I pinched my nose, held my breath and closed my eyes so tight I could feel my eyelashes bend the first time I tried a raw green kale smoothie. That’s the truth. Health tastes…odd, and yes that’s a euphemism…especially if you’ve been conditioned to enjoy the gustatory delights of fast food and dairy-rich products like sundaes and pizza. It took me a few months to retrain my taste buds to enjoy and eventually truly crave plant-based foods like kale and asparagus. But it’s possible, and I’m here to try to convince you that it’s worth it to add a few more greens (and reds) into your diet!
First, plant-based diets are high in antioxidants, which protect us from chronic oxidative-stress related diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants quench free radicals, which are rogue volatile molecules that can wreck havoc on our bodies on a molecular and cellular level. On average, plants contain more antioxidants than meat (the lone outlier may be ox meat which actually had an impressive amount of antioxidants compared to chicken and pork).
Traditionally, antioxidant content can be calibrated objectively using the following measurements: ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), TEAC (trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity),TRAP (total radical-trapping antioxidant power assay), FRAP (ferric reduction antioxidant power assay). The disadvantage of using these units to measure antioxidant capability is that they only measure a food’s ability to neutralize free radicals in vitro. That is, in test tubes instead of in bodies. But in 2010, Wei Song et al measured antioxidant activity in cultured human liver cells using a special assay that measured cellular antioxidant activity levels, and guess what they found? Can you guess which veggie had the most antioxidant ability in actual human cells? (Hint: it’s not kale!) The answer is BEETS followed by RED PEPPER and then EGGPLANT. So it seems like you need to eat those reds, too!
Second, dietary nitrates help boost the energy centers of our cells known as mitochondria. Studies have shown that inorganic nitrate (the form of nitrate found most in our diet) can improve the efficiency of mitochondria in skeletal muscle. This translates into better muscle functioning.
Third, veggies both green and red are high in fiber, and fiber is your friend. It helps our digestive health by scrubbing our intestines, if you will. Insoluble fiber in veggies and fruit can keep us feeling full longer, and a diet high in fiber prevents constipation. And who doesn’t want to feel on squeaky clean on their insides?!
So now, after a few years of eating a mostly plant-based diet (I say mostly because I also have a big vegan sweet tooth for dairy-free donuts and coconut milk ice cream), health no longer tastes odd. It tastes earthy and fresh. It takes like health, and I know that my body will thank me for it. So no longer do I pinch my nose when I down a green juice or raw smoothie…also, it helps to add some sweetness like a pear or banana and if all else fails, add some cacao or lucuma powder!