Important strategies and ideas to consider for optimally using greens to boost the immune system and overall wellness.
I think most of us are familiar with the Calvin & Hobbes dinner table scenes…the discussion is usually centered around some unidentifiable pile of green “stuff”.
My personal favorite is when Calvin’s dad tells him that the green stuff will turn him into a mutant, and so Calvin cheerfully scarfs the greens down, and in the next frame declares that it’s working (if I’m in the right mood this one will have me rolling on the floor)
Why the fuss about greens?
We have explored 1 through 4 of the Top 10 Immunity Boosters, from the GAPS Diet by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Today we’re going to talk about #5 – How to boost immunity with greens.
Why are greens good?
The leafy greens are probably the richest in nutrients of any foods in the vegetable kingdom. Dr. Elson Haas, author of Staying Healthy With Nutrition.
For starters, greens balance out the healthy animal foods, like grassfed meats, organ meats, eggs, & raw dairy. Greens are cleansing foods, while animal foods are nourishing foods.
Greens are great for detoxing, which is important for our immune system and every cell in our bodies. This is why many health conscious folks have jumped on the bandwagon of green smoothie benefits despite the very real risks of regular consumption.
Beside quick detoxification, greens help us in other ways also:
- Full of readily assimilated vitamins
- Full of easily absorbed minerals
- Full of chlorophyll, the compound responsible for harnessing the sun’s energy into food & energy for the plant.
- Full of enzymes (if raw or enhanced by fermentation)
- Full of phytonutrients
What are phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are plant chemicals developed by the plants to protect themselves from various pests, such as insects, animals, and UV rays…and if we eat these phytonutrients they protect us as well.
Phytonutrients outnumber traditional nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates & fats) 10,000 to 1.
There are thousands of them, hundreds of them are responsible for the color in our food alone. Phytonutrients give us our food experience, they are responsible for the color, smell, and taste of our food. The phytonutrient chlorophyll harnesses the energy of the sun and turns it into chemical energy, as well as giving the plant its green pigment.
- Sulphur compounds
Phytonutrients can be:
- Cancer preventative
- Tissue protective
- Immune stimulating
And they give our food their colors, tastes & smells.
A Green Variety to Optimally Boost Immunity
The more variety of greens and other raw vegetables you eat, the more variety of nutrients & helpful phytochemicals you’ll be consuming. This will in turn boost immunity. Here’s a list of the best greens to consider:
- Spring nettles (good for spring allergies)
- Spring Onion
- Dandelion greens
- Leafy green lettuces
The variety of greens listed are more numerous than I will make an individual study of in this article.
Suffice it to say, that the combination of their flavors, along with the health benefits of their macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients, makes them worth the culinary experimentation.
A Note On Quality
Let’s take a moment to talk about sourcing your greens. On a great, better, best scale, organic is great, biodynamic is better, and wild is best. Why? Because the plants develop their phytonutrients in response to their natural environment of insects, pests, animals, and UV rays. So the more we spray with pesticides, coddle, cultivate, and strip their environment of diversity (as in mono crops), the less of these valuable phytonutrients they will develop.
There are still some supermarket varieties that can have higher levels of phytonutrients than their peers. For example, according to Jo Robinson, author of Eating On The Wild Side, green onions have 100x more phytonutrients than other onions…which makes sense to me because more of their plant parts are exposed to the sun.
How To Eat Greens
Here are a few ways to eat your greens to optimally boost immunity without inadvertently harming health by overdoing it:
- Season your cooking with green leafy spices like basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, chives, cilantro, oregano, mint, & dill. A great way to do this conveniently is to have an indoor herb garden. Ideas for indoor herb gardens can be found here and here. I also love The Flavor Bible for helping me combine the flavors of herbs with the right foods. (Make sure to add fresh herbs at the end of cooking so as not to overcook and lose their valuable nutrients)
- A Daily Salad, with endless options for combinations. My lunch today? A plate full of organic dark lettuce greens, topped with walnuts, shredded carrot & beet, diced apple, cilantro, minced garlic cooked in ghee, shredded romano & a simple vinaigrette. Salads shouldn’t be boring, but instead have lots of different flavors. The cookbook FRESH by Real Food author Kimi Harris, is one of my favorite salad cookbooks.
- Smoothies and juices. Mint is a great herb to add to smoothies and for veggie smoothies you can also try adding parsley, cilantro, basil or dill. A little bit goes a long way! If you have a good quality juicer, such as a masticating or hydraulic press juicer, you can also juice your greens with the rest of your veggies and/or fruit. Just take care not to overdo on greens high in oxalates and other anti-nutrients when consumed raw. Oxalates can trigger health issues such as kidney stones.
- Take a walk on the wild side and forage for wild greens in season and really experiment with new dishes. This should be done with a little know-how. A great book for guidance on selecting wild herbs and cooking them is Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi
So smell, taste, look, and eat your greens with every meal!
Staying Healthy With Nutrition by Dr. Elson Haas
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