St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a good reminder to wear green—it’s a great cue to eat green, too. After all, isn’t cabbage a part of the iconic meal of the day, partnered with corned beef or ham? Green foods, like this Irish specialty, have plenty going for them in the nutrition department. Best of all: They tend to be low in calories and, according to research, could help you prevent heart disease and cancer.
Ready for some green grub?
These are the 10 green foods that ought to be on your plate:
A half-cup serving of broccoli is only 15 calories, which means you can have seconds and even sprinkle some Parmesan on top without breaking the calorie bank. It’s also one of a number of green vegetables that contain calcium to help you build and maintain strong bones. Countless studies have been published that link broccoli and some of its plant chemicals to cancer prevention. Before you boil your broccoli to mush, check out these three super ways to serve this superfood.
In the last few years, this leafy green has gone from salad bar garnish to nutrition stardom, thanks to its versatility and combination of nutrients. Kale delivers vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate. It’s also a plant source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s found mostly in fish and a boon for your heart. Like other leafy greens, kale gets its color from a couple of plant pigments that have been shown to promote eye health. Did we say versatile? Kale can green up a smoothie, fill out a soup and make a great alternative to fatty chips.
Even the simplest of vegetables—all leaves—contains important nutrients. Lettuce boasts vitamins K, A, folate and even a little bit of calcium—which is so important for aging bones. If your weight is an issue, lettuce, from butter to romaine, is so low in calories, you can fill up on loads and still feel virtuous. Like other leafy greens, lettuce also contains plant chemicals that can help protect your eye health.
There’s a chemical in celery that can chill out your arteries, making artery walls more flexible to allow blood to flow. How cool is that? This reduces your blood pressure—a major effect for a veggie that’s frequently seen on a platter next to the ranch dip. Its high potassium provides a punch to blood pressure, as well. According to the Cleveland Clinic, eating just four stalks of celery—or one cup, chopped—is all you need to get its heart-healthy benefit. As if you needed any more reasons to believe celery is a great snack, you know it’s low in calories, too. Get your daily dose with a delicious soup (like Skinny Chicken Noodle) or a favorite snack from kindergarten, Ants on a Log.
This unassuming little fruit (berry actually) is gorgeously green inside. Kiwis are chock-full of antioxidants and high in both vitamin C and A. Most important, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies have found that kiwi’s antioxidants are more “bioavailable,” meaning they are easier for your body to use. When the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center gave study participants a variety of fruit and analyzed their blood at the end, kiwifruit, grapes and wild blueberries topped the list for their antioxidant power. There’s even some evidence they may also help you sleep! Kiwis are crazy delicious to eat (don’t peel—just cut in half and scoop!), but they’re just as awesome in drinks. Try out a Kiwi Vanilla Smoothie or a Kiwi Strawberry Slushie to have some today.
6. Green pepper
This humble salad topping and stir-fry ingredient contains, among other things, a compound called luteolin, which has anti-inflammatory properties, according to research from the Agricultural Research Service, an arm of the USDA. This green food’s power is especially great for fending off arthritis or heart disease, since inflammation—a runaway action by the body’s immune system—plays a role in both. A serving, other than being ultra-low in calories (30 calories in a whole cup, chopped!), actually provides 100 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, 11 percent of your vitamin A, and 15 milligrams of calcium. Add them to your Nutrisystem entrees to boost their nutritional value with options like Santa Fe Chicken.
Like the robin, asparagus is the harbinger of spring. It’s high in folic acid which, the American Institute for Cancer Research says, may help protect you from pancreatic cancer. There are only about 25 calories in a serving of five extra-large spears (hold the butter!). This supplies two grams of fiber, over 240 mg of potassium and about seven to eight percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C. It’s also high in glutathione which helps rid the body’s cells of toxins and pollutants. It also helps keep vitamins C and E in their active states. Don’t boil the life out of your asparagus. Roasting, as illustrated in this video, brings out its natural sweetness.
8. Green tea
Sip and stay slim? A 2009 meta-analysis of research on the link between green tea and weight loss, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that plant chemicals called catechins, along with caffeine, in green tea may help you lose weight and keep it off. While green tea may not carry enough of this power to give up your other weight loss efforts, it can be that late afternoon pick-me-up to replace a vending machine snack. The hint of caffeine can give you the energy you need to get through the rest of your day.
Think of edamame as baby soybeans, picked before the beans have had a chance to harden. That makes them the perfect pop-in-your-mouth snack. Like soybeans, edamame contain plant chemicals linked to lower rates of some cancers and can support your cardiovascular system, when replacing foods that are high in saturated fats. They’re high in protein too, so your snack will be a filling one. You can even turn them into an entrée with this delicious recipe for edamame and quinoa burgers.
This vegetable, part of the cruciferous family and known for its anti-cancer properties, has been a staple of Irish cooking since before the 17th century, according to an article in Modern Farmer magazine. One half of a cup supplies 45 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement and two percent of your calcium needs. And it’s only 20 calories! Use cabbage in place of lettuce on tacos (like these fish tacos) or cook cabbage “steaks,” by slicing the cabbage stem side down into one-inch slices. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, onion or garlic powder (or minced garlic) and bake at 400 degrees. They’re also delicious drizzled with balsamic vinegar or syrup.