In The Rainbow Explained, I provided a quick overview of the nutritional benefits of different colored fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into each color of the natural food rainbow!
In this article, I’ll focus on the incredible powers of green fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Let’s dive into the treasure trove of healing, nourishing, and detoxifying nutrients that exist in whole, plant-based green foods.
A deeper dive into green fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Eat your greens! There are so many reasons why greens are a cornerstone of a healthy diet.
Green foods can boost your immunity, reduce cancer risk, repair DNA, heal tissues, detoxify the body, and provide energy. They contain compounds that have anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects. They may also protect the brain, heart, skin, and liver. Because they help the liver to work better, green foods also assist with keeping hormones in balance.
Green vegetables include artichokes, bamboo sprouts, bean sprouts, broccoli, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumbers, green bell peppers, okra, and zucchini.
Healthy leafy greens include beet greens, cabbage, chard, collards, parsley, watercress, dandelion, kale, lettuce, spinach, and turnip greens.
Green fruits include Granny Smith apples, avocados, green grapes, kiwis, limes, olives, and pears.
Green legumes include edamame, fava beans, green beans, green lentils, lima beans, and peas.
Green tea is also included in this area of the food rainbow.
The healthy nutrients and elements in green vegetables, fruits, and legumes
Vitamin A (Carotenoids): Carotenoids are plant compounds that can convert to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A has many functions, such as promoting healthy vision and supporting the immune and inflammatory systems, cell growth, reproduction, and bone health. Kale, broccoli, celery, collards, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, green bell peppers, and Granny Smith apples are all good sources of carotenoids.
B Vitamins (B-Complex Vitamins): The B vitamins are like a little army of troops that provide multiple benefits to your brain, cellular health, cardiovascular system, digestive system, eyesight, muscles, and nervous system. There are eight B vitamins in all, and some or all of them can be found in a range of green foods. Spinach (raw or cooked), collard greens (cooked), kale (raw), romaine lettuce (raw), mustard greens (cooked), celery, fava beans, edamame, green bell peppers, green grapes, green lentils, and peas are all solid sources of B Vitamins.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a huge immunity booster and an antioxidant that helps our bodies fight against free radicals that can damage our cells, organs, and tissues. It has been linked to protection against cancer, heart disease, and other ailments. Vitamin C plays an important role in the natural healing process, and it is a building block for your blood vessels, bones, cartilage, and muscles. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumbers, dark leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, and mustard greens in particular), Granny Smith apples, green grapes, green bell peppers, kiwis, limes, and pears are all good sources of Vitamin C.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells, organs, and tissues from free radicals. It also plays an important role in cardiovascular health, healthy vision, healthy skin, the reproductive system, cellular health, and immunity. Vitamin E is a building block for red blood vessels and acts as a blood thinner, which can reduce clotting. Vitamin E is fat-soluble, so it’s best to consume Vitamin E foods with a bit of healthy fat for optimal absorption. Asparagus, avocados, Granny Smith apples, green bell peppers, kiwis, olives, turnip greens, beet greens, broccoli, mustard greens, swiss chard, collards, and spinach are rich sources of Vitamin E.
Vitamin K: Vitamin K is needed for healthy bones, and it is also a vital component in creating the blood clots that help wounds heal. Because Vitamin K is fat-soluble, it is best to consume Vitamin K-rich foods with a bit of healthy fat for optimal absorption. Cooked asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, edamame, green beans, mustard greens, turnip greens, and peas are excellent sources of Vitamin K. Raw avocado, celery, cucumbers, green bell peppers, green grapes, kiwis, pears, spinach, and swiss chard are also good sources of Vitamin K.
Calcium: Calcium is most commonly associated with stronger bones and teeth, but it also has many more healthy benefits for your body. It plays an important role in cardiovascular health, the movement of your muscles, your hormonal responses, and your nervous system. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium in the most efficient way, so it’s best to pair calcium-rich foods with foods rich in Vitamin D, such as mushrooms, egg yolks, and salmon. Every dark leafy green — beet greens, bok choy, collards, kale, mustard greens, parsley, swiss chard, and turnip greens — is a tremendous source of calcium. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, green beans, okra, and peas are also good calcium sources.
Fiber: Fiber provides a wealth of benefits to your well-being: It famously promotes gastrointestinal health (i.e. “keeps you regular”). It also helps regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease, and reduce intestinal inflammation. Avocados, artichokes, asparagus, beet greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, cucumbers, fava beans, green bell peppers, green lentils, Granny Smith apples, kale, lettuce, lima beans, okra, olives, pears, peas, spinach, swiss chard, and zucchini are all great sources of fiber.
Fisetin: Fisetin is a flavonoid, a chemical compound found in plants that provides antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory effects. Cucumbers, Granny Smith apples, and kiwis are good sources of fisetin.
Folate: Folate, also known as vitamin B-9 or folic acid, is an important building block for red blood cells and cellular health. Asparagus, avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green lentils, kale, mustard greens, peas, and spinach are particularly high in folate.
Iron: Iron is synonymous with strength — both inside and outside the body. Your body uses it to create hemoglobin, which delivers oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron can increase your energy levels, strengthen your muscles, boost your physical performance, increase brain function, and improve your immune system. The iron found in plants is non-heme iron, which is best absorbed when combined with vitamin C. Most plant foods that contain iron also contain vitamin C, but it doesn’t hurt to add vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes, bell peppers, berries, citrus, or greens to aid absorption. Beet greens, broccoli, celery, collards, dandelion greens, fava beans, green beans, green lentils, kale, peas, spinach, and swiss chard are rich with iron.
Lutein and zeaxanthin: Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids similar to the beta-carotene found in orange and yellow foods and the lycopene found in red foods. They fight free radicals that can do damage to your body, and they also promote eye and skin health. Kale, parsley, and spinach are wonderful sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Magnesium: Magnesium is an element that plays an important role in hundreds of chemical reactions throughout your cardiovascular, immune, muscular, and nervous systems. Spinach (boiled), edamame (cooked), avocado, broccoli (cooked), fava beans, and Granny Smith apples are good sources of magnesium.
Manganese: Manganese is a mineral with antioxidant properties that plays an important role in the health of your brain, your bones, your reproductive system, and your nervous system. Manganese is a building block for connective tissue and blood clots, and it also helps regulate blood sugar and optimize your metabolism. Green grapes, green beans, green lentils, lima beans, and spinach (cooked) are good sources of manganese.
Potassium: Potassium is a mineral that helps optimize your heart health, and it also acts as an electrolyte that regulates your blood pressure and strengthens your muscles. Most people think about bananas when they think about potassium, but there are many green foods that are potassium-rich. Avocados, artichokes, beet greens (cooked), bok choy (cooked), broccoli (cooked), Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumbers, green bell peppers, green grapes, kiwis, lima beans, peas, swiss chard (cooked), and zucchini are good sources of potassium.
Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that is a building block for healthy DNA. It also helps your metabolism and digestive system, and it’s essential to your cellular health, your immune system, and your nervous system. Asparagus, beet greens, edamame, green beans, green lentils, kale, lima beans, and peas are good sources of zinc.
Catechins: Catechins are phytochemicals with powerful antioxidant properties, and they’ve been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and the ability to fight against several forms of cancer. Green tea is loaded with catechins, most notably epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has the most anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Granny Smith apples and pears are also good sources of catechins.
Glucosinolates: Glucosinolates provide the liver with what it needs to get rid of toxins, and they are also helpful for your intestinal health. Studies have found that they may also help fight against some forms of cancer, especially estrogen-related cancers such as breast and uterine cancer. Glucosinolates contain sulfur, which means that most funky-smelling vegetables are good sources of these powerful compounds. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collards, kale, and mustard greens are great sources of glucosinolates.
Phytosterols: Phytosterols are plant-based compounds that can help balance your cholesterol and boost your immunity. Avocados, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and olive oil are good sources of phytosterols.
Special tips for getting the most nutrition out of green fruits, vegetables, and legumes
Green foods deliver a great bang for the bite: Dark green leafy vegetables contain more nutrients per calorie than any other food! That’s why many foods in the green part of the spectrum are commonly referred to as superfoods: They pack a wide range of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins into a powerful little package. Avocados, broccoli, collards, green tea, kale, lentils, olives, spinach, swiss chard, and turnip greens are among the healthiest foods on the planet — but don’t forget to balance them out with other healthy nutrients from other parts of the food rainbow.
Cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables like arugula, bok choy, broccoli, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Chinese/Napa cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, and watercress are excellent anticancer foods. Glucosinolates give some of these vegetables a pungent sulfur aroma. When cruciferous vegetables are chopped or chewed, the glucosinolates turn into active compounds called isothiocyanates, phytonutrients that change the way estrogen is broken down in the body. Eating cruciferous vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of estrogen-related cancers such as breast and uterine cancer. These vegetables are best eaten either raw, lightly sautéed, or minimally steamed (about 90 seconds) to retain full nutritional value. Cruciferous vegetables are also excellent sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eating one serving of these vegetables daily — particularly broccoli, kale, or Brussels sprouts — can help lower overall disease risk.
The power of avocados and olives: One avocado has a substantial amount of fiber (about 9 grams) and even more potassium than a banana (about 700 mg). Olives and olive oil have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Olives contain hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, and oleocanthal, compounds that are helpful in keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy.
Cook spinach and asparagus to maximize their powers: Spinach, asparagus, and broccoli are incredibly nutrient-dense whether they’re raw or cooked, but there are advantages to steaming or boiling each of them. By steaming spinach, you will make its rich levels of iron and calcium much easier for your body to absorb. Boiling asparagus has been found to increase its antioxidant levels and cancer-fighting properties.
Don’t skip the broccoli leaves: If you think broccoli florets are healthy, wait till you get a load of their leaves! Broccoli leaves are packed with Vitamin A, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, antioxidants, and other minerals. They are similar to collards in terms of thickness and texture, and you can prepare them by steaming, sauteeing, or braising them.
Be careful with Vitamin K and blood thinners: Vitamin K is a vital component in healing cuts and scrapes, as it helps create the blood clots that help wounds heal. If you are taking blood thinners, it is extremely important to check with your doctor to make sure the Vitamin K in your diet does not interfere with your medication. As always, please consult your doctor before deciding on the healthiest diet choices for you.
Go green with your tea: Some green foods like green tea and bitter melon have a bit of a bitter taste. Research shows that these bitter foods could be important for promoting a healthy metabolism. Catechins are one of the bitter compounds found in green tea. The most well-recognized catechin from green tea is called epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG). Having just one cup of green tea a day has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 50%. Caffeinated and non-caffeinated versions of green tea are available.
Phytonutrients help your body fight disease: Green foods are incredible sources of phytonutrients, including phytoestrogens, indoles, and phytosterols. Phytoestrogens and indoles both can help improve liver health and hormone balance. Phytosterols can help balance cholesterol and boost immunity. Good green food sources of phytosterols include avocados, lettuce, and olive oil. Parsley, kale and spinach all contain lutein, a carotenoid that promotes eye health.
Explore the other colors of the food rainbow
By consuming every color in the natural food rainbow, you will be flooding your body, systems, organs, cells, and DNA with so many nourishing, healing, and restorative nutrients. Your food will become medicine! Learn how each color in the rainbow can help you experience improvements in joint pain, sleep patterns, energy levels, mood, bloating, headaches, digestive issues, weight, and other conditions.
Red Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Orange Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Yellow Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Brown, Tan, and White Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
Black, Blue, and Purple Foods: Dive Deeper Into the Rainbow
The Rainbow Explained: An Overview of the Benefits of Different Colored Whole Foods