Benefits of Green Vegetables & How to Eat More
This article is about sharing the health benefits of eating green vegetables and how to incorporate them into your daily diet.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.
You’ve probably heard most of your life how important it is to eat your vegetables. Vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat and each vegetable provides us with different vital nutrients. The suggestion “eat the rainbow” is a great way to vary your nutrient intake, as different colors of vegetables contain different nutrients.
While all vegetables are worth including into your diet, green vegetables contain certain phytonutrients that make them powerhouses of health. Most green vegetables contain significant amounts of iron, magnesium, and calcium. They also contain chlorophyll, the compound that gives them their green hue. Chlorophyll is partially responsible for the detoxification-boosting abilities of vegetables.
The FDA recommends anywhere from 2-3 cups of vegetables per day to meet dietary guidelines, but it may be beneficial to include more vegetables to ensure you’re absorbing as much fiber and nutrients as possible.
Green vegetables include any vegetable that’s green, of course! But different types of green vegetables belong to different families and provide you with different phytonutrients. Here are some common categories of green vegetables that you’ll want to include in your diet.
Yes, squash can be green! Some varieties of green squash include zucchini, romanesco zucchini, cousa squash, pattypan squash, and chayote squash. Green squash contains chlorophyll and other antioxidants as well as Vitamin C to support your body’s detoxification processes. They’re also a good source of beta carotene, B vitamins, and fiber.
Leafy greens are the kings of the green vegetable kingdom. They’re super nutrient-dense, boasting significant amounts of some hard-to-get nutrients like magnesium, folate, calcium, Vitamin K, and potassium.
Leafy greens are also high in Vitamin C, chlorophyll, and fiber. They contain a lot of water, as well, so they’re great for hydration. There are a lot of different types of leafy greens, but popular types include various lettuces, spinach, collard or turnip greens, chard, arugula, kale, and dandelion greens.
Microgreens act as a fun garnish for salads, sandwiches, and many other dishes! They pack a nutrient punch in a smaller serving. They’re the immature, seedling form of bigger greens like radishes, cilantro, and broccoli and contain as many nutrients as their mature counterparts. These nutrients depend on the microgreen, but can include Vitamin C, chlorophyll, beta carotene, Vitamin K, B vitamins, and Vitamin E.
Learn how to grow broccoli sprouts right on your kitchen countertop.
Don’t forget your herbs! Dried or fresh, herbs are incredibly nutrient-dense green vegetables. Herbs like cilantro, basil, parsley, chives, rosemary, and other contain chlorophyll, antioxidants, beta carotene, Vitamin C, and even anti-fungal properties. Cooking with herbs will give your dishes better flavor and more nutrients.
This category also includes snap beans and string beans. Green beans are high in fiber, antioxidants, chlorophyll, iron, and folate.
Green Cruciferous Veggies
The cruciferous family of vegetables contains many different colors, but some green cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, romanesco cauliflower, watercress, green cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale.
Cruciferous vegetables are wonderful to include in your diet for their inflammation-fighting, detoxification-supporting abilities. They’re also high in Vitamin C, folate, Vitamin K, beta carotene, and fiber. Green cruciferous veggies include chlorophyll for extra help fighting free radical damage.
There are countless green vegetables. Don’t forget about okra, celery, asparagus, cucumber, green peppers, and tomatillos. These, like all green vegetables, are nutrient-dense and provide your body with chlorophyll and all of the other micronutrients that are so important for our ongoing health.
What are dark leafy greens?
Dark leafy greens are vegetables like collard greens, chard, kale, spinach, arugula, and many more. These can be tougher greens that are best cooked, like kale and collard greens, or softer salad greens, like spinach and arugula.
Dark leafy greens are very important to include in your diet because they’re incredibly nutrient-dense and contain some phytonutrients that are more difficult to get in adequate amounts.
Alongside fiber and chlorophyll, dark leafy greens contain significant levels of folate, magnesium, calcium, Vitamin K, potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta carotene, iron, and antioxidants. Consuming dark leafy greens regularly will support your digestion, detoxification processes, hormone health, bone health, and cognitive health.
However, keep in mind that the goitrogens in raw, dark leafy greens can exacerbate issues like hypothyroidism if eaten in excess. If you have a thyroid disorder, consider limiting your intake of dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables to no more than two cups per day, and ensure they’re well-cooked.
How many green vegetables do you need to eat?
A serving of green vegetables is roughly one cup. The FDA recommends 1-3 cups of vegetables per day for the average adult. However, it may be beneficial to consume more vegetables to ensure you’re meeting optimal dietary guidelines (not just minimal guidelines) and consuming enough fiber.
Vegetables, especially green vegetables, are low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients. You can eat plenty of veggies as part of a healthy diet, no matter your weight goals. Try to include vegetables with every meal, and include a variety of green vegetables in your rotation.
How much is a serving size?
A serving of vegetables will depend on the vegetable. A serving of sweet potato is very different from a serving of spinach, calorically. The government defines a serving of leafy greens as one cup and a serving of other vegetables as half a cup, cooked or raw. Many recommendations include using “half your plate” as a guideline for veggies.
How do you cook them?
Green vegetables are versatile and can fit nicely into any meal. You can saute them, steam or boil them, roast them, or enjoy them raw or blended into a smoothie. Here are some tips for cooking green vegetables for breakfast, lunch, or dinner:
- For breakfast, finely chop leafy greens like spinach or kale and saute before cooking into a scramble or frittata. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro for extra nutrients.
- Another breakfast or snack option is a smoothie. Blend spinach, zucchini, cucumber, or mint into your smoothie. You won’t be able to taste the more neutral vegetables and they will add some fiber and nutrients. See my favorite Strawberry Green Smoothie recipe.
- For lunch, throw together a big salad filled with lettuce, some dark leafy greens, and microgreens. Here’s a great kale salad recipe.
- For dinner, enjoy a side of roasted broccoli, okra, or asparagus. Roasting vegetables brings out a natural sweetness and adds a caramelized crunch. Or, for an even faster recipe, try my frozen vegetables with peanut sauce.
For many reasons, it’s very important to eat at least several servings of vegetables a day, with an emphasis on green vegetables. You can make your life easier by incorporating a serving of veggies with each meal, from smoothies to salads to side dishes. Find preparation techniques that you like so you enjoy eating your vegetables.
Read more of my articles with clean eating basics!