Nutritious Green Foods You Didn’t Know About
Good nutrition is all about variety! Browse through our list of unusual fruits and veggies and give yourself a chance to try something new.
Today we’re all about those healthy greens! We’ve got some interesting fruits and veggies to share, and they’re not your everyday choices. We’re pretty sure you’ll come across at least one you either haven’t heard of or haven’t considered putting on your plate!
Good nutrition is all about variety, so pick out one of these fresh choices and see what delicious creation you can devise.
Purslane is technically an edible succulent. Its leaves are tender yet crisp and even the stem is edible. In many parts of the world, purslane is considered a weed and is plucked and discarded. Throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, however, it is widely consumed.1 Whether you regard it as a delicious veggie or a weed for the discard pile is up to your taste preferences.
Purslane’s flavor is lemony and, when fresh, its texture holds up well to acidic salad dressings. Not only does it taste good, it’s highly nutritious. According to recent research, purslane contains significant levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (5 times more than spinach!) and more Vitamin A than any other leafy green vegetable!
Enjoy purslane in a fresh salad, in your sandwich, or even in soups and stews.
Turnips are a root vegetable and they’re commonly enjoyed fresh, cooked, or pickled. The star of the show today, however, is the green top! Turnip greens can be consumed as a cruciferous vegetable.
Like other bitter greens, these will have to be boiled down to be palatable.2 The extra effort is worth it because the turnip top is even more nutritious than the root. According to Healthline, the greens contain significant amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Provitamin A (a substance that gets turned into Vitamin A), and Folate (which aids in the production of red blood cells).
Try turnip greens sautéed or in a soup!
As with turnips, the beet root is the more commonly consumed part of this plant, but you don’t want to miss out on all the nutrients in the leafy green tops! Just one cup of these cooked greens offers 220% of the daily value of Vitamin A, 37% of the daily value of Potassium, and 17% of the daily value of fiber!3
Unlike turnip greens, these are sweeter and have a similar flavor profile to spinach once they’ve been cooked. Raw, they’ll hold a slight but tolerable bitterness. Try them sautéed, in a salad, or in soup!
You may recognize these as difficult to eradicate weeds, but did you know the leafy parts, the roots, and even the flowers are edible?4 Assuming they haven’t been treated with chemicals or herbicides, dandelion greens can be a healthy addition to your plate!
Per serving, they contain over 500% of your daily value of Vitamin K as well as high levels of Vitamins A and C.5 There’s even some research to support their ability to support healthy digestion and treat constipation.4
Flavor-wise, these are slightly bitter. They can be best compared to the earthy flavors of endives and are often sautéed or braised to help cut the bitterness.
Finally steering away from bitter greens, we’d like to introduce you to Kohlrabi. This is a small vegetable that has been a staple of German cuisine for centuries. It can be eaten raw or cooked and its flavor is similar to that of a broccoli stem.6
Like many other cruciferous veggies, this little bulb is a good source of fiber. It’s also rich in antioxidants, iron, and potassium!6
Use the root in the same way you might use carrots or broccoli, and the leaves in the same way you might use kale or spinach.
Despite its scaly appearance, this fruit is soft to the touch. Get past its artichoke-style exterior and you’ll find pockets of sweet and creamy fruit within! Because of its sweetness, cherimoya also goes by the colloquial name, “custard apple.” Be careful to avoid eating the skin and the seeds (they’re usually large and easy to see and remove). Both contain small amounts of toxins that can be harmful if consumed in large quantities.
Interesting benefits of this fruit include mood and immunity boosting properties. Vitamin B6 is important to the creation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and this fruit happens to have a generous amount of this essential vitamin!7 In terms of immune health, cherimoya’s high Vitamin C content can help bolster your body’s natural defenses.
This fruit masquerades as a vegetable and is often used as one! Its mild, somewhat sweet, flavor makes it the star of many Mexican, Indian, and Latin American dishes.8
In addition to a number of good vitamins and minerals, chayote squash has some possible medicinal qualities. While more research is needed to come to any definitive conclusions, there are records of chayote squash tea being used to lower blood pressure and to treat bloating.8
This melon goes by many names and, while it isn’t green on the outside, it’s lime green inside earns it a spot on our list. You may have heard it going by the name “horned melon” or “African cucumber.”
This fruit is great for keeping hydrated. Its water content is a whopping 88% and it also contains carbs and electrolytes that can help keep you fueled and hydrated after a hard workout.9 When it’s ripe, this melon tastes a bit like cucumber with a slight hint of banana. The easiest way to eat it is simply to cut it in half and spoon out the pulp.
Do you have a favorite healthy recipe that highlights one of these fruits or veggies? Share your idea with us in the comments below! To stay in-the-know on trending health and nutrition topics, subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the Living Healthy Blog!
Salt has been called the “secret weapon in the gym” and “the newest workout supplement1.” The white granules known as table salt (also sea, kosher, or Himalayan salt) in your kitchen are simply sodium and chloride put together. By itself, sodium is one of several critical electrolytes which are minerals that affect the body’s fluid balance, muscle and nerve impulses, blood pressure and acid–base balance.
Though human requirements are only 300-500 milligrams of sodium daily, the average American consumes ten times that – over 3,400 mg2! It’s well known that athletes have a higher need for sodium, mainly due to sweat losses. However, competitive athletes also train hours a day (and the majority not resistance work) compared to the average person in the weight room. So then, we wondered where the hype about extra sodium came from. Does liberally salting nearly everything you put in your mouth help you pump more iron in the gym?
Reading through three online sources3,4,5 touting the benefits of salt for size and strength it would appear that we’ve missed out on the key to bodybuilding success! Sodium increases blood volume and intracellular water retention. True, but sodium just doing its job for fluid status and muscle contraction doesn’t mean more salt enhances power and strength for greater gains. None of those articles provide evidence-based references or citations to support these supposed enhancements. (Sodium phosphate is a different molecule that is mentioned as an intracellular buffer that can increase aerobic and anaerobic performance when supplemented3.) The authors do agree that although you shouldn’t limit sodium, you don’t need supplemental salt for strength gains, just ample dietary consumption. A fourth bodybuilding source6 advises not to add excessive sodium to meals and shares that it’s more important to have potassium in balance with sodium intake.
We asked Jennifer McDaniel, RDN, a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), in the St. Louis, Missouri area if strength athletes and power lifters need additional sodium beyond that in the typical American diet. She informed us that sodium requirements vary significantly based on intensity and time of training session, sweat rate and acclimation to the training environment. “Based on the current research available, strength-based athletes do not need more than the average intake of sodium from the typical Western diet,” McDaniel said. She explained that most athletes’ eating habits far exceed the recommended limit of 2,300 mg sodium* per day making it unlikely that strength trained athletes would need an increase in daily sodium for the average hour–long training bout.
* for the general public, from the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines7.
Also, nationally known, Marie Spano, RD, CSSD and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist®, gave us her input regarding athletes’ sodium needs. She shared that dehydration can decrease strength and power. “Your muscles need sodium to hold on to more fluid and for muscular contractions, so consume adequate sodium to cover sodium losses through sweat,” Spano advises. She previously wrote, “To achieve proper hydration, athletes may want to add sodium to their sports drinks or preworkout meals to help retain the fluid they’re consuming.8” The amount depends on total dietary sodium intake and sodium losses through sweat while training in a particular environment.
American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) 2016 position stand and The International Society of Sport Nutrition’s (ISSN) 2018 research and recommendation update both addressed sodium. Regarding hydration, the ACSM indicated, “Sodium consumed in pre-exercise fluids and foods may help with fluid retention,” and advised ingesting sodium during exercise when large sweat losses occur9. The ISSN stated that inadequate sodium would impair performance and advised replacing adequate amounts due to sweat losses10. In regard to extra sodium the Society indicated it was beneficial for hydration in the early days of training in the heat10.
Neither ACSM or ISSN directly mentioned sodium involved in strength, power, weight training or muscle mass. In fact, the ISSN didn’t list any sodium compounds as “muscle building supplements” based on available literature but did name sodium bicarbonate and sodium phosphate under the “performance enhancement” category, noting there was strong evidence to support their efficacy10. The Society also indicated limited or mixed evidence to support the efficacy of [sodium] nitrates to improve aerobic work performance and endurance exercise10.
Being that salt is everywhere in our diet, research on supplemental sodium chloride solely for muscle strength or growth is lacking. Sodium bicarbonate, on the other hand, is not easily obtained from food and has evidence as a modestly effective sports nutrition supplement for short-term, high intensity exercise (anaerobic work) performance11,12. Benefits are most likely due to its action as an extracellular (blood) buffer11. Sodium citrate is a potential alternative buffer, but with unknown effectiveness. For endurance work, sodium phosphate may enhance performance12.
So, it seems the hype surrounding salt for strength comes from the importance of sodium for hydration and muscular contraction. Most people generally get enough of it in the form of sodium chloride, more of which doesn’t help strength gains as long as dehydration is prevented, particularly for training sessions that are very long or in the heat. Other sodium molecules consumed as sports nutrition supplements may offer ergogenic effects that can’t be derived from table salt, namely sodium bicarbonate for anaerobic work. The consensus is not to limit salt if you’re intensely resistance training, but you don’t need to intentionally use the saltshaker everywhere either. Consider just drinking a higher sodium fluid electrolyte beverage pre-workout.
This is a popular question that often comes from people trying to bulk or maintain muscle mass, and even from people just looking to keep their bodies healthy. In general, if you are at a healthy weight and your exercise habits are minimal, your protein intake should sit somewhere in the range of 0.36–0.6 grams per pound (0.8–1.3 grams per kilogram).1 The lower end of this range is considered the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), or the amount needed to meet a person’s basic nutritional needs. For men, this is approximately 56-91 grams per day; for women, it’s about 46-75 grams per day.1 However, you can calculate a more accurate number for your individual needs.
Despite the fact that we have some guidelines on how to determine your protein requirements, it really isn’t an exact science. Each individual should consult with a specialist to determine what is best for their body.
According to the recommendations above, the math behind this is quite simple. Let’s do a quick example to demonstrate how it’s done. Again, this is using the most basic protein recommendation.
If you are 130 pounds, if this is a healthy weight for you, and if your exercise habits are minimal, you would want to multiply by the lower end of the range we mentioned above (0.36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight).
|130lbs x 0.36g = 46.8g|
This quick calculation shows that your protein consumption should amount to approximately 47 grams of protein per day.
If you like, you can go a step further. Since protein has 4 calories per gram,2 you can multiply 47 by 4 to get the total number of calories you should consume from protein.
|47g x 4 = 188|
Now you know that 188 of your daily calories should come from protein.
Endurance athletes need significantly more protein than sedentary individuals, about 0.5-0.65 grams per pound of bodyweight (1.2–1.4 grams per kilogram).1
The calculation here would follow the same process, only you would replace 0.36 with a number within the new range. Of course, the more intense your endurance workouts are, the greater this number will be. Generally, a number within the range of 0.5 to 0.65 helps endurance athletes meet their protein requirements.
Let’s do a quick example using kilograms instead of pounds.
If you took your weight in pounds, you would first need to divide your weight by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Let’s use 130 pounds again to demonstrate how this works:
|130 ÷ 2.2 = 59.09|
Next, multiply your weight in kilograms by a number within the new range. Keep in mind that this range changed too. It’s 0.5-0.65 grams of protein per pound, but 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram. Let’s use the lower end of the range which is 1.2.
|59.09 x 1.2 = 70.91|
This calculation shows that, if you are an endurance athlete, your minimum protein consumption should amount to approximately 71 grams of protein per day.
Athletes looking to increase muscle mass are advised to consume at least 0.55 and up to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.21-2.0 grams per kilogram).3 Athletes who strength train regularly (and at an intense level) need just a little bit more. The recommendation is at least 0.68 and up to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilogram) every day.3
Older adults have increased protein needs as well, about 0.45–0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight (1–1.3 grams per kilogram).1 According to our registered dietitian, the increased intake recommendation is partly to help maintain lean mass and partly to compensate for a slightly diminished ability to digest and absorb protein.2 Healthline explains that increasing protein can also help prevent osteoporosis in older adults.1
People recovering from serious injuries may also need more protein. The assumption is that, because traumatic injury induces hypermetabolism, protein requirements increase.4 While more work needs to be done to develop accurate energy requirements, some suggest that about 0.68 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.5 grams per kilogram) is an appropriate amount.4
A 2015 study found that the recommended protein intake for pregnant women is in fact lower than previously thought. Still, the overall amount is similar to the needs of a high performing endurance athlete! According to this study, these are the appropriate amounts of protein for the average pregnant woman:
During Early Pregnancy – 0.55 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.22 grams per kilogram).
During Late Pregnancy – 0.69 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.52 grams per kilogram).
The short answer is yes. According to a review from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, the maximum safe protein intake is 1.14 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, or 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram.2
Medical News Today identifies the following symptoms associated with too much protein:
How do you reach and manage your protein intake goals? Share your ideas in the comments below! To stay in-the-know on trending health and nutrition topics, subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the Living Healthy Blog.
This article should not replace any medical or nutritional recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.
Gluten is a common term for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, malt, and brewer’s yeast.1 It is what helps maintain the shape and texture of foods made with these grains. The list looks simple enough, but we have not yet considered the various products made from these grains that are then used in various foods. This can make it difficult to really know which consumables contain gluten.
For example, products like semolina, farina, spelt, farro, bulgar, emmer, and more, are all products made from wheat. If you see one on a food item’s ingredient list, you may not immediately know that it contains gluten.
Consuming gluten typically isn’t a problem unless you have a sensitivity to or intolerance for it. People diagnosed with Celiac Disease experience the more serious side-effects because the intake of gluten actually causes damage to the small intestine. Not only does this hinder nutrient absorption, it can also result in symptoms like weight loss and diarrhea.2 For these reasons, malnutrition is a serious concern for individuals with this condition.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity essentially means that, even though a person tests negative for Celiac Disease and negative for a wheat allergy, they still experience some of the milder side-effects. Typically, this means they may experience some intestinal symptoms, headaches, fatigue, and joint pain if they consume gluten.2
How surprised would you be to learn that the opposite can actually be true? Gluten-free foods can contribute to weight gain because food manufacturers will often add fat and sugar to help recreate the qualities that gluten gives to food.3 In fact, there is no evidence that supports the idea that gluten-free foods can help someone lose weight.3
The reason gluten-free diets are perceived as beneficial for weight loss probably comes from the fact that going “gluten free” can simply mean sticking to unprocessed foods. For example, avoiding glutinous foods (like cake, pasta, etc.) can mean a lower daily calorie count which is potentially what helps gluten free dieters lose weight.
Research has determined that there is a safe threshold in terms of gluten consumption. So, if a food is labeled as “gluten free,” what that really means is that it contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.4 Okay, but what does that even mean? We rarely quantify things this way. Parts per million refers to how much gluten there is in relation to all the other ingredients. This is not a fixed number. Some foods have a little more and some have a little less.
Each low-gluten food item adds to your overall daily intake. This means that if you consume too many “gluten-free” foods, you can accidentally consume more than the safe amount. Individuals with Celiac Disease are advised to consume no more than 10-50 milligrams per day.4
Following a gluten-free diet is actually pretty tough to adhere to, and if you don’t pay attention to what you’re eating (or if you stick to the same foods every single day), you may put yourself at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Not to mention that gluten-free foods typically aren’t enriched with the nutrients you’re already missing by avoiding gluten-containing foods.3
According to an article by the Gluten Intolerance Group, some of the most common nutrients that are difficult to obtain on a gluten-free diet include:
If you need to go gluten-free, Healthline explains that the easiest way to avoid gluten is to eat unprocessed, single-ingredient foods. This means you should avoid foods like bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, muffins, pizza, crackers, and certain beverages like beer. You should also avoid foods made or topped with soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce, certain broths or marinades, and even some salad dressings.1
If you are going to consume grains, you are encouraged to stick to foods like quinoa, rice, buckwheat, tapioca, corn, and gluten-free oats.1 To be extra-safe, check the packaging for a “gluten-free” label on these items because many foods that are naturally gluten-free (like oats) may still be contaminated with gluten because they are processed or packaged in the same facility as gluten-containing products.
The lists go on for both the do’s and don’ts of gluten-friendly dieting, so be sure to check with a reputable source for a more complete list of foods.
Do you have any tips or tricks for gluten-free dieters? Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more articles like this one, subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly highlights from the Living Healthy Blog.
I am a 59-year-old male who is still playing competitive soccer. – 2 x 45 minute halves each game. Any suggestions for a halftime snack to boost my 2nd half energy level?
– Joe B.
Bravo for keeping up your game! Many athletes experience a decline in energy level toward the end of a match, especially those lasting nearly 2 hours. Hopefully you are consuming a balanced meal a couple of hours prior, then a sports drink 5 to 10 minutes before kickoff. A halftime snack helps to postpone fatigue, stabilize blood sugar and keep up the pace during the second half.
Items with significant fat, fiber or protein — which slow digestion and thus blood glucose replenishment – should be avoided at this time. For that reason, even a flavored yogurt cup or granola bar may not be suitable.
A halftime snack should be comprised of carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes. Examples include: watermelon slices, orange wedges, grapes, applesauce packet, half fruit bar + water, coconut water, and a sports hydration drink. Carbohydrate gels are another (more expensive) option.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.
Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
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Good nutrition is all about variety! Browse through our list of unusual fruits and veggies and give yourself a chance to try something new.
Does liberally salting your food help you pump more iron in the gym? Registered Dietitian, Debbie James, investigates the claims!
One frequently asked question is about the recommended intake of protein. We hear you! Here is everything you need to know.
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