March 17, 2015—A healthy diet features foods of all colors. With St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the coming of spring, it’s a great time to focus on green.
These verdant veggies come in many shapes and sizes and pack a serious nutritional punch. Plus, they’re versatile and can jazz up any meal.
Greens and the nutrients they provide
Greens usually bring to mind spinach and kale. However, this color of vegetables is diverse.
Many super foods are generally fat-free or very low in fat. They’re good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but also manage to be low in cholesterol and sodium. Take a closer look, and see some of the nutritional needs, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, these common greens can fill:
- Calcium maintains strong bones and teeth. The body also uses this mineral to build muscle and improve nerve function. Long-term calcium deficiency can cause low bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis and broken bones.
- Fiber adds bulk to your diet. It makes you feel full faster, so it helps control appetite. Fiber also helps digestion and prevents constipation. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Folate—called folic acid when used in supplements—helps the body make DNA and other genetic material. It’s especially important for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Low folic acid can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and may also contribute to neural tube defects in infants, such as spina bifida.
- Iron is needed for growth and development. The body uses this mineral to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles. Iron also helps the body make some hormones and connective tissue.
- Magnesium helps regulate muscle function and blood pressure. It also contributes to the development of bone and DNA.
- Potassium builds proteins and muscle and helps maintain normal body growth. Low potassium levels can cause muscle weakness, abnormal heart rhythm and slightly elevated blood pressure.
- Vitamin A is important for vision, the immune system and healthy reproduction. It also helps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs work properly.
- Vitamin C helps protect cells from free radicals. The body also uses the vitamin to make collagen, which helps wounds heal. Vitamin C also improves the absorption of iron and supports the immune system.
The take-home message
The easiest way to tell you’re getting enough greens is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables every meal, every day. Here are few suggestions from the Produce for Better Health Foundation to help you mix up the way you serve your greens:
- Boil kale, and add chopped currants, salt and pepper.
- Steam spinach with a bit of lemon juice.
- Stir-fry broccoli with olive oil and chopped garlic.
- Roast Brussels sprouts lightly drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
- Stew cabbage with tomatoes and garlic, then serve over rice.
- Add spinach, broccoli or zucchini between the layers of lasagna.
- Mix canned spinach or frozen broccoli into a pasta dish.