Remember when you were young and you were told to eat your greens, because they’ll make you big and strong?
Well, there’s definitely an element of truth in that. Green veg such spinach, kale and collard greens contain good levels of iron which contributes to healthy energy levels. Just ask Popeye.
In this article:
So our elders weren’t just spinning us another one of those childhood lies. (We see straight through you, Father Christmas, the tooth fairy and “yes, we’re nearly there” promises.)
Now that we’re adults, we know that eating our (at least) five a day is important, and green fresh produce is an important element of our diet.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, not just iron, green fruit and veg is rich in antioxidants and anti inflammatory compounds that are essential for health. They help to support good immunity and keep inflammation and chronic inflammatory diseases such as dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity at bay.
Not only that, eating our greens will also help to support healthy, glowing and happy skin. So this week, we’re going to look at the how and why behind green veg and our skin.
How do greens benefit the skin?
Everyone’s love-hate veg, kale for example, is rich in an antioxidant called lutein which helps to protect the skin against ageing and damaging UV light from the sun. It’s also high in vitamin K, that helps to strengthen the capillaries - the tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the skin. Eating a diet rich in vitamin K filled foods can help to diminish dull skin and those late night tell tale signs, dark circles under the eyes.
Spinach is rich in folate, otherwise known vitamin B9 or folic acid which, as well as helping to prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies, also helps to combat free radical damage to our skin cells.
Broccoli is teeming with vitamin C and vitamin C is important for skin health and wound healing. Not only that, it helps the body manufacture collagen. Collagen is the protein that helps to keep our skin plump and youthful looking.
Dark leafy greens in general, contain high levels of chlorophyll (the stuff that makes them green - the darker the veg, the more chlorophyll present). Chlorophyll helps to protect the skin against free radical damage which can lead to premature ageing and inflammation.
Green veg also contains vitamin A, which is handy for fighting dry skin and vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that helps to fight inflammation.
Super green foods for the skin:
- Collard greens
- Spring greens
- Brussels sprouts
How to eat more greens
It’s all well and good me telling you to simply eat your greens, but short of adding broccoli to every meal, what are we supposed to do? How do we mix things up and sneak a few more greens into our diets each day?
There’s no escaping the fact that we need to eat a lot of fruit and veg, so the secret is to keep things mixed up. Use any excuse to squeeze another portion of veg onto your plate and have regular side salads. There’s nothing wrong with a Sunday roast complete with broccoli, kale and Brussels!
Veg is nutrient dense whilst being light on the calories. So add blanched cabbage to a pile of spag bol, a side of broccoli to literally anything and never say no to the mushy peas with your fish and chips.
Homemade soups are a great way of adding more greens too. And they’re so simple! You can even make soup out of leftover roasted veg. Warm up your roasted parsnips, potatoes, squash or whatever, add to a pint of vegetable stock, add in some gently fried onions, garlic and celery then pop in a copious amount of raw, green leafy veg. Get a stick blender and blend to the consistency you like. Delicious!
Cooking green veg can cause some of their beneficial nutrients to diminish. So where possible, eat raw greens such as spinach in salads as well as cooked versions. Broccoli and brussels sprouts are actually really nice raw too, and look out for baby microgreens. These are baby shoots that contain high levels of nutrients meant to feed the plant as it grows, but are beneficial to us too.
Kale, spinach and other greens can also be added to smoothies and when whizzed up with berries and other goodies, can take the pain out of consuming veg if you’re a bit veg phobic.
How to eat more greens - part 2
Ok, so you might not grow your own wheatgrass to harvest and juice every morning, but that doesn’t mean you can’t consume wheatgrass. Or any other superfood green for that matter.
Smoothies and juices are a quick and healthy way to get more greens into your diet. The internet is full of recipes and you’ll need a blender to make them. You don't need to go all out, I use a Nutribullet which is relatively cost effective and comes with all the blades and cups you need.
The basic rules are some liquid (either water, coconut water or the milk or milk alternative of your choice) with fruit and veg. Berries and green leafy veg work best, so think blueberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, spinach, kale, lettuce and greens. Oh, and always add a banana. Then you can pimp them up with scoops of green superfood powders.
What are green superfood powders?
Wheatgrass, chlorella and spirulina are all available in powdered form that can be added as a scoop to a daily juice or smoothie, or even a glass of plain water. But I’ll level with you, I list these three greens in my order of taste preference…
Wheatgrass has a mild ‘green’ flavour. I add a scoop to a morning smoothie that I make with frozen cherries, a banana, oat milk and a scoop each of hemp protein powder and antioxidant rich cacao. It tastes just like an old school black forest gateaux, even with a scoop of powdered wheatgrass.
Chlorella and spirulina
Chlorella and spirulina are different kettles of fish. Both types of blue green algae, they’re packed with nutrients and are highly nutritious. They’re also great sources of complete plant based protein and are suitable for vegans.
However, taste for many, including me, is an issue. Both taste of the sea and of the two, chlorella is nicer - much nicer. But it’s still not great.
With a deep green colour, chlorella oozes virtuousness and seriously supercharges a green smoothie. It’s like an intense shot of something you know is good for you, but needs to be consumed as quickly as possible due to the ‘greenness’ of the taste.
I suggest starting with half a teaspoon and adding it to a smoothie that’s already green heavy, such as one made with spinach and kale like this one. Work your way up gradually to a heaped teaspoon each day.
I’ve really tried with spirulina, as it truly is one of the most nutrient dense foods there is. So much so, that the UN have declared it a “food of the future” that could help to feed some of the world's poorest communities.
With a deeper bluey-green colour than chlorella, it’s flavour is also more intense. My advice is, if you’re going to do it, do it quickly. And then feel very virtuous afterwards. Add half a teaspoon to a small glass of orange juice, stir and knock it back. If this is too much, start on less than half a teaspoon.
There’s always supplements too. Take a look in your local health food store or online and you’ll find lots of supplements that contain concentrated powdered forms of greens such as wheatgrass, chlorella and spirulina. Which means that you don’t have to taste them at all if you don’t want to.
Eating to nourish your skin
I hope I’ve inspired a little bit of green-ness to things for you. There’s always room for more fruit and vegetables and your skin, as well as all your other organs and biological system, will most definitely thank you for it!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.