Our world is dirty enough. Your food doesn’t need to be.
Because we live in the day and age of cheap, processed, fake foods and less-than-stellar environmental situations, our bodies can easily get overloaded with toxins from the things we eat and drink, and sometimes even just from the air we breathe.
This is why it’s super smart self-care to support your internal systems with delicious, wholesome foods that have cleansing and detoxifying benefits, especially when these same exact foods can ALSO….
….boost your immune system,
…..support a glowing complexion,
…..activate healthy digestion,
…..decrease inflammation, joint pain, and stiffness, and
…..improve your energy and mood.
That’s right. Today, we’re talking about Greens.
Bright, bold, beautiful greens. Fiber-rich, fitness-friendly, fabulous greens.
When I say “greens,” I’m referring to a long list of green vegetables, ranging from dark leaf lettuce and spinach to Brussels sprouts and peas, that specifically supply our bodies with certain nutrients to support all those cleansing and detoxifying benefits they provide.
You can read the entire list of my favorites healthy greens down below, but first, why bother eating greens in the first place?
Why Eat Greens?
1. Greens Have Micronutrients. You Need Micronutrients.
I’m sure you’ve heard of macronutrients before – the nutrients our bodies need lots of in order to function. Protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats are all macronutrients.
On the flip side of that are the micronutrients we need in smaller amounts in order to grow, metabolize properly, and enjoy an overall sense of well-being. Even though we only need a comparatively smaller amount of micronutrients than macronutrients, they are equally as important to our health and wellness.
In fact, micronutrient deficiencies can lead to serious health concerns like fatigue, hair loss, muscle cramping, and migraines, and quite frankly, ain’t nobody got time for all that.
2. Micronutrients give you Vitamins and Minerals.
You Need Vitamins and Minerals.
Vitamins are essential organic nutrients that are not made in the body, at least not in sufficient amounts, so we need to get them other ways. The best, healthiest choice is through whole, unprocessed foods, like the ones found on the list down below.
Vitamins are either fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) or water-soluble (B-complex, C), just meaning they require either healthy fat or water in order to be absorbed by the body.
ALL vitamins play super important roles in your overall health.
• Vitamin A …..is essential for eye and brain health; it regulates growth and keeps your immune system healthy
• Vitamin D …..is both a hormone and a micronutrient that preserves and promotes bone health while helping to keep your respiratory system healthy. It also enhances your mental and emotional well-being and keeps your immune system functioning in top form.
• Vitamin E …..protects not only the building blocks of your cells (lipids), but also your DNA by stopping free radicals from damaging the fragile structure of chromosomes.
• Vitamin K ….activates the proteins in blood that are responsible for clotting. It’s also essential for protecting your heart and building strong bones.
• The B-complex vitamins ….(which include thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B-12)) are important to brain health, necessary for regulating metabolism, influential in affecting mood, and preserves memory and cognitive function as you age
• Vitamin C ….is an antioxidant; it’s important for growth and healing, promotes skin elasticity and strength of connective tissue and bones, and enhances absorption of iron in the small intestine
Minerals are inorganic nutrients that also play a key role in keeping us healthy and properly functioning. As with vitamins, minerals are found in small quantities within the body and they are obtained from a wide variety of foods.
Trace elements (we need tiny amounts):
• Copper …allows your body to absorb iron; helps your body make the hemoglobin in your red blood cells; helps protect your body from free radicals; allows blood to clot properly; keeps your immune system strong.
• Iodine …allows your thyroid to make the hormones that help regulate metabolic rate and keep your heart, lungs and intestines healthy; helps prevent goiter, a condition characterized by an enlarged thyroid gland.
• Iron ….approximately, two-thirds of the iron in your body is found in hemoglobin – the protein in your red blood cells. The iron in hemoglobin binds to oxygen from your lungs and delivers it to the rest of the tissues in your body. Iron also transports oxygen to your muscles and aids in the synthesis of neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in your brain.
• Manganese …helps your body metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fat; also aids in bone formation.
• Selenium …helps regulate the thyroid hormones in your body and also functions as an antioxidant, protecting your body from free radicals – unstable substances that may contribute to the development of chronic diseases.
• Zinc …necessary for DNA and RNA synthesis; allows your body to produce white blood cells, which keep your immune system strong; plays a role in wound healing.
Macro elements (we need in larger amounts):
• Calcium …crucial for bone strength; responsible for muscle and blood vessel relaxation and contraction, nerve firing, and communication between cells
• Magnesium …essential to many vital processes, like metabolism; vital to bone formation and synthesis of genetic material
• Potassium …responsible for muscle and nerve function, a steady heartbeat, and cell detoxification; acts as the inverse of sodium
• Sodium …helps muscles and nerves work properly by assisting muscular contraction and transmission of nerve signals; regulates blood pressure and volume
Ok, so Greens provide Micronutrients…
…which provide Vitamins and Minerals
……which keep your body healthy and thriving.
As if all that wasn’t reason enough to start chomping away, there’s actually another important piece to the cleansing and detoxifying benefits of greens – the fiber.
3. Greens Have Fiber. You Need Fiber.
Fiber plays a key role in helping you maintain or achieve your optimal weight.
High-fiber foods generally require more chewing time, which gives your body more time to register when it’s full, helping you to avoid overeating.
Additionally, high-fiber foods have fewer calories for the same volume of food, making them more “energy dense,” which keeps you feeling fuller, longer, while triggering your mental “stop eating” shutoff valve.
High-fiber is the ideal complement to healthy fat, which is also very energy dense. Read Healthy Fat 101 for your refresher on the best fats to include in your diet.
Combining high-fiber green foods with healthy fats helps you boost the nutrients found in the greens and maximize the utility of the energy provided from the fat.
There are two kinds of fiber, and your diet should include both of them.
Soluble fiber (which your body can break down) helps slow the absorption of sugar, an important factor in weight regulation. Since soluble fiber takes longer to digest, it also means that more time can elapse before you feel hungry again.
Soluble fiber also promotes a healthy immune system by providing your “friendly flora” (or beneficial intestinal bacteria) with important nutrients it uses to fuel its own growth. This is actually really cool, and it makes a huge difference to your overall health.
As they metabolize some of the fiber you eat, these friendly microbes produce molecules called “short- chain fatty acids,” which have been associated with a decrease in cancerous colonic cells, reduction of serum cholesterol, and maintenance of both healthy blood sugar levels and healthy intestinal tract cell walls.
Insoluble fiber is not digested by the body, which makes it extremely important to consume on a regular, consistent basis. As it goes through the digestive tract, insoluble fiber binds to toxins and carries them out of our body.
Without a diet that contains adequate fiber, food particles and waste byproducts can get stuck or build up in the looping, folding twists of the intestines over time and cause inflammation, increased blood pressure, and toxicity in the body. We definitely can do without all that, so start looking for ways to increase your Greens!
When, and Which Greens Should I Eat?
Let’s be clear: there’s no wrong time for greens.
You can eat them morning, noon, and night, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They make a wonderful snack, and Greens are even my #1 go-to secret weapon against late night sugar cravings!
It’s a good idea to regularly rotate which greens you’re eating, because no single food contains all of the vitamins and minerals we need – therefore, a balanced and varied diet is necessary to hit all the bases on a regular basis.
Dark green, leafy vegetables high in both micronutrients and fiber:
• Swiss chard
• romaine lettuce
• Brussels sprouts
• bok choy
• mustard greens
• turnip greens
Additional healthy green options:
• lima beans
How to Prepare Your Greens
Even with so many great Green options, it can still be tough to find enough creative ways to include them each and every day. In closing, here are some of the best ways I know to incorporate them on a daily basis…
How to Create the Perfect Green Smoothie
1. Base: greens – kale, chard, spinach, watercress, collards, bok choy, PLUS herbs like mint, parsley
2. Protein – hemp seeds, protein powder, whey (if tolerant), rice, sprouted grains
3. Healthy fats – a small amount goes so far in helping your cells perform their vital functions of using all of these nutrients – avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, nut oils, and nut butters
4. Specific Nutrients: – antioxidants, free-radical destroyers, immune boosters, alkaline/acidity balancers – citrus like lemon or lime, turmeric, grapeseed oil extract, spices: fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cacao powder
5. Flavor: fruit – antioxidants, fiber, and keeps blood sugar stable while still providing sweetness. I use berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries), apples, figs, and sometimes bananas, but I try to avoid the sweeter, tropical fruits because of their higher glycemic index when I’m working towards a fitness goal
6. Liquid: – Water, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, and other non-dairy kinds of milk
7. Blend: Use a high powered blender like my Blendtec to make the best tasting, smoothest smoothies
Make a salad: Keep salads interesting by varying their colors, textures, and varieties. Perk them up with small tender leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, and arugula mixed with different kinds of accompaniments such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.
Wrap it up: Make a wrap with tuna, chicken or turkey and add romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other veggies for some extra flavor
Add to soup: Add greens with larger, tougher leaves such as collard greens, kale or mustard greens into your favorite soup.
Sautee or Stir-fry: Add chopped spinach, bok choy, or broccoli to chicken or tofu stir-fried with olive or canola oil with some garlic, onion or ginger.
Steamed: Steaming collard greens, mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard or spinach until they are slightly soft is a great option.
In an omelet: Add steamed broccoli and/or spinach to an egg-white omelet for a vitamin and iron rich meal.