December 4, 2003
If you feel like your busy life is
holding your health hostage, green foods may
be the SWAT team that sets you free. "Green
foods are worth a king's ransom as far as
your health is concerned," says Betty Kamen,
PhD, author of Betty Kamen's 1,001 Health
Secrets (Nutrition Encounter). "Green foods
capture solar energy, using it to produce
chlorophyll, which gives it its distinctive
green color. Since we obtain our food by
eating these plants or by eating the animals
that eat these plants, this process is the
source of human life."
"Green foods are renewal foods," says
Ryan Bradley, ND, of the Bastyr Center for
Natural Health in Kenmore, Washington. "They
help to counteract the nutrient depletion
caused by stress and by caffeine intake.
They're nutrient dense, grounding,
balancing, and soothing in their energetic
Ideally, your meals should supply you
with greens, but "...99.9% of the population
doesn't get three to five [daily] servings
of leafy green vegetables like kale, collard
greens and spinach," says Jordan Rubin, NMD,
PhD, CNC, author of Patient Heal Thyself
(Freedom Press). Green foods can bridge that
"Green foods have become popular because
it's a convenient way to get your servings,"
says Dr. Rubin. "You get the equivalent of
two large salads with one serving of
powdered green food. It's nutrient dense and
low calorie so it's a great addition to any
diet. It satisfies the brain so you don't
"Everyone can benefit from green food
supplementation," adds Dr. Kamen. "It's a
concentrated supplier of everything that's
good about vegetables."
Chlorophyll for Health
The key ingredient of green foods is
chlorophyll, the green blood of plants. The
benefits for humans from chlorophyll can be
profound. A study of individuals at high
risk of developing liver cancer because of
their exposure to environmental toxins
showed a 55% reduction in noxious compounds
when these people supplemented their diets
with a semi-synthetic chlorophyll derivative
with properties similar to those of
chlorophyll (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2001 Dec
"This research supports the long-standing
notion that chlorophyll, and green foods,
can play a role in detoxification in the
liver, and thus 'cleansing' the blood," says
Dr. Bradley. "It's a good addition to any
detox protocol. Test tube evidence also
suggests that chlorophyll inhibits mutations
in human cells."
Chlorophyll is antimicrobial and
anti-inflammatory. It can help fight anemia,
improve digestion and elimination, and act
as a mild diuretic. It also helps friendly
bacteria in the gut reproduce and thereby
possibly boost immunity.
Green, Green Grasses
Fast-growing plants, such as wheat and
barley cereal grasses, contain the most
chlorophyll and the deepest green color.
"Wheat grass was one of the country's
first multi-vitamins," says Dr. Rubin, who
is also the author of Restoring Your
Digestive Health (Twin Streams Health).
"Certified organic cereal grasses pull a
vast number of nutrients from the soil."
"The solar-powered factory in the leaves
of the young grass plants is almost beyond
comprehension," says Dr. Kamen. "Sprouted
grains have exceptional nutritive value and
high amounts of certain vitamins and
The blue-green microalgae spirulina is a
"Spirulina is high in protein, up to 65%,
and the blue pigment of this blue-green
algae, phycocyanin, has antioxidant,
antiviral and antifungal properties," says
Like other greens, spirulina can help you
cut calories. "When you nourish the body and
the brain with nutrient-dense and
low-caloric food, it satisfies that impulse
to keep eating." Spirulina is also high in B
vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin and
pantothenic acid, all commonly depleted
nutrients. B vitamins are critical players
in overall metabolism, and are vital to
nerve and adrenal function.
Spirulina contains the minerals potassium
and magnesium, plus iron. "It's been
scientifically validated that [spirulina's
iron is] comparable to the absorption from
an egg," says Dr. Bradley. "It may benefit
patients that are anemic. It's also a great
choice for vegans who are looking for plant
sources of iron."
In addition, the spirulina compounds
called phycocyanins may control inflammation
and lower the risk of cancer.
"Spirulina stimulates the part of the
immune system [natural killer cells]
responsible for our ability to fight off
viruses and survey our tissues internally
and detect and kill cancerous tissue," says
Like spirulina, chlorella stimulates your
natural killer cells to fight bacteria and
viruses, and to strengthen your defenses.
"Chlorella is the richest food on the
planet in chlorophyll," says Dr. Kamen.
"It's also high in protein and rich in
beta-carotene and minerals.
"One of the truly amazing facts about
chlorella is its ability to oxygenate the
blood," Dr. Kamen continues. "If your blood
doesn't have enough oxygen, you can become
listless and lethargic. Chlorella actually
increases your hemoglobin, the oxygen
transporter in your blood, so there is more
oxygen present. It provides the necessary
fuel for making healthy cells, and the
result is renewed energy and vitality."
Both spirulina and chorella also contain
omega-6 fatty acids that have
anti-inflammatory benefits and can improve
the behavior of your blood vessels. In
addition, they provide vitamin B12.
Green Foods from the Sea
Seaweed and other sea vegetables like
kelp offer a green foods bonanza. Seaweed is
low in calories but, like spirulina, offers
a wealth of nutrients.
"Most seaweed provides a rich supply of
many essential nutrients, including protein,
calcium, iodine and zinc," says Bradley
Willcox, MD, co-author of The Okinawa
Program (Potter). "Iodine is essential to
the function of the thyroid gland, which
needs it to make hormones that regulate your
body's metabolism. Lignans, the
cancer-fighting phytoestrogens have been
found in high quantities in seaweed, mostly
kelp, which could conceivably provide some
protection against certain types of
Lower rates of breast cancer were
reported in Japanese patients eating a diet
high in kelp (Nutr Cancer 1983; 4:217-22).
Kelp has also been shown to reduce DNA
damage induced by several known carcinogens
(Mutat Res 1993; 303:63-70).
Sea greens contain omega-3 fatty acids,
fats that boost heart health. "Sea
vegetables may prove to be a more
sustainable source of omega-3 fatty acids
than the dwindling fish populations," says
To incorporate sea greens into your diet,
start by putting them on your lettuce and
"Sea vegetables can make a great addition
to salads," says Dr. Bradley. "They're high
in nutrition and add flavor because of the
sodium. They also add texture, giving salads
Other ways to green up your diet:
* "Kelp comes packaged in three-foot-long
dried strips and is prepared by cutting the
long strips into smaller two- to three-inch
strips and boiling them for about ten
minutes. You remove the kelp, and then you
can use the broth in soups, salads and other
dishes. Kelp simmered with vegetables or
tofu and served in miso soup is an Okinawan
favorite," says Dr. Willcox.
* Wakame (one of Dr. Willcox's
favorites), a type of kelp, has a taste and
appearance that may remind Westerners of
* Nori seaweed can be used to wrap sushi
and rice balls and also to season salads,
soups and noodles.
"Seaweed tastes great and if used wisely,
should not tip you into sodium overload,"
says Dr. Willcox.
Go for the Green
More and more people are realizing and
enjoying the benefits of green foods. Dr.
Bradley recommends keeping your green foods
consumption simple. Add powdered greens,
dried tablets and liquids to juice, mix them
into smoothies or a protein shake, and
sprinkle the powder on salads. Mixed in
water, greens can be used as a morning tonic
and help replace some of the nutrients like
magnesium and B vitamins depleted by coffee
and other caffeinated beverages, which act
"Incorporate a green drink into your diet
once or twice a day," says Dr. Bradley.
"It's the least expensive (health) insurance
policy you can have."