Green Veggies to the Rescue
Green Veggies to the Rescue
I have a friend who used to call iceberg lettuce a "waste of
chewing time" because it provides very little nutritional value. Of course, if
there is one single thing that virtually every nutritionist -- from the
lowest of the low-carbers to the highest of the high-carbers -- agrees on,
it's that we should all be eating more green, leafy vegetables. So, if you're
going to eat the lettuce, which ones are worth the effort? And why are
they so fantastic for us in the first place?
THE ROOT OF GREENS
To find out, I interviewed Sonja Pettersen, ND, whose use of whole
foods and understanding of their healing properties are a big part of her
naturopathic medical practice.
"To start with, the compound that makes plants green is
chlorophyll," Dr. Pettersen explained. "Chlorophyll is a natural blood purifier.
The by-products of bacterial, fungal, yeast or viral infections
litter the blood vessels with compounds that shouldn't be there.
Our own immune system creates complexes that attack these foreign substances, and
chlorophyll goes a long way toward assisting our bodies in cleaning them out."
She went on to explain that since everything travels through the
blood, blood is ultimately our way of eliminating "sludge." "Chlorophyll
will manage bacterial growth," she told me. "It helps remove unwanted residue
and is a natural anti-inflammatory.
It's renewing to the tissues. And it helps activate enzymes, so your own body systems and actions will reach their potential."
Indeed, super chlorophyll-containing plants -- such as spirulina, chlorella, and
wild blue-green algae -- are an essential part of the healing armament in
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and other Eastern practices.
CRUCIFEROUS CANCER FIGHTERS
The Brassica group of vegetables, which includes cruciferous
vegetables such as broccoli, are packed with compounds called glucosinolates.
Glucosinolates are not well absorbed by humans until they come into contact with
myrosinase, an enzyme that's produced in the gut. At that point, they turn into truly
amazing compounds called isothiocyanates, which are now thought to be the primary
agents responsible for the anticancer activity of cruciferous vegetables.
Isothiocyanates have been shown to have direct effects on human cancer cells, suppressing
tumor growth and inhibiting cellular proliferation. They also help the liver in its
job of detoxification.
Note: Proper gut function is necessary to produce the
isothiocyanates, so if you are taking antacids, you will be indirectly blocking much of the
synthesis of this crucial compound.
Winners in the Brassica group are watercress, broccoli,
cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, arugula and kale.
A note about cooking vegetables: Although eating most vegetables
raw provides maximum
nutrition, sometime we want them cooked. It is far better to steam
veggies than to microwave them. Approximately 36% of nutrients are lost through
steaming... but as much as 97% can be lost by microwaving.
The beneficial compounds outlined above are actually the same ones that give certain
plants their bitter taste, according to Dr. Pettersen. "For example, arugula is much
more bitter than iceberg lettuce -- and it also has much more benefit." She said that
there is what might be called a "bitter continuum," with greens at the bitter end
providing the most nutritional benefits.
ANTIOXIDANTS, OF COURSE
Of course, green vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, which are
vitamins and other compounds that help block the free radicals that can cause
DNA damage, aging and even cancer. Antioxidants are rated on an oxygen radical
absorbance capacity (ORAC) scale, which is a rating of the combined antioxidant power
of a food -- how much antioxidant punch they (the antioxidants in the food) pack
when taken together, working synergistically. The higher the rating, the
ORAC ratings of common vegetables
Brussels sprouts 980
Alfalfa sprouts 930
Broccoli florets 890
Red bell peppers 710
All in all, most greens are definitely worth the chewing time.