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Seven super green foods

Source: Better Nutrition, August 1998 v60 n8 p30(5).
Author: James F. Scheer

Mother always told you to eat your greens. Most likely, she was referring to nutrient-packed vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and peas.

Today, there's a whole new generation of green foods to choose from. However, these "new" greens are not only served on a plate, but also available as supplements.

An article about green foods written by Peter Huck which appeared in the June 1998 issue of the trade publication, Health Supplement Retailer, explains that before growing into a mature grain, cereal grasses, such as wheatgrass and barley grass, first pass through a stage when their nutrient content reaches levels much greater than those found in mature grains. Huck reports, "Because the nutrient content of these plants is at its highest only for a short time, the window of opportunity for harvesting cereal grasses is only for a few weeks .... "

Not a "green food" in and of itself, but a critically important component in green foods, chlorophyll is known as the lifeblood of all plants, since it is very similar in molecular structure to the hemoglobin of human blood.

Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D., in Herbal Tonic Therapies, cites research indicating that chlorophyll extracts from plants may stimulate the growth of new skin tissue in wounds. He cites one study in which 1,372 cases of experimentally induced wounds and burns were treated topically by 17 different ointments; only the chlorophyll preparation showed consistently significant results.

Biochemists T. Negishi, and colleagues, on the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Okayama University, Japan, recently conducted a revealing experiment with chlorophyll on fruit flies. A toxic substance was fed to the fruit flies along with chlorophyll derived from spinach and the green product chlorella. The chlorophyll neutralized the toxin, and the fruit flies survived.
The seven glorious green foods include wheatgrass, barley grass, alfalfa, chlorella, spirulina, blue-green algae (AFA), and green tea.

1 Wheatgrass. Researchers agree that wheatgrass -- the delicate, immature wheat plant before it produces seeds -- is loaded with protein (some say 25 percent), containing more of this nutrient than meat, eggs, fish, or dairy products.

Thanks to the stellar track record of the late Ann Wigmore for restoring the health of thousands of sick and energy-drained people with wheatgrass, this super supplement came out of obscurity and today is found on the nutrition shelves of health-conscious people everywhere.

Authorities agree that even people allergic to wheat can ingest wheatgrass and not suffer any ill effects, since wheatgrass does not contain the gluten of wheat grain.
2 Barley grass. Like wheatgrass, young barley grass seems to be headed for the Nutrition Hall of Fame.

Young barley grass is a source of amino acids, enzymes, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, beta carotene, B vitamins, vitamins C and E, selenium, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and a newly discovered antioxidant, 2-O-GIV.

Yoshihide Hagiwara, M.D., the "father" of barley grass, president of the Hagiwara Institute of Health in Japan, and author of Green Barley Essence, discovered in an in vitro experiment that barley grass added to damaged body cells quickly helped to repair their DNA, enhancing the cells' ability to prevent cancer and delay aging.

Research also indicates that green barley grass may be beneficial for asthma, obesity, skin, anemia, arthritis, digestive problems, diabetes, heart disease, and hepatitis.
3 Alfalfa. Important information keeps emerging about another important green product, alfalfa. Scientists have discovered that it not only reduces cholesterol levels, but also reduces atherosclerotic plaque, reveal Michael Murray, N.D., and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., in their Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. In one study, alfalfa in the diet of monkeys dissolved plaque formed by a high intake of cholesterol-rich foods.

Mowrey, in his book, states that alfalfa brings many health benefits, because "it is a kidney tonic, a liver tonic, a superlative restorative tonic, a digestive tonic, a prostatic tonic, reproductive tonic, a musculoskeletal and glandular tonic."

The roots of alfalfa often probe 10 to 20 feet deep in the soil to absorb nutrients and moisture. It is also very rich in chlorophyll.
4 Chlorella. On this polluted planet, it is comforting to know that the green supplement chlorella exists. A single-cell, fresh-water algae and a green treasury of chlorophyll, chlorella is an all-purpose cleanser that can rid the body of such toxins as cadmium, present in tobacco smoke, smog, and tire dust on roads, and uranium, according to the 1998 book, Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution.

Rich in B-complex vitamins, chlorella contains more pantothenic acid (an anti-stress nutrient) than any other natural source. It also boasts magnesium and other trace minerals. Vegetarians will delight in the fact that third-world countries use it as a cost-effective substitute for meat, due to its high content of protein.

More good news about chlorella is that it enhances the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon, promoting the healing of ulcers there, reports Atkins. Crohn's disease and diverticulosis all improve when chlorella is taken regularly. It also strengthens the immune system and boosts production of body-protecting interferon.
5 Spirulina. This spiral-shaped, blue-green, freshwater algae gets its color from chlorophyll (green) and phycocyanidins (blue) and is typically grown in man-made ponds.

Nutrient-dense, it is a particularly rich source of protein and one of the few plant sources of vitamin B-12; it is also a good source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and antioxidants. Research shows that spirulina has a systemic effect on the entire body, especially immune function. A 1988 animal study showed that spirulina may help to suppress tumor development. Other research has shown that it possesses anti-viral properties, particularly in relation to herpes simplex virus type 1.
6 Blue-green algae (AFA). AFA, which stands for Aphanizomenon Flos Aquae, is called blue-green algae because of its color and is usually harvested from natural resources. In addition to containing 22 amino acids and a full spectrum of naturally chelated minerals (organically bound), it is rich in betacarotene and most of the B-complex vitamins, including vitamin B-12.

Research has shown that consumption of AFA may help to prevent the development of cancer and viral infections. It is also said to promote physical endurance and brain wellness.
7 Green tea. Another cancer-fighting green "food" is green tea. Although it contains chlorophyll, it's main protective ingredients are phenolics, a white crystalline compound composed of various acids -- caffeic, ellagic, ferulic, and gallotannic.

Many biochemists theorize that phenolics in green tea prevent cancer by entering cells and surrounding the DNA, protecting it from cancer-causing substances. This may be true. However, these phenolics also block cancer in another way. When sodium nitrites or nitrates in cured meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, hotdogs, and canned meats join ever-present chemical compounds called amines, they form nitrosamines, substances that can cause cancers.

Compounds found in green tea and, to some extent, black tea, block the formation of nitrosamines in the intestinal tract. Test-tube studies by Hans Stich, Ph.D., at the University of British Columbia, revealed that polyphenols found in both green and black tea, in the moderate amounts consumed by most people, effective-ly stop cancers from developing. Catechins are the potent polyphenol antioxidants found in green tea, and include: gallocatechin, epicatechin, and many others. They are as powerful as beta-carotene in preventing mouth cancers in users of snuff and chewing tobacco, according to Stich's research. Preliminary tests indicate that catechins may be a lifesaver for those addicted to chewing tobacco.

In The Green Tea Book: China's Fountain of Youth, Lester A. Mitscher, Ph.D., and Victoria Dolby, offer a comprehensive look at the health benefits of this Asian "fountain of youth" in a cup. They discuss not only the dramatic effects of green tea's antioxidants in cancer prevention and treatment, but also its positive effects on cardiovascular disease, longevity, digestion, health of teeth and mouth, and for such women's health concerns as osteoporosis, breast cancer, and healthy collagen in skin.

Green tea drinking is increasing slowly, but steadily, in the United States; many people have not yet learned of its advantages over black tea. Green tea is the drink of choice in Japan and China. According to Mitscher and Dolby, because tea is so "refreshing, stimulating, and health-enhancing" it is "the most popular beverage in the world (after water)."

So there you have it, no more excuses for not getting your greens. Remember, green foods can be as good as gold when it comes to their role in protecting and preserving our health and well-being, so dig in.
Atkins, Robert C., M.D. Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Bokuchava, Mikhail, A., et al. "The Biochemistry and Technology of Tea Manufacture," CRC Critical Review of Food Science Nutrition 12(4): 303-370, 1980. Carper, Jean. The Food Pharmacy. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Duke, James, A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1997.
Hagiwara, Yoshihide, M.D. Green Barley Essence. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1986.
Hayashi, Toshimitsu. "Calcium Spirulan, an inhibitor of enveloped virus replication, from a blue-green alga Spirulina plantensis," J. Nat. Prod. 59:83-87, 1996.
Huck, Peter. "Harvesting the Benefits of Green Foods," HSR Health Supplement Retailer (4)7:61-63, June 1998.
Mitscher, A., Ph.D., and Dolby, Victoria. The Green Tea Book: China's Fountain of Youth. Garden City Park, N.Y.: Avery Publishing Group, 1998.
Mowrey, Daniel, Ph.D. Herbal Tonic Therapies. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1993.
Murray, Michael, N.D. and Pizzorno, Joseph, N.D. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1991.
Negish, T., et al. "Antigenotoxic Activity of Natural Chlorophylls," Mutational Research 376(1-2): 97-100, May 1997.
Schechter, Steven, N.D. "Nutrient-dense green foods: mining the motherlode," Better Nutrition 60(6): 16, June 1998.
Schwartz, J., et al. "Prevention of Experimental Oral Cancer by Extracts of Spirulina-Dunaliella Algae," Nutr Cancer 11:127-134, 1988.
Stich, H.F. "Inhibition of Mutagenicity of a Model Nitrosation Reaction by Naturally Occurring Phenolics, Coffee and Tea," Mutation Research 95(2-3):119-128, August 1982.
Are you getting your greens?
Are you eating your five daily servings of vegetables recommended by the USDA and National Cancer Institute? Probably not. Surveys show that 80 percent of Americans fail to meet these recommended guidelines. While fresh vegetables are essential in providing vital nutrients, green food supplements and green tea can be convenient and nutritious additions to a whole food diet.

How do you choose the right green food?
Deciding which green food is best for you is simply a matter of personal choice; it's like going to the produce department and selecting which vegetables satisfy your nutritional needs and personal taste.

What's out there?
Besides green tea, the other green foods discussed here are available in capsules, tablets, liquids, and powders designed to be mixed with water or juice.

James F. Scheer is co-author, with Better Nutrition contributor Stephen Langer, M.D., of Solved: The Riddle of Illness, a perennial best-seller. Jim is also co-author of Solved: The Riddle of Weight Loss and Solved: The Riddle of Osteoporosis.

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