Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Green Foods

A) Most traditional cultures use green foods in the form of salads, cooked greens or wraps. An example of a wrap is the Greek dish where rice and vegetables are wrapped in grape leaves. Banana leaves have been used as a wrap in Latin American traditional cuisine. These dishes are usually baked, though some can be eaten raw. The wrap isn’t always edible, though it may still impart flavor or nutrients to the contents. Salads can vary considerably from region to region, using mostly native vegetation, often cultivated. Americans have raised salads to an art form with salad bars, where the full plates are as unique as snowflake designs. Raw greens are often eaten in fermented form, especially in Asian countries. Traditional fermented foods include cabbage (kimchee, sauerkraut) and pickles (almost any firm vegetable). Some form of fermented food (including fish eggs and dairy) is in the traditional diet of most cultures. Steamed greens are fairly widespread, worldwide, and seem to be preferred to raw salads in many Asian countries. In the American south, ham or lard is often added to cooked greens (as well as to cooked beans) to add flavor and improve ‘mouth feel’. Seaweeds are often used in the diet of many coastal cultures, and they are also used for fertilizer. These consist of varied species, with some useful eaten raw - including dried dulse, a good source of iron and trace minerals - and others toasted or added to soups or stews. Of course, sushi wraps are usually made from nori. Kelp is a traditional source of iodine and other trace elements. Juicing cereal grain leaves in their green vegetable stage is perhaps a more modern source of greens, though it is possible that people chewed leaves while working the fields. Fresh greens have long been a treasured food in temperate climates after the winter season ends. Green foods are known today as blood builders and detoxifiers. The green pigment, chlorophyll, is known for improving bad breath, being an internal deodorant, and stimulating the formation of red blood cells. In fact, the chlorophyll molecule has many similarities with the red blood cell. As a detoxifying agent, chlorophyll is associated with the reduction of harmful substances and the inhibition of cancer cells. For those who do not consume adequate amounts of a variety of green foods, there are green food supplements. These are roughly classed into land and sea vegetable sources, and are also available in combinations of the two. Algal and plankton sources, such as chlorella, spirulina and blue-green algae, are also available. These are high protein (about 60%), high carotenoid foods. Some have good levels of Vitamin B12, the anti-inflammatory fatty acid called GLA, blue pigments (good for the eyes), antioxidants, etc. These are primarily cultured in fresh water, some within controlled environments. Chlorella is usually sold with the cell walls mechanically broken, often by utilizing ultrasound, to allow digestion. Spirulina is available as US-grown natural spirulina or India-grown certified organic spirulina. The main difference is that the US-grown products use a mined nitrate that is classified as a potential environmental hazard, also being non-renewable. Certified Organic Spirulina uses a proprietary, vegan source of nitrogen as a fertilizer that is certified as being environmentally friendly. These are both high quality spirulina sources and NOW offers both sources in its product line. For land sources of green foods, there are both dried plant powders and dried juice powders. Some are freeze-dried to preserve nutrients. Some are spray-dried onto another substance to make them more soluble, or instant, using material such as maltodextrin (usually corn-derived) which are listed on the labels. Wheat grass and barley grass are two traditional cereal grasses consumed in pills, capsules or beverages. These are typically harvested young, before the grassy leaf becomes mature and could form grains. These grasses are considered gluten-free green vegetables at this stage of development. Nutritionists recommend that people eat green foods daily. Head lettuce is a poor source of iron and chlorophyll; dark-green leafy greens are by far the healthiest options. For those who need to supplement their diets, a tablet, capsule or powder may be the next best option. Chlorophyll itself is available in capsules or liquids, often mint-flavored. This allows people to consume the green pigment directly without most of the other components of the green foods. Alfalfa, Barley or Wheat grasses are also available, some coming from powdered green leaves and some from dried, pressed juices. The juices tend to be more mixable in liquids and more concentrated in nutrients, though lacking the fiber of a whole leafy green. It is best to start slowly and work up to the full recommended serving for greens. Some people may experience digestive discomfort from an abrupt change, such as adding large doses of greens. On any supplement, I recommend ramping up to full dose gradually, also adding just one new product at a time so one can tell the effects of that particular product independently of other changes. Greens are also good to enhance GI tract health, especially the environment for beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics.

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