Superfoods Straight From the Garden?
It doesn't have to come in a powdered, dehydrated, or in a fancy package, and although I do believe in classical "superfoods", you would be surprise to find out that so many of the simple foods from the produce aisle pack a powerful punch in supporting our health, and even preventing disease.
Although there is overwhelming scientific evidence that cultures that eat a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet have better population health outcomes and longevity, our western diet has a long way to go.
Stats Canada indicates that we aren't getting enough servings of veggies and fruit per day and to try and incorporate more dark green veggies like chard, kale, spinach, collards, and mustard greens, and pair them with bright orange veggies like carrots, sweet potato, peppers, and pumpkins.
These are suggested because they are accessible, nutrient dense, and alongside a healthy diet as a whole, help prevent disease.
One of my personal favs right now, because I'm just starting to be able to pull it from the garden, is chard! Some call it swiss chard, although there are many colourful varieties usually these are grouped together and sold as rainbow chard.
Some say kale is King, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Chard has its eye on the throne!
Different Varieties of Chard
- Ruby Chard – deep red stems with a deep green leaf. There is also a variety that sometimes comes in mixes such as ‘Bright Lights’ which has a dark bronze-colored leaf. A related type ‘Rhubarb chard’ is very similar with thicker stems.
- Gold Chard – bright yellow stems with glossy green leaves.
- Pink Chard – often with a beautiful striped pink-and-white effect along the stems and light green leaves.
- Orange chard – somewhere between the bright reds and yellows.
- White Chard – thick white stems and wide green leaves, this is often the most productive variety with some even being described as silvery in appearance.
All being pretty delicious in salads, soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, veggie pot pies, scrambles, steamed, raw, or baked...I could go on..
Chard's Awesome Health Benefits
The many health benefits attributed to chard are due to its impressive list of vitamins, nutrients, and organic compounds, which include vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A, as well as vitamin E, riboflavin, and vitamin B6.
In terms of minerals, Swiss chard has a wealth of magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, sodium, and copper. Furthermore, in addition to dietary fibre, chard has a significant amount of polyphenolic antioxidants, phytonutrients, and unique enzymes that are highly beneficial to your health.
So why should we eat more of these foods?
Swiss chard has a significant amount of calcium in its leaves, which means that it provides a boost for bone health. Calcium, as well as the other minerals found in this vegetable help stimulate bone growth and development, including magnesium and vitamin K. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium and by foods such as vegetables, ehumm dark leafy greens, fruits, and soy.
While we might think of dairy or dairy alternative as a good source of calcium most Asian cultures don’t consume dairy products, but do eat lots of greens which supplies them with their calcium intake. Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes.
Results from 2 large, prospective cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and relative risk of hip fracture. Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, The Nurses’ Health Study, Diet was assessed in 72 thousand middle-aged women, and those consuming the most vitamin K had the lowest risk of hip fracture. Risk of hip fracture was decreased 45% for ≥1 servings/d of green leafy vegetables (the main vitamin K source) compared with ≤1 serving/wk. (1)
Blood Pressure and Heart Health
Green plant foods like chard contain vitamin K, folate, a variety of antioxidant nutrients, and fibre, all of which have the ability to nourish and benefit your cardiovascular system.
The anti-inflammatory and phytonutrient antioxidants found in Swiss chard, along with potassium, contribute to reducing blood pressure and stress on the cardiovascular system. Hypertension is due to pro-inflammatory enzymes within the body, which organic compounds in Swiss chard are able to help neutralize. (2)
Did you know?
- Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting and can prevent excess bleeding if you have an injury or accident, and it also may inhibit hardening of your arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
- Folate plays an important role in protecting your heart because it can help lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that when elevated can damage blood vessels. Folate deficiency, and elevated levels of homocysteine, also can indicate an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Antioxidant nutrients can help combat oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
- Dietary fibre can help lower total and LDL cholesterol and, therefore, may have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health.
- There is a multitude of evidence from scientific studies that relates positive health outcomes with increased intake of vegetables and fruit to help reduce your risk for hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Note* If you are currently prescribed blood thinners, you might be warned against eating leafy green vegetable because of their vitamin K content and the possibility of contraindications. It is important to talk to your doctor, alongside a practicing nutritionist to come up with a meal plan that works for you. There are always possibilities of beneficial plant foods being on the plate because there is a world of variety & abundance out there.
Alongside knowing that fibre rich foods are healthy for our digestive tracts, a critical discovery about how bacteria feed on an unusual sugar molecule found in leafy green vegetables could hold the key to explaining how 'good' bacteria protect our gut and promote health. The finding suggests that leafy greens are essential for feeding and promoting good gut bacteria, limiting the ability of bad bacteria to colonize and proliferate. In other words, feeding the good guys so the bad guys don't have room to hang out.(3)
Swiss chard particularly, has a huge amount of beta-carotene, which has been linked in many ways to optimal eye health and a reduction in macular degeneration, glaucoma, night blindness, and other vision-related conditions.
Like many leafy, green vegetables, swiss chard has anti-cancer properties due to the huge amounts of antioxidants found in it. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause healthy cells to become cancerous.
Swiss chard contains significant amounts of vitamin E, C, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, kaempferol, beta-carotene, and quercetin. Many of these have been connected to preventing a wide variety of cancers, specifically colon cancer. (4)
These same phytonutrients have positive effects on on lowering circulating inflammatory markers, aiding in lowering pain signals in chronic pain sufferers and pain related to arthritic conditions. (5)
This should be reason enough to start upping your green game, but sometimes it takes a little inspiration so here are 5 amazing recipes from one of my favourite recipe sites.
If you still need some inspiration and support navigating healthier food choices that fit your needs, contact the office for a free 20min consult to see if working with a Registered Holistic Nutritionist is right for you.
Health & Happiness Always.