Let’s be honest, we could probably all do with an extra serving (or three) of broccoli in our student lifestyles, but is the mantra of ‘eat your greens’, drilled into us from childhood, really the answer to a healthy diet?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The infamous ‘green detox smoothie’ is still religiously hailed as the epitome of health, complete with generous helpings of spinach, celery and kale and sometimes tasting not too far off blended lawn cuttings. But the emphasis needs to be on balance and variety, and not only encompassing a variety of food groups but also variety within those food groups. A diet of just green vegetables alone is no less unhealthy than one containing a few too many trips to Milano’s.
Ever thought about certain foods being naturally different colours to serve different purposes? Once you consider it, it does make sense. Let’s begin with the leafy greens. The green colouring comes from chlorophyll, responsible for light-absorption in photosynthesis. This pigment can aid liver detoxification (goodbye hangover?) and improve digestion. The notion of ‘eating your greens’ comes from whole host of benefits that green vegetables can offer you, being excellent sources of vitamin K (essential for blood clot formation) and potassium (associated with lowering blood pressure).
However, green isn’t the only colour worth talking about. Both yellow and green vegetables hold lutein, a pigment which is particularly beneficial for eye health due to the presence of lutein receptors in the macula of the eye, found in the retina. Orange and yellow fruit and vegetables contain the colour pigments beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin which are converted to vitamin A in the body, and this helps with hormone production. The blue, purplish hues in foods such as aubergine and blackberries are primarily down to their anthocyanin content, an antioxidant which aids cardiovascular health. The darker the blue hue, the greater the phytochemical concentration (that’s nutrients to you and me). Vitamin C is found present across the colours in citrus fruits as well as blueberries, helping the absorption of iron and protecting cells.
Healthy eating today can seem a world away from your simple childhood beliefs that fruit and veg are good, and sweets and chocolate are bad. You are suddenly thrust into a controversial world full of words like ‘clean eating’ and ‘antioxidant’, and who can say hand on heart than they know what either really means. I mean, washing your hands before tucking into your McDonald’s counts as clean eating, right? At its simplest, clean eating champions eating whole foods, those that are unprocessed or refined, making them as close to their natural form as possible. In terms of ‘greens’, this would lean towards eating an apple rather than a Gregg’s apple pie with a ton of added sugar.
But what clean or green eating sometimes fails to include, especially with their increased media exposure in recent years, is the overarching importance of psychological health, and the devastating rise of food-related disorders. Hyperawareness is not always a good thing, and at the end of the day, food should be enjoyed.
So sure, I would recommend adding a helping of green beans to your evening meal. But instead of just green, go full rainbow and get some colour on your plate – I’m thinking red and yellow peppers, sweet potato, courgettes, beetroot: the whole lot. After all, it’s going to look better on the Instagram when you nail that aesthetic appeal too. And psychologically, you’re more likely to enjoy eating an attractive, colourful healthy meal than just a bowl of brown quinoa. So it’s a win-win all round.
Image Credit: atkin.cz