By Lisa Turner
Sure, you eat well. You choose fruit for snacks, fish instead of burgers. But what about dark green vegetables? Most busy Americans consume less than a quarter of a serving a day. But eating greens are important. The main obstacles? We say they’re harder to eat on the go and more time-consuming to prepare. Well, put your excuses aside. You can up your veggie intake fast—and on the go—with green drinks. These super-healthy beverages, made of green vegetables and grasses, pack several servings of greens into an easy-to-tote—and yummy-to-drink—form. Most contain veggies we don’t eat often enough, like kale, broccoli, and spinach, along with vegetables we almost never eat, like barley grass, wheat grass, and sea vegetables. And green drinks contain a combination of vegetables that’s almost impossible to achieve in an average menu.
“The nutrition profile for each individual green vegetable is a little different,” says Steven Pratt, MD, author of SuperFoods Healthstyle. “Broccoli, for example, contains indoles that aren’t present in spinach, and kale is high in calcium—so having an ample selection of each is wise.”
The nutrients in greens ward off a wide variety of disease. Dark green vegetables are high in carotenoids, which protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens contain the hard-to-find antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, macular degeneration, and breast and lung cancer. Dark leafy greens are also rich in folate, which protects us from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-related dementia. And green veggies like broccoli lower the risk for a variety of cancers.
One key feature of green beverages: Most include young cereal grasses, such as barley, wheat, rye, or oats, which are good sources of chlorophyll, long used to build and purify the blood and reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Most green drinks also include sea vegetables, which the vast majority of Americans hardly ever eat. Sea vegetables, like spirulina, kelp, and chlorella, are rich in minerals and trace elements, says Nicholas Perricone, MD, author ofAgeless Face, Ageless Mind; they’re also thought to have anti-inflammatory actions, promote stress relief, relieve symptoms of menopause, boost thyroid health, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some green drinks contain tomatoes, beets, and berries for added phytochemicals, and many also include milk thistle, ginkgo, green tea, and other herbal extracts, probiotics, and even omega-3 fatty acids.
You’ll find a huge variety of green beverages in your natural products store; a few come premixed with juice and are sold in the refrigerated beverage section. Most are available as powdered mixes, usually in the supplement aisle. They may also include soy or whey protein, so they can be mixed with fruit juice or milk for a fast, balanced snack or meal.
With all the varieties of green drinks available, how can you tell which is right for you? First, says Pratt, “look for one that contains broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables and a variety of greens and grasses,” and select one that fills in the nutritional gaps in your diet. If you’re not big on eating, say, leafy greens, select a green drink that shows powdered spinach close to the top of its list of ingredients. Choose a powdered mix; they’re more versatile and more potent than most premixed green drinks.