Vegetables are a vital part of any healthy diet, but are all the best ones green? Find out why green veggies are so special.
You may have turned your nose up at green vegetables as a child, but eating your greens is one of the easiest ways to keep your mind and body healthy.
While all vegetables have nutritional benefits, they weren’t all created equal – it seems you can’t beat the greens for their all-round goodness.
What makes vegetables green?
Green vegetables contain a large amount of a green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps plants convert sunlight into energy in a process called photosynthesis. But chlorophyll isn’t just good for plants; it’s good for humans too.1
Why is chlorophyll good for us?
Chlorophyll is a potent antioxidant, helping prevent the damage caused by free radicals to your body’s cell membranes.2
The pigment can also slow the rate at which bacteria reproduce, speeding up the healing of wounds.3,4
Chlorophyll could even help you lose weight. In 2013, Swedish researchers at the University of Lund gave 5g of chlorophyll to 53 overweight women every day. They found that the supplement dramatically reduced the volunteers’ appetite for eating sweets and crisps.5
Eating your greens every day could also reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life. In 2017, a study by Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago discovered that people who ate at least one daily portion of green vegetables had a slower rate of decline in their memory and thinking skills.6
Five gorgeous greens
It’s not all about eating fashionable kale. These five green vegetables often get overlooked, but they still pack a hefty health punch.
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Watercress is a true nutritional superstar, containing a range of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamins K, C and calcium. It’s also a rich source of plant chemicals called phytonutrients that have been shown to be good for our health.7
One portion of watercress has four times the beta-carotene than an apple, and more than double the recommended daily amount (90mcg) of vitamin K. Our bodies need beta-carotene to maintain healthy vision, while vitamin K is important for blood clotting and healthy bones.8
Watercress may also help lower blood pressure. It’s a rich source of calcium, magnesium and potassium, three minerals which work to release sodium from the body and help arteries dilate, reducing blood pressure.9
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Asparagus is high in folic acid and vitamin K, which helps our bodies absorb calcium and protect against osteoporosis. High in fibre but also low in fat and calories,10
asparagus may be beneficial for weight loss too.
Asparagus is a natural diuretic – meaning it helps you go for a wee more often – which can ease fluid retention.11
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3. Green peppers
This glossy, bell-shaped veg contains more vitamin C than an orange. We need vitamin C to support our immune system, and to help keep teeth, gums and skin healthy.12,13
In 2007, US agricultural scientists studied the antioxidant abilities of different coloured peppers. They found that green peppers were slightly more effective at preventing oxidation of the essential omega-3 fatty acid DHA.14
Oxidised omega-3 has started to break down and could release potentially harmful free radicals.15
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The humble pea is a powerhouse of nutrition containing almost every vitamin and mineral for good health, as well as fibre and protein.16
Peas could help prevent those 3pm biscuit cravings. A study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism in 2014 revealed that peas’ high-fibre content and low glycaemic index helps to regulate our blood sugar levels.17
They may be prickly on the outside, but don’t let that put you off – artichokes are a rich source of magnesium,18
which helps keep your brain and heart healthy.
In fact, research carried out by Medical University of Lublin, Poland, in 2013 revealed that people with low levels of magnesium are more likely to suffer with mental health issues, including depression.19
Artichokes also contain high levels of folate, which protects against birth defects. This makes the veg particularly beneficial for women thinking about trying to get pregnant.20,21
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Five ways to get more greens
Boiling and steaming veggies is great, but you can get more creative with your greens:
• drink them – throw some spinach or spirulina into a breakfast smoothie
• blend them – soups are a great way to use up any leftover greens
• roast them – broccoli and peppers taste great roasted with olive oil
• stew them – artichokes, spinach and leeks are great additions to a stew
• crisp them – make kale crisps by drizzling with oil, lemon juice and salt, and baking in a hot oven for 15 minutes
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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2. Hsu CY, et al. The antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of chlorophylls and pheophytins. Available from: https://file.scirp.org/pdf/FNS_2013072614461013.pdf
3. Mowbray, S. The antibacterial activity of chlorophyll. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1974202/
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5. Stenblom EL, et al. Supplementation by thylakoids to a high carbohydrate meal decreases feelings of hunger, elevates CCK levels and prevents postprandial hypoglycaemia in overweight women. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23632035
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12. Mercola. What are bell peppers good for? Available from: https://foodfacts.mercola.com/bell-pepper.html
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14. Sun T, et al. Antioxidant activities of different coloured sweet bell peppers. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17995862
15. Cameron-Smith D, Albert BB, Cutfield WS. Fishing for answers: is oxidation of fish oil supplements a problem? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4681158/
16. Healthline. Why green peas are healthy and nutritious. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/green-peas-are-healthy#section2
17. Mollard RC, et al. Acute effects of pea protein and hull fibre alone and combined on blood glucose, appetite, and food intake in healthy young men – a randomized crossover trial. Available from: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/apnm-2014-0170?journalCode=apnm#.WpkyOILLi
18. SELFNutritionData. Artichokes. Available from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2308/2
19. Serefko A, et al. Magnesium in depression. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23950577
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21. University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin B9 (folic acid). Available from: https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b9-folic-acid