What Is So Special About Green Vegetables?

Lighter, Brighter You - What is so special about green vegetables

When You Know Why, You’ll Load Up On Them

Life on earth would be impossible without plants. Plants are sometimes called the ‘lungs’ of the earth because they provide the oxygen that we need to breathe to stay alive. Furthermore, they use the carbon dioxide that we breathe out, coupled with the chlorophyll that they possess, and the sun's energy, to provide us with both food and beautiful greenery.

Therefore, humans, as well as animals couldn’t survive on planet earth without green plants – they provide oxygen without which we couldn’t survive and they provide nourishment, without which we suffer from ill health.

There are more than 300,000 different types of plants on earth, although the number keeps climbing as we discover new species.

What makes plants green?

The reason green plants are green is because they contain a special chemical, called chlorophyll. This compound is called a phytochemical, with ‘phyto’ meaning plant.

In Greek, chloro means green, while phyllon means leaf, so it’s simple to see how the word chlorophyll originated.

The chlorophyll in the leaves of plants absorbs sunlight, converting it into carbohydrates from both the available carbon dioxide and water. It also produces oxygen in this process. The carbohydrate that the plant produces is the food that the plant needs to grow. It is also the food that we eat when we eat green plants.

Chlorophyll, the compound that makes some vegetables green, is a delicate compound, and easily damaged by heat. The greener the vegetable, the more chlorophyll it contains. However, when you cook green vegetables until they turn that grayish – green color, they lose their enzymes and water-soluble vitamins, reducing their potent benefits. Chlorophyll also cleanses your body and helps it to detoxify, absorbing and removing heavy metals from your digestive system. But only when it is active, in the raw state.

Raw green vegetables are better than cooked ones

It is best to consume green vegetables when they are raw, because the minerals contained in the produce are bonded to enzymes, as well as proteins and glucose. These minerals are called chelated minerals when they are in this form. When the produce is heated it loses this natural form of mineral and enzyme, with the resulting minerals not being absorbed as easily by our digestive system.

This is why green super-foods or blends have to be processed at low temperatures if they are to retain their nutrient density. Because the enzymes in green vegetables are destroyed by heat, and the enzymes are one of the important components of fresh vegetables, they also have to be protected from heat damage when producing a nutrient and enzyme dense green blend.

So, what exactly is in green vegetables?

  • The chlorophyll molecule is very similar in structure, to a molecule in our body, called hemoglobin, which contains iron and transports oxygen to our cells via our blood stream. Hemoglobin is also the compound that makes our blood red. Hemoglobin transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The centre of the chlorophyll molecule contains a magnesium molecule, while the centre of the hemoglobin structure contains iron. Although there has been some discussion about chlorophyll becoming hemoglobin, because of their similar molecular shape, there is no clear evidence that this happens. But green foods do contain iron in its natural form, as well as the other compounds necessary for hemoglobin formation.
     
  • Green vegetables are also full of other very important nutrients, in varying quantities, dependant on growing conditions and specific varieties. They contain magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, zinc, copper, manganese, potassium, sodium, many of the B vitamins, such as B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B9 (folic acid)as well as vitamins A (in the form of beta carotene), C, E and K. Furthermore they also contain the important antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health, with lutein possibly also playing an important role in preventing colon cancer. They also contain enzymes (if raw) as well as protein, fibre and some of the good fats, Omega 3‘s.
     
  • Green vegetables are also alkaline in action, which means that they are capable of shifting your body from an acid state to an alkaline state. This is important because cooked foods and refined foods, stress and low levels of exercise leave your body being acidic. A low pH is known to be a precursor for not only low energy levels and inflammation, but also for degenerative diseases. It’s therefore important to eat foods that promote an alkaline balance in the body, which help the body move away from an acidic state.
     
  • Green vegetables that come from the brassica family, are even more nutrient dense than ordinary green vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and red cabbage as well as Asian greens, including bok choy, chinese cabbage and pak choy, have potent anti-cancer properties, detoxify the body of environmental toxins and supply anti-oxidants too. Any produce that protects you from cancer will also help with overall health and anti-aging.
     
  • Green sprouts are another very useful food, even more potent than fully grown green plants, because they are the seeds of the plant, and therefore contain all the power that the future plant requires for its start in life. A tablespoon of seeds can produce a kilogram of sprouts, so they are a very cost effective food and contain a vast quantity of easily assimilated, natural nutrients, including carbohydrates, protein in the form of amino acids, as well as vitamins, minerals and some fats. For example, the young leaves of barley have seven times the amount of vitamin C when compared to oranges and five times the amount of iron compared to spinach. Sprouts have been recognized as important nourishing and healing foods for nearly 5000 years, so they have surely stood the test of time.

What about greens that don’t grow on land?

People don’t generally consider green sea vegetables as having important health benefits, but they are also potent nutrient dense foods:

  • Many of them can contain up to thirteen vitamins, twenty amino acids, as well as sixty trace elements, including iodine, which is an important mineral used by your thyroid gland to regulate your metabolism as well as your hormones. A few of the other trace minerals are boron, chromium, calcium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese and molybdenum, sodium, potassium, silicon, sulphur, silver and phosphorous.
     
  • Your body likes these sea minerals, as they are unprocessed, which is the opposite of the supplements most people use regularly.
     
  • Seaweed also contains other important compounds that can be likened to gels, which act as alkinizers, thereby balancing your body’s pH level, which helps to keep it more alkaline than acid, leading to improved health.
     
  • They are also helpful liver detoxifiers, which further helps to increase energy levels. Kelp is especially useful as a detoxifier of heavy metals, helps to treat arthritis, digestive difficulties, thyroid disorders, helps to purify the blood, eases inflammation and soothes mucous membranes. Dulse is useful for iron deficiency, has a very high protein content, and helps to balance both the thyroid and adrenal glands, prevents hair loss, and helps to prevent viral infections.

There are a variety of different sea vegetables -  sea weeds, as we’ve become accustomed to calling them – that you can add to your food, or find in a superior green blend, such as arame, dulse, kelp, nori, wakame and kombu.

Super green foods

Freshwater algae, such as spirulina and chlorella, are also called super foods, because of their nutrient dense qualities, including chlorophyll, as well as amino acids and enzymes. However, they also have to be prepared for consumption in green blends at very low temperatures, as heat will destroy their enzymes.

Long-lived people, such as the Hunza and the elderly Japanese on the island of Okinawa, consume a variety of green vegetables on a daily basis. The vegetables are never cooked for extended periods, mostly being eaten raw or very lightly steamed, with the cooking water being eaten with the vegetables. The health of these people is a testament to how important green vegetables are in our diet.

Living busy, stressed lives, many people find it difficult to purchase and prepare enough green foods to keep them – and their families – healthy. This is why a green blend, using the best forms of green foods, prepared using no heat, is a great insurance against nutrient deficiencies caused by low green vegetable intake.

References

Raw versus cooked vegetables and cancer risk. Link LB, et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Sep;13(9):1422-35.

Star Foods. McMillan Price, Dr, Davie J. ABC Books, Australia, Sydney, 2008.

Seaweed. Gennari Cooksley V, RN. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, and Imprint of Harry N Abrams, Inc. New York, NY, 2007.

Green barley Essence. Hagiwara Y, MD. Keats Pub, Connecticut, USA, 1985.

Influence of cooking methods on antioxidant activity of vegetables. Jiménez-Monreal AM, et al. J Food Sci. 2009 Apr;7493):H97-H103

Broccoli sprouts: an exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens. Fahey JW, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1997 Sep 16;94(19):10367-72.

Brassica vegetables and cancer prevention. Epidemiology and mechanisms. Van Poppel G, et al. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;472:159-68.

Conference on ‘Multidisciplinary approaches to nutritional problems.’ Symposium on ‘Nutrition and heath.’ Cruciferous vegetable intake and the risk of human cancer: epidemiological evidence. Kim MK, et al. Proc Nutr Soc. 2009. 2009 Feb;68(1):103-10.