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Seeing Green in Your Diet

You’ve heard it from your parents. You’ve said it to your children.

“Eat your greens.”

There’s a reason the phrase is so common: It’s good advice. Green foods are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Antioxidants help fight against damage caused by free radicals in our food and environment that contribute to aging and many diseases, including cancer.

You can incorporate more greens into your diet by:

  • Drinking them. Try spinach in a smoothie or celery juice in the morning.
  • Roasting them. For more flavor, try roasting pistachios or kale in the oven.
  • Filling up on them. Eat a protein, like chicken or tofu, over a bed of greens to feel fuller, longer.

“Green foods pack a powerful nutritional punch,” says Jessica Patrick, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. “But with any food, there are considerations to make if you’re on medication or have pre-existing health conditions.”

Below, Patrick reviews the health benefits of popular green foods.

Celery Juice

  • High in vitamins and minerals that help prevent cancer and liver disease
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Hydrating

Good to know: If your physician has recommended avoiding grapefruit juice, you should also avoid celery juice. Grapefruit and celery juice can either increase or decrease the amount of the medication in your body and cause additional side effects. If you are on any medication, consult your physician before drinking these juices.

Pistachios

  • High in healthy fats, fiber, protein and antioxidants
  • Fewer calories and more protein than most nuts

Good to know: Shelling pistachios by hand helps promote mindful eating and makes sure you don’t consume your calories too quickly.

Spinach

  • High in vitamins that promote healthy bone, skin and hair
  • Lowers blood glucose levels and increases insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes

Good to know: Spinach is high in vitamin K. People on blood thinners need to be cautious with their vitamin K intake. It’s also high in potassium. People with kidney disease or damage may need to limit spinach intake.

Kale

  • One of the healthiest plants
  • Low in calories and rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, including calcium
  • Helps lower cholesterol
  • May reduce the risk of eye diseases, including macular degeneration and cataracts

Good to know: People taking blood thinners need to limit kale intake per the recommendation of their physician.

Seaweed

  • High in iron, calcium, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber
  • Contains prebiotics, necessary for feeding probiotics, which help improve gut health
  • Contains iodine, which helps support thyroid function

Good to know: If you have thyroid irregularities, consult your physician before eating seaweed. Seaweed may contain heavy metals and should be consumed in moderation.

Avocado

  • Higher in potassium than bananas, which may help reduce blood pressure
  • High in healthy fats, including oleic acid, which may help reduce inflammation
  • High in fiber and antioxidants
  • May reduce the risk of cataracts

Good to know: Swapping avocado oil for olive oil is a healthy choice.