Creating a solid foundation for a well balanced diet is vital to achieve optimal nutrient status, while meeting your daily fibre, protein and fat requirements for good health. In general, our dietary focus should be to include high quality proteins from a variety of sources, healthy fats including omegas, saturated fats and unrefined plant based oils, and of course, a wide variety of fruit and vegetables.
It is widely accepted that eating fresh produce is one of the most important components of a healthy diet, and a good rule of thumb is to eat “from the rainbow”. This means eating a variety of vegetables of different coloured flesh – everything from reds, oranges and yellows, to deep blues and purples. This is because each colour generally has a corresponding nutrient that it is rich in – for example, orange foods tend to be high in beta carotene, and dark blue or purple foods such as blueberries are highest in antioxidants. The deeper pigmentation of the fruit or vegetable is often indicative of the nutrient density of the food. One colour that is particularly beneficial to include on your plate is green.
Greens include everything from culinary herbs to sprouts to dark leafy greens. These mineral rich vegetables are loaded with calcium and magnesium, which are essential for structural (bones, joints) and dental health. Magnesium also acts as a muscle relaxant, which relieves muscle cramping and restless legs, and is often beneficial for anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Greens are also high in B vitamins, particularly folate, which is important for DNA and RNA synthesis, cell division, and prevention of birth defects. Greens are vital for vegans or vegetarians, as they contain both vitamin K and iron, two of the most common deficiencies in plant based diets. Greens are also high in fibre, but low in sugar and carbohydrates, which makes them perfect for balancing blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity, and aiding weight management. Fibre also helps promote proper digestion and elimination.
Incorporating more greens into your diet does not have to be a chore. I get it, not everybody loves kale – in fact, the plant gets a bad reputation, often because it’s picked when it’s woody, bitter and out of season. Baby kale or winter kale is a much more tender, sweet option than woody curly kale grown in the heat of summer. But the options are endless – try spinach, different lettuces, mizuna, arugula, mustard greens, dandelion greens, broccoli leaves, watercress, chard, collards. Depending on the green, they can be eaten raw, steamed, or even placed strategically in foods so you can’t taste them. This can be a great option for kids (or stubborn husbands) – try blending spinach or lettuce into a fruit smoothie, or adding a handful of greens into your next soup or spaghetti sauce. Zucchini muffins count, too!
The first step to optimizing your overall health is adding more plants into your diet. Always opt for fresh, seasonal foods that have been grown locally. Start with adding a few cups of greens to your plate every day, whether that be cooked, raw, blended, stir fried, or stewed. Greens powders, liquids, and capsules are also available, which are a great option for picky eaters or busy bodies who aren’t always able to get time in the kitchen. But as always, health and nutrition begins on your plate!
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.