Making the Most of Eating Green Food

Eating green is easier and tastier than you may think

By Star Lawrence
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

With spring upon us, it's time to think green. Researchers credit green veggies with promoting colon and heart health, as well as providing folic acid to pregnant women to prevent birth defects. And guess what? Greens in the kale family also contain as much calcium as milk. And they help balance all the sodium in our diets with healthy potassium.

Leafy green vegetables and fruits are loaded with antioxidants, minerals, folate, and flavonoids. These all work to prevent unstable molecules called free radicals from damaging cells.

Melissa Diane Smith, nutritionist and author of Going Against the Grain: How Reducing and Avoiding Grains Can Revitalize Your Health, tells WebMD that most Americans don't even come close to the recent revised dietary recommendations of eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. "Eat vegetables in place of grains," she urges.

Even salad-phobes can easily get more green in their diets.

Tips for Greening Up Your Plate

Unfortunately, eating vegetables is not an automatic choice for humans. Therefore, it's a challenge to present green foods in enough different ways to titillate the jaded palate. Some ideas:

  • Wrap small portions of cheese, meats, rice, or condiments in greens. Even restaurants are now offering "lettuce wraps." "Blanched cabbage (boiled a few minutes in water or tomato juice to soften it) is also a good wrap," Audrey T. Cross, PhD, a nutritionist at Columbia University in New York City, tells WebMD.

  • Speaking of cabbage, a cooked hunk sauced with a little mayonnaise is delicious, according to Cross. Cabbage is rich in anticancer antioxidants and bioflavinoids.

  • Dress up frozen pizza with frozen or fresh spinach or green pepper. When you order out, ask for double green pepper. Green pepper is packed with vitamin C, Smith notes. Spinach (and Swiss chard and kale) is especially good because it contains lutein, a complex substance that can help prevent the blinding eye disorder called macular degeneration. Lutein also lowers cholesterol.

  • Steam veggies to keep them green. If you don't have a fancy steamer, a few minutes suspended in a colander over a pot of water works.

  • For leafy greens, steaming can result in a gray mess. Acids in these greens destroy the chlorophyll, leaving an unappetizing wad. Instead, treat spicy greens like mustard greens or chard by precooking in 2 cups of water per pound for three to 10 minutes.

  • Drink the water afterwards. It's surprisingly tasty.

  • Some greens are bitter -- try adding raisins.

  • Sneak cut-up zucchini into meatloaf. The same goes for pasta sauce; load it up with greenery.

  • If you make canned soup, toss in frozen peas or string beans. The FDA has declared that frozen is as nutritious as fresh. A box of veggies in macaroni and cheese is also delicious.

  • At the salad bar, make a veggie sandwich. Add balsamic vinegar and munch away!

  • Check out the prewashed department. In addition to prewashed lettuce, mesclun, field greens, and other variations (the darker the green, the better), grocery stores now carry prewashed broccoli florets and cut-up celery. Who says crudites are just for parties? Toss some ranch dressing in your lunch box, along with prewashed veggie chunks, and it's a perfect desk nibble!

  • Don't forget the fresh herbs next door to the prewashed greens. Make pesto (mashed olive oil, garlic, and basil leaves) and spread on crusty bread and pop under the broiler.

  • Or toss some fresh tarragon on asparagus, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Now this does beat canned!

  • When you finish eating, banish that garlic mouth by eating your parsley garnish. According to Smith, parlsey is surprisingly full of nutrients.

Sometimes we overlook some good sources of green power.


"Soy is great at destroying free radicals."

Edamame are soybeans harvested while young and still in their pods. They can be found in the produce section or a salted form as a snack food. Soy is great at destroying free radicals and has been shown in some studies to lower the risk of breast cancer and lower cholesterol. Soy can even contribute to bone strength and help prevent osteoporosis. Carol A. Miles, PhD, agricultural systems specialist at the Washington State University Vancouver Research Station, tells WebMD that she thinks of edamame as a protein source. "No cholesterol!" she adds. She boils the fresh pods for three minutes; butter and salt are optional. Miles says she doesn't even add them.

Green olives have been cultivated since prehistoric times and are healing not only to nations (olive branch) but to innards. The pale green oil does not clog arteries and is credited with helping prevent some cancers. It is even singled out as beneficial in the government's new dietary guidelines (www.usda.gov). Cross recommends using olives themselves in salads, spaghetti sauce, ratatouille, stews, and almost any savory dish.