kale in particular also has bone-boosting vitamin K, vision- and immune-boosting vitamin A, and even anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Brussels Sprouts: Reduce Blood Pressure
Another potent cruciferous veggie, Brussels sprouts have vitamins A and C as well as birth-defect fighting folate and blood pressure-balancing potassium. Not into Brussels sprouts or kale? Consider such other cruciferous veggies as broccoli, arugula, and bok choy. To make Brussels sprouts more tempting, try roasting them.
Kiwi: Fill Up on Fiber
Research shows kiwifruit is surprisingly nutrient-dense. According to the California Kiwifruit Commission, this fuzzy green fruit provides 230 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C (almost twice that of an orange), more potassium than a banana, and 10 percent of the recommended daily allowances of vitamin E and folate. It’s also a good source of filling fiber. Slice some kiwi into your cereal, yogurt, or salad for a refreshing health boost.
Edamame: Cut Your Cholesterol
These soybeans are a longtime Japanese diet staple. A complete plant-based protein, edamame is a good protein source for vegetarian and vegan diets. While some experts caution that you should avoid soy supplements and processed soy foods because soy’s estrogen-like effects may contribute to health problems, whole soy foods like edamame are a smart and healthy choice. When eaten in place of fatty meat, soy may lower cholesterol by reducing saturated fat intake.
Green Tea: Try a Health Super Hero
Reams of studies have deemed green tea — with its potent antioxidants — a health panacea; it’s been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and more, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Steep a cup in the morning to start your day on a super-healthy note.
Basil: Calm Inflammation
Herbs — loaded with vitamins and antioxidants — are underrated health foods. Basil in particular is a good source of vitamin K and iron; fresh basil leaves also boast anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Snip some leaves into salads, pasta, or any Italian dish.
Seaweed: Get Your Minerals Here
Seaweed — another Japanese cuisine mainstay — is gaining popularity in the West, in part because it’s chock-full of minerals. Seaweed is a solid source of iodine (essential for thyroid health), packs a healthy dose of iron, and has unique anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Select a seaweed salad appetizer or sushi rolls made with nori next time you order Japanese food.
Green Beans: Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Also called string beans, green beans are a common side dish in Southern cooking. They’re loaded with fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar, making them an excellent choice for people with diabetes.
Green Pepper: Load Up on Antioxidants
Colorful red, yellow, and orange peppers may get more health accolades for their cancer-fighting lycopene, but green peppers can certainly hold their own. They’re a good source of many important nutrients, including vitamin C, beta carotene (a type of vitamin A), folate, and vitamin K. Dip them in hummus for a healthy snack, add them to salads for extra crunch, or toss into stir-fries or Mexican dishes. Try them in this Beef Fajitas recipe.
Asparagus: Eat Right for Your Gut
This springtime vegetable is rich in vitamins K, C, A, and folate; it also has a number of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Asparagus is famous for a healthy dose of inulin — a “prebiotic” that promotes digestive health — and is high in fiber (about 3 grams per cup) and protein (4 to 5 grams per cup). Fun fact: Asparagus’s amino acid called asparagine, which helps cleanse the body of waste, is responsible for the odd-smelling urine some people experience after eating it.