Green foods are often rich in phytochemicals, naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants that include antioxidants. With St. Patrick's Day upon us, here are four powerfully healthy green foods every athlete should eat.
A member of the brassica family of vegetables, cabbage is a power player in the fight against cancer. It is high in a chemical group called isothiocyanate, which neutralizes carcinogens. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who studied the metabolism of isothiocyanates, found they are six times more bioavailable (useable by the body) than the protective components called glucosinolates, which are found in broccoli.
A one-cup serving of cabbage provides 79 percent of your daily recommended intake (DRI) of vitamin K; 69 percent of your DRI of vitamin C; and 100 milligrams of cancer-fighting polyphenols. Vitamin K is crucial for normal blood clotting (important if you get cut during a game), and vitamin C reverses the oxidative damage to cells that occurs during intense workouts.
The best way to prepare cabbage to get the most nutrient retention is to slice, shred or chop raw cabbage and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking. Once the cells in cabbage are broken apart, the protective enzymes in those cells become active and converted from glucosinolates to isothiocyanates.
According to the website World's Healthiest Foods, the best way to cook cabbage is to sauté it. Heat 5 tablespoons of low-sodium broth or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form, add shredded cabbage, cover, and sauté for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it sit for 2 minutes before transferring it to a bowl and tossing it with a bit of olive oil.
2. Swiss Chard
This green goddess is high in vitamins C, A and K. Dark green leafy vegetables tend to be higher in beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, iron and B vitamins when consumed raw. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition said dark green leafy vegetables may enhance absorption of omega 3 fatty acids in red blood cells, which may have a positive impact on cardiovascular health.
Swiss chard does contain oxalate, a naturally occurring substance that makes only a small percentage of calcium and iron available for absorption.
Want a great side dish using Swiss chard? Chop the stalks into three or four small pieces and boil them with a bit of fresh lemon juice for 5 minutes. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese and broil for 10 minutes.
Green smoothie: This is one of my favorite recipes. Take 1 green apple, 2 cups of fresh spinach, 1/2 cup of unsweetened pineapple, 1/2 cup of frozen mango, 1/2 cup of no-sugar-added orange juice, 1 banana, and 2 tablespoons of chia seed. Mix in a blender and enjoy.
Considered a fruit, avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin K, B vitamins, and folic acid. They are high in monounsaturated fat, which may have cardioprotective benefits. Avocados also boost absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in foods that are consumed with it. Although normally served with southwestern dishes—think guacamole—avocados are a great addition to many foods. Slice and place on sandwiches or in salads, or mix in to create fabulous dips and dressings. Add them to smoothies for texture and bulk in your power-packed drink.
Want a complete protein source with no cholesterol or saturated or trans fats? These little guys are for you! Edamame are soybeans that offer all the essential amino acids of animal protein with more benefits. They are high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A and iron. They're a great way to sneak protein into your post-workout routine.
There is a "window of opportunity" of approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after exercise when you can speed up recovery. A handful of shelled edamame and a piece of fruit or whole grain crackers may be all your body needs in that "window." A healthy meal within 2 to 3 hours after exercise is important, too. Add edamame to soups, stews and salads for an extra protein punch.