A healthy diet is one that’s high in fruit and vegetables – but how many green vegetables do you know and cook regularly? There are more than you think!
Popeye was a hero when he ate his spinach, and we are starting to learn just why and how broccoli is a superfood, but nutrition experts say there are lots of other green vegetables we may be overlooking.
Dietitians at UT Southwestern Medical Center recently compiled a list of less well known green produce to include in our menus, along with the broccoli and spinach.
These unrecognized green heroes are: avocados, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, kale, nopales, okra and tomatillo, and they offer a range of nutritional benefits
Avocado: Cholesterol Control and Eye Health
Once known as armadillo pears or alligator pears, avocados are a good source of monounsaturated fats. Dr. Vickie Vaclavik, clinical assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern, said including avocado as a regular part of your diet may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Avocados also are good sources of both vitamin E and lutein, a natural antioxidant that may help maintain eye health.
Broccolini: Cancer-Fighting Nutrients
Sometimes known as asparation, broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. It is packed with isothiocyanates, sulforaphane and indoles – nutrients shown to fight cancer, according to Dr. Jo Ann Carson, professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern.
Broccolini can be helpful in reducing the risk of breast, prostate, cervical, lung and other cancers. Not only that, but broccolini contains as much vitamin C as orange juice.
Brussels Sprouts: Cancer-Fighting Phytochemicals
Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables, and contain phytochemicals that reduce the risk of cancer. They’re also high in vitamin C and are a good source of folate, vitamin A and potassium.
Many people dislike Brussels sprouts, because of their strong flavor and slightly sulphurous smell. The trick is to buy small, tightly formed, bright green sprouts and cook them lightly,
They can be steamed, braised, microwaved or even stir-fried. Just avoid overcooking, as they become mushy and unpleasant.
Kale: Rich Source of Vitamins
Kale is a form of cabbage in which the central leaves don’t form a head. It is a rich source of vitamins K, C and beta carotene, as well as fiber, said Cindy Cunningham, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern.
For people watching their weight, it’s nice to know that a half-cup of cooked kale packs 1.3 grams of fiber but just 20 calories.
Nopales: Low-Sodium Goodness from the Cactus
Another far-from-familiar vegetable, nopales, nopalitos or cactus pads are popular in Mexican cuisine. Dr Carson said nopales, being low in sodium and high in fiber, are a good diet option for people managing diabetes or high blood pressure.
Not only is this vegetable another weight watcher pleaser with only 22 calories per cup, that cupful contains more calcium than an ounce of cheese and about half the potassium of a banana.
Nopales can be made into salsas, soups, put in burritos, eaten raw in salads, or even cut in french fry strips and deep fried.
Okra: Good Source of Soluble Fiber
A staple of Southern, Cajun and Creole cuisine, there are hundreds of recipes using okra. The vegetable provides some vitamin A, is naturally low in calories and is a good source of soluble fiber.
One recipe suggestion from Joyce Barnett, clinical assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern, is to marinate cooked whole okra in vinegar or vinaigrette for several hours in the refrigerator and top with chopped onions and tomatoes as a salad.
Tomatillo: High in Vitamin C and Potassium
Another gift from Mexican cuisine, and also popular in the Southwestern states of America, the tomatillo looks like an unripe tomato covered in a paper-like leaf.
It is a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and can be added to salads and salsa. In fact it’s a key ingredient of salsa verde. Like tomatoes, tomatilllo can be cooked, and this intensifies its flavor.