By now you probably know you need to eat your vegetables, but does color matter? There is a reason people’s grandmas all over the world say “Eat your greens.” Green foods have a superpower that you probably studied in high school science — chlorophyll.
If you think back to that biology class, you might remember chlorophyll is the stuff that allows plants to absorb light in a process called photosynthesis. It’s the substance that makes the plant green.
The power of chlorophyll extends to the human body, too, even though it doesn’t produce it naturally as plants do. You do need to eat your vegetables, and they come in all colors, but the green ones have chlorophyll benefits.
Color is a critical element in most fruits and vegetables because pigment packs essential nutritional power. There are currently around 2,000 plant pigments known to science. These healthy pigments contain:
Each one of them has dietary value. For example, the red in tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a carotenoid. There is evidence that lycopene and other carotenoids may work to prevent:
The current theory is that lycopene might inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Finding ways to prevent cancer is critical at any age, but even more so as you get older.
Colors that matter most in produce include:
Of course, green is essential for another reason — chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll does more for plants than absorb light and look pretty. It creates a barrier that helps ward off bacteria. Chlorophyll is known to kill strep, staph and other potentially dangerous organisms. That antibacterial effect extends to humans, as well.
Eating chlorophyll also increases the number of red blood cells in the body. More red blood cells mean better oxygenation to the organs and tissues and more energy for you. That extra green might be just the boost you need to get through a hard day or walk that additional 1,000 steps.
Other known health benefits of chlorophyll include:
There is more than enough proof that chlorophyll does a body good, but current research suggests it may promote a type of photogenesis in humans.
Photogenesis is strictly a plant process, but there is some indication that diets rich in chlorophyll provide a similar benefit. Cells are like little ecosystems, each with its power source — the mighty mitochondrion.
Technically, the mitochondrion is an organelle, which means it’s an “organ” inside of a cell. You can think of it as the battery of the cell. Mitochondria, the plural of mitochondrion, generates Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is energy.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Cell Science found that sunlight can increase the production of ATP in cells of mammals. The researchers were able to prove that the mitochondria in these cells could capture more light and synthesize more ATP when they had chlorophyll on board.
It will take more than this one study to prove that chlorophyll has light absorbing properties in humans but it could explain why eating green foods provides an added nutritional bonus.
The simple answer is any green is good for you. All green vegetables contain some chlorophyll. They wouldn’t be green if they didn’t. Some vegetables do contain higher amounts of chlorophyll, though, such as:
Adding more of these veggies increases your chlorophyll intake.
There is more to love in green veggies than just chlorophyll. Green vegetables are naturally low in calories and carbs, assuming you don’t add a lot of butter to them. Certain greens have a high water content, too, like cucumbers. They can help keep you hydrated.
Most are also a rich source of antioxidants. These are compounds that prevent oxidation damage that can occur with aging or exposure to environmental toxins. They are also excellent sources of essential vitamins like A, C and E.
Not all green vegetables are created equal. Some have extra benefits such as:
Life is all about balance and that is true when it comes to nutrition, too, unless you are talking about vegetables. Eat as many as you want.
You don’t necessarily have to eat only green vegetables, either. You get more benefit and enjoyment from your meals if you mix it up a bit. Think colorful as opposed to just green. Ideally:
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends you fill every plate at least a quarter of the way with vegetables. If you want more chlorophyll in your diet, though, make them green.