Going Green for Great Vitality: Nutrient-Concentrated Green Foods

Going Green for Great Vitality: Nutrient-Concentrated Green Foods

There’s no question green foods are essential for achieving good health. Just looking at kale, seaweed, and broccoli, it’s obvious they are loaded with life-giving nutrients. The real challenge is actually eating them on a regular basis. Luckily, concentrated nutrition in green food supplements is right at your fingertips. There are a number of different options – chlorophyll, algae, young grasses, and green

food combinations.1 Their extravaganza of nutrients includes vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, which rightly bestows them the name of “superfoods.” These food supplements can encourage health in innumerable ways, including detoxification support, combating destructive free radicals by acting as antioxidants, reducing inflammation, improving breath and body odor, helping prevent overall disease, and more. The information below describes the various green food options and offers practical suggestions on how to incorporate these health-promoting supplements into your disease-preventing lifestyle.


Who Needs SuperFoods?

Who needs superfoods? The same people who need to consume vegetables – everyone! The therapeutic properties of whole foods, such as herbs, seaweeds, and vegetables, have been relied on throughout history. The longer we have these powerful foods in our diet, the more we learn about their healing affects. It is clear we do not take in enough nutrients through our typical American diet. Different surveys reveal various vegetable intake estimates; however, the average amount is always the same – inadequate. Deficiencies in nutrients can sabotage body functions, like serotonin production, liver metabolism, or memory.2 It is a well-known fact that a large number of our vitamins, minerals, and other vital-for-health nutrients come from plant foods. The general vegetable recommendation is six to ten servings per day – fresh and organic, if possible, due to the higher nutrient content.3 I know what most of you are thinking – NO WAY! Keep in mind, this is a goal. I take great care with my food selections and still do not accomplish this everyday; however, it is what I strive for. Furthermore, allowing for different lifestyles, tastes, needs, and preferences, this is not always possible. Whole-food green supplements to the rescue! These superfoods fill the void from a lack of dark green vegetables and also give an added boost to overall nutrient intake that is often necessary in our modern society. Just like the standing recommendation for vegetables, anyone and everyone can benefit from the health-giving properties of these concentrated whole-food supplements.


Chlorophyll – Green Gold

Although chlorophyll is not a green food in and of itself, it is what gives many of the healing properties to the actual green foods. Thinking back to high school biology, you may remember that chlorophyll is the substance responsible for the green color in plants and is essential for the process of photosynthesis. This allows plant cells to capture and convert sunlight into energy. Traditionally, chlorophyll has been used to ameliorate bad breath and body odor, as well as for its overall cleansing qualities. Some preliminary  evidence suggests that chlorophyll might help detoxify cancer-promoting substances.4,5 This “green gold” also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and wound-healing properties.6,7 Chlorophyll has been used for gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, and to stimulate blood cell formation in anemia. It is found in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form. An easy and tasty way to consume chlorophyll is to pour a teaspoon or so into a tall glass of filtered water. Once you get past the green color, it really does have a nice refreshing taste. Or try mixing some into your next glass of iced tea.


Blue-Green Algae, Spirulina, and Chlorella

Blue-green micro-algae are a group of 1,500 species of microscopic aquatic plants that grow on inland waters throughout the world. Technically, “blue-green algae” differ from spirulina and chlorella in that they are not cultivated in manmade ponds, but harvested from lakes (e.g. Klamath Lake in Oregon). They are all blue-green algae and nutritional similar. The Aztecs ate spirulina as a staple food, dried and spread on tortillas, while Africans of the Sahara region use dried spirulina with grains and vegetables.8 Spirulina is particularly rich in protein and chlorophyll, and also contains carotenoids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids (particularly GLA).9 Although it also contains vitamin B12, it does not appear to be readily usable by people.10 Test tube and animal studies have demonstrated several properties of spirulina, including antiviral,11,12 anticancer,13,14,15,16  anti-allergy, 17,18 immune-enhancing,19,20,21 liver-protecting,22,23,24 blood vessel-relaxing,25 and blood  lipid lowering26,27 effects. Its high protein content also helps stabilize blood sugar levels.2 This may be one of the reasons people find spirulina to be a valuable supplement for energy, particularly for those afternoon slumps.

Chlorella is another edible fresh-water green algae that provides protein, B vitamins (like spirulina, the B12 is not a reliable, bioavailable source), minerals, carotenoids, and vitamin E.2 This algae actually has the highest levels of chlorophyll of any food, hence its name chlorella.28 It was originally cultivated for third world countries as an inexpensive source of protein; however, it turned out to have much more to offer. Studies have demonstrated it provides antitumor, antiviral, and immune-stimulating activity.29,30 Chlorella is also an all-purpose cleanser that can support the body in getting rid of such toxins as cadmium, which is present in tobacco smoke and smog. This nutrient-loaded food also stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which ultimately promotes the health and healing of the gastrointestinal tract.30 These algae can be taken as a powder, capsule, or tablet. A general dose for spirulina is 1 to 2 teaspoons or 6 to 9 tablets per day. Chlorella is closer to one half teaspoon each day.30 Follow the directions on the bottle or package. Few side effects have been reported from the ingestion of bluegreen algae; however, be sure to get a clean product, since heavy metals can accumulate from contaminated water.31,32


Grass – Not Just for Horses

Before the stem develops on a cereal grass, such as barley and wheat, they go through a stage when the plant is gathering all the vitamins, protein, and chlorophyll it will need to elongate and create the stem and seeds. As the grain grows, the carbohydrate (sugar) content increases and the nutrient ratios decrease. It is the young sprouts in the form of barley grass and wheatgrass that offer the blast of concentrated nutrition.30

Young barley grass is a source of protein, enzymes, chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, B vitamins, and more. The green leaves of this delicate grass are juiced and carefully freeze-dried to protect their vital nutrients. Back in the 1970s, a Japanese researcher by the name of Yoshihide Hagiwara was said to restore his health by drinking the grass-juice powder made from young barley shoots. According to Hagiwara and his research, 100 grams of barley grass juice powder contains 11 times the calcium in cow’s milk, five times the iron in spinach, and four times the vitamin B1 (thiamin) of whole wheat flour.33 Dr. Hagiwara and colleagues also have reported that barley grass juice  contained numerous enzymes that may help neutralize toxins.34 A newer discovery in barley grass is the isoflavone 2-0-glycosylisovitexin (2-0-GIV) that imparts powerful antioxidant properties35,36 and protects the body from free-radical damage. Although 2-0-GIV does exist in other plants,37 green  barley is an abundant and edible source.2

According to research recently published in Diabetes and Metabolism (2002, vol. 28), supplementation with barley grass can reduce cholesterol and free radicals in the blood of type 2 diabetics. It was found that barley grass taken with vitamins C and E was more effective at preventing the level of free radicals than either barley grass or the vitamins taken alone. The researchers concluded that supplementation with barley grass “in combination with antioxidative vitamins can reduce some major risk factors of atherosclerosis. This may protect type 2 diabetic patients from vascular diseases.”

Dr. Wigmore was a pioneer of the therapeutic value of cereal grasses, specifically wheatgrass. The deep green juice is abundant with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll. Research has suggested wheatgrass is so full of nutrients that 15 pounds has more nutritional value than 350 pounds of fresh, whole vegetables.38 It is intensely concentrated, and benefits are seen with as little as one ounce a day. Wigmore, who began her work with wheatgrass back in the 1950s, found that these chlorophyll-rich plants could help alleviate such ailments as high blood pressure, obesity, blood sugar imbalance, compromised digestion, and liver problems. In a study published in Nutrition and Cancer,

Dr. Chiu Nan Lai of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center found wheatgrass has cancer prohibiting properties.39 Wheatgrass extract was applied to chemical compounds known to cause cancerous cells. The wheatgrass extract was found to reduce the cancer-causing ability by up to 99%.

You don’t have to grow your own or go to a wheatgrass juice bar to get these benefits; it can be found frozen, freeze-dried, and in tablets or powdered. If you are interested in more information on growing, juicing, and using wheatgrass, get your hands on a copy of Ann Wigmore’s book titled The Wheatgrass Book. Overall, these young grasses are well-tolerated. In fact, most sources confirm that young cereal grass juices are non-allergenic and tolerated by those allergic to gluten or wheat, because the proteins have not yet formed.2,30 However, it is important to consider that everyone is different, and some people may experience specific sensitivities.


Combination Products – The Works

It has been clearly established that consuming green superfoods is a wise choice. These products can be found in capsule, tablet, powder, liquid, and in combination forms. There are other ingredients beyond those mentioned above that can be included in combination products that offer a broader range of nutrients. You might find alfalfa, beet root, kelp and other seaweeds, acidophilus, carrot juice power, and other vegetables and herbs. Any green food supplement you choose will only add to your health. One of the simplest ways to get a wide variety is in a combination product, often called a green drink. The superabundance of nutrients they provide is incredible! Powder combination products can be mixed into water, added to a smoothie or blender drink, or mixed into yogurt or cottage cheese. An alternative to fruit juice, which is often too high in sugar for most people to tolerate well, is to add a teaspoon or so of a liquid berry concentrate (e.g. cherry or cranberry) into some water with a scoop of a green combination powder. Once you are able to ignore the odd green color, they can taste quite good. If you need to sweeten it up, add stevia, an herbal sweetener that is calorie-free and does not play yo-yo with blood sugar levels. Different products will taste different to each person, so try a few. Check the juicing section of the Natural Grocers’ book department for more information on making power green drinks. Any juice or blender drink is a great place to incorporate superfood combination powders.

We all have heard, “eat your greens!” Now with the information you have under your belt on whole food green supplements, you are better equipped to actually accomplish this nutritional feat! Ultimately, superfoods deliver hundreds of nutrient compounds in perfect nutritional balance that work together to support your goal of optimal health. Besides improving immune function and warding off disease, these foods also give an energy boost, help improve digestion, and support gentle, continuous detoxification. Put these disease-fighting, health-promoting machines to work for you!