Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives leaves, plants and algae their green hues, is the plant equivalent of the oxygen-carrying red pigment hemoglobin in red blood cells. Dietary chlorophyll inhibits disease bacteria and exerts therapeutic effects on bad breath and internal odors.
Wheat and Barley Grasses
Young cereal grasses—especially wheat and barley grass—are distinguished by their brilliant emerald green hues. Before World War II, drug stores throughout the country, but especially in the grain-belt states of the Midwest, sold tablets of dried wheat or barley grass as a kind of primitive vitamin supplement. Today, young wheat and barley grasses are dried and powdered to make dietary supplements, or picked fresh to process in juicing machines.
At the early grass stage of their growth, wheat and barley are closer to vegetables than grains in composition. This is important to note because while I strongly discourage eating wheat and wheat products, I believe wheatgrass is an excellent addition to your diet.
The nutrient profiles of green cereal plants change quickly as they grow. As the plant grows, the chlorophyll, protein and vitamin content of cereal grasses declines sharply and the level of cellulose (indigestible fiber) increases. Over a period of several months, the green leafy cereal grasses become amber waves of grain bearing the kernels we harvest to make into flour—an unhealthy, pro-inflammatory food.
There is very little nutritional difference between wheat grass and barley grass, although it is important to note that barley grass acts as a free radical scavenger that also reduces inflammation and pain, and wheat grass contains P4D1, a "gluco-protein" that acts like an antioxidant, reducing inflammation. It is also thought to be able to help the body attack cancer cells.
You can get cereal grasses in powder or tablet form. Dried cereal grasses are certainly easier to handle than fresh, which must be juiced. However, fresh grass juice contains healthful enzymes not found in dried grass powder and is likely to be higher in just about every phytonutrient found in cereal grass. Many juice bars and health-oriented markets offer these juices on their menus.
- Wrap small portions of cheese, meats, rice, or condiments in greens. Even restaurants are now offering "lettuce wraps." "Blanched cabbage (boiled a few minutes in water or tomato juice to soften it) is also a good wrap," Audrey T. Cross, PhD, a nutritionist at Columbia University in New York City, tells WebMD.
- Speaking of cabbage, a cooked hunk sauced with a little mayonnaise is delicious, according to Cross. Cabbage is rich in anticancer antioxidants and bioflavinoids.
- Dress up frozen pizza with frozen or fresh spinach or green pepper. When you order out, ask for double green pepper. Green pepper is packed with vitamin C, Smith notes. Spinach (and Swiss chard and kale) is especially good because it contains lutein, a complex substance that can help prevent the blinding eye disorder called macular degeneration. Lutein also lowers cholesterol.
- Steam veggies to keep them green. If you don't have a fancy steamer, a few minutes suspended in a colander over a pot of water works.
- For leafy greens, steaming can result in a gray mess. Acids in these greens destroy the chlorophyll, leaving an unappetizing wad. Instead, treat spicy greens like mustard greens or chard by precooking in 2 cups of water per pound for three to 10 minutes.
- Drink the water afterwards. It's surprisingly tasty.
- Some greens are bitter -- try adding raisins.
- Sneak cut-up zucchini into meatloaf. The same goes for pasta sauce; load it up with greenery.
- If you make canned soup, toss in frozen peas or string beans. The FDA has declared that frozen is as nutritious as fresh. A box of veggies in macaroni and cheese is also delicious.
- At the salad bar, make a veggie sandwich. Add balsamic vinegar and munch away!
- Check out the prewashed department. In addition to prewashed lettuce, mesclun, field greens, and other variations (the darker the green, the better), grocery stores now carry prewashed broccoli florets and cut-up celery. Who says crudites are just for parties? Toss some ranch dressing in your lunch box, along with prewashed veggie chunks, and it's a perfect desk nibble!
- Don't forget the fresh herbs next door to the prewashed greens. Make pesto (mashed olive oil, garlic, and basil leaves) and spread on crusty bread and pop under the broiler.
- Or toss some fresh tarragon on asparagus, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Now this does beat canned!
- When you finish eating, banish that garlic mouth by eating your parsley garnish. According to Smith, parlsey is surprisingly full of nutrients.