Top green vegetables for your health -- and St. Patrick’s Day

March 15, 2011

There are many ways to go green for St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to sporting your green socks and downing a green beer, how about putting some green on your plate?

Green vegetables top the list of best-for-you veggies: They’re great sources of fiber and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, plus scads of other vitamins and minerals, and they are typically low in calories. Keep them in mind as you work toward the new dietary guidelines’ recommendation to fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal.

I asked Alexandra Postman, editor in chief of Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine and an editor of that publication’s “Power Foods” cookbook, and Jim White, spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, for their top picks. I was surprised and pleased by how many familiar favorites they named. Here’s their guide to the most nutritious choices in the field of green. (All recipes can be found at washingtonpost.com/recipes.)

Erin go broccoli

Postman and White agree that broccoli can’t be beat. It is very high in fiber and delivers a potent package of Vitamin C — 135 percent of what you need in a day — plus potassium and iron, Postman says. White adds Vitamin K and folate to that list. Like other green cruciferous vegetables (such as Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy), it contains nitrogen compounds known as indoles, which, Postman says, have been shown to prevent stomach tumors. In fact, eating broccoli may help reduce the risk of other cancers, too, by virtue of its being rich in carotenoids, antioxidants that are thought to “sponge up free radicals that promote cancer,” Postman explains. Broccoli is also“very high in calcium for a vegetable,” she adds, “though some will quibble” that not all the calcium it contains is easily absorbed by the body.

Tip: For broccoli and other green vegetables, steaming is the best way to retain nutrients; boiling, microwaving or stir-frying may leach some away.

Recipe: Pasta With Broccoli and Garlic.

Per cup, raw:

31 calories,

2.4 grams of fiber

Popeye’s favorite

Dark leafy greens such as spinach (along with dark romaine, collard greens and kale) are great sources of Vitamin K, which is “essential for blood clotting and bone healing,” Postman says. A cup of spinach delivers nearly twice (181 percent) the Vitamin K you need daily. That nutrient also may help decrease inflammation in the body, Postman says; inflammation is thought to be at the root of many diseases, including cancers and cardiovascular disease. Although spinach is often touted for its iron content, Postman notes that the vegetable also contains oxalic acid, which limits the body’s ability to absorb all that iron.

Tip: Spinach fresh from the garden is optimal; the stuff you buy in bags in the produce section may have lost nutrients during shipping and the time it sits on the shelf. Frozen spinach may be a better nutritional bet, Postman advises, as it’s typically flash-frozen at its peak.

Recipe: Jumbled Greens.

Per cup, raw:

7 calories,

0.7 grams of fiber

Get artichoked up

These armadillo-looking items, members of the aster family, not only deliver loads of magnesium, folate and potassium, but also a dynamite dose of fiber. Postman’s a big fan because artichokes help the liver produce bile, which helps your body process fatty foods, and because they promote muscle function. And get this: Postman says that artichokes may “stimulate sweet receptors. Eat some artichoke,” she suggests, then drink water. “The water will taste sweet,” she says.

Tip: Rather than canceling out steamed artichokes’ nutrition by bathing the leaves in butter or hollandaise sauce, try dipping the leaves in heart-healthy olive oil or even broth.

Recipe: Baby Artichoke Salad.

Per medium ’choke: 60 calories, 6.9 grams of fiber

A spear that never hurts

This member of the lily family is bursting with folate: According to Postman, asparagus has moreof this nutrient than any vegetable (the majority of which contain some). Folate helps your body do away with homocysteine, an amino acid that contributes to cardiovascular disease. To that long-term benefit, add these two shorter-term effects that may make asparagus your favorite: White points out that asparagus can have “a mild laxative effect” and also serves as a diuretic, helping your body removed excess water and thus avoid bloating.

Tip: You can eat asparagus raw if you shave it thin with a vegetable peeler. Or enjoy it lightly steamed, grilled or roasted. According to “Power Foods,” “Most of asparagus’s nutrients are left intact, even after it is cooked.”

Recipe: Asparagus With a Mushroom Ragout.

Per cup, raw: 27 calories, 2.8 grams of fiber

Celebrate with celery

Not exactly a dark-green vegetable, celery makes both Postman’s and White’s lists because it delivers at least its share of nutrients per calorie. White says celery serves up fiber, folate, Vitamin A and Vitamin C — “a lot of the same nutrients found in other green vegetables” but in easy-to-eat style. “It’s a great snack to cut up and enjoy,” he says. Postman agrees: “It’s a great source of fiber, and it’s a vehicle for healthy spreads.”

Tip: Use celery as a “vehicle” for healthful toppings such as almond butter, peanut butter and raisins, or refried beans.

Recipe: Tangy Chicken Salad With Celery 3 Ways.

Per cup, raw: 16 calories 1.6 grams fiber

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