The Best Raw Greens for Diabetes and Prediabetes

David Mendosa | Jun 13th 2016

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The raw greens in salads, sandwiches, and wraps aren’t starchy and won’t raise your blood glucose level when you have diabetes. Because these leafy greens, other greens, and cruciferous vegetables provide essential nutrients, they may be your most important foods. A meta-analysis found that increasing the amount of green leafy vegetables that people eat can significantly reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Some greens are better than others, so make sure you’re consuming the best of the best.

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Eat a variety of leafy vegetables

We are fortunate to have a huge choice of leafy vegetables, but it’s important that we vary the ones we eat so we can benefit from the different nutrients they each offer. Of the hundreds of plants with edible leaves, the most common are those from short-lived plants like lettuce and spinach.

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What is the best lettuce?

Did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of the most popular leafy salad vegetable? In America we eat four types of lettuce. The most common is crisphead—mainly iceberg—which is the crunchiest and mildest, but with fewest nutrients. Romaine is second in popularity. Butterhead lettuce, like Boston and bibb, is sweet. But the fourth type—looseleaf lettuce—including the green and red oak leaf varieties, has the most nutrients

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Choosing the most nutritious looseleaf lettuce

Let color be your first guide. Ironically, our most nutritious “greens” are reddish or purple, which they get from powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. Dark green is the next most nutritious color because they have the antioxidant lutein. Second, choose the freshest, greenest lettuce because they quickly lose antioxidants and get more bitter with age.

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Other healthful leafy greens

The top three salad greens besides those in the lettuce family that you can eat are spinach, radicchio, and arugula. Few lettuce greens have more antioxidants than spinach. Baby spinach leaves are less bitter than mature ones, but those with midsize leaves have the most nutrients. Radicchio tastes bitter, and arugula is more peppery than bitter. But all are among the highest leafy greens in antioxidants.

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Should you wash “triple-washed” greens?

“Triple-washed” greens have become so popular that they now account for about half of California’s salad green crop. This is a good thing because we have access to a greater variety of greens and in turn eat more salads because of its convenience. But should we wash them anyway? The California Department of Public Health says no, unless the label says to. Consumer Reports says yes. I say that it’s your call.

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Choose organic greens

Organic food typically has a higher concentration of antioxidants, a lower concentration of cadmium, and less pesticide than non-organic food, a recent meta-analysis found. Spinach is one of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” foods, which means, “Leafy greens…are of special concern for public health because residue tests…have found these foods laced with particularly toxic pesticides.”

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Eat the leaves of scallions

Scallions, which many of us call green onions, have leaves in the form of hollow tubes. Scallions have many more times the nutrients in them than white onions. And their green tubes are a more concentrated source of nutrients than their bulbs.

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Green cruciferous superstars

This large family of vegetables is the highest in vitamins and minerals. Two superstars, broccoli and kale, each of which is more healthful raw than cooked, are in one common group, and Chinese cabbage and turnips in the other. Bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage, is becoming more popular in the US and is a standout in nutritional richness.

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Raw greens are “free foods”

Free foods are those that you can eat to your heart’s content without wrecking your blood glucose level. While the raw greens aren’t the only free foods, they are among those vegetables that are the lowest in carbs. Many other of these low-carb vegetables are great additions, including celery, cucumbers, green peppers, squash, and watercress. Eat healthful and enjoy!