Although there are some notable exceptions (anything that begins with “red velvet,” for starters), many beloved red foods are rich in nutrients—especially heart-healthy ones. And if you hone in on red plant foods … well, you’ve cracked the code.
Along with plenty of fiber, all potatoes, especially red potatoes, are loaded with potassium—beating even bananas. Don’t waste the potato skin, where much of the good-for-your-heart potassium is found. Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, is also found in abundance in red potatoes.
The anthocyanins in red cabbage are powerful antioxidants, and it’s also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and manganese. You can mull red cabbage for a healthy holiday side: simply shred it and simmer for an hour with red wine vinegar, a little vegan sweetener and aromatic spices like cloves and cinnamon.
Red bell peppers
Think of these as the belle of the pepper ball. Compared to green bell peppers, the red ones have almost 11 times more beta carotene and nearly double the amount of vitamin C. That’s because they get to ripen on the vine longer than green, orange and yellow bell peppers. Eat them with spinach (see facing page).
Beets are blessed with an abundance of essential everyday nutrients like B vitamins, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium and potassium. Plus, they’re rich in nitrates that the body converts to nitric oxide, which helps improve circulation and possibly lowers blood pressure. Roast beets and blend them into vegan cream sauces for a pretty pink presentation (see p. 35).
The holiday sauce staple! Cranberries have high levels of antioxidant polyphenols, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cranberries’ anti-inflammatory properties are thought to help prevent platelet buildup and reduce blood pressure.
Grapefruits are lycopene stars (lycopene is great for cardiovascular health). Grapefruits are also bursting with fiber, potassium, vitamin C and choline—all contributing to better heart health. Studies have shown that grapefruits may help improve blood pressure and lipid levels. They have the added bonus of being extremely hydrating, since they’re 91 percent water.
Often consumed as juice or in extract form, pomegranates are loaded with potent antioxidants. They can help fight inflammation, protect arteries from plaque buildup and lower blood pressure. Think removing the edible seeds from whole pomegranates is super tedious? You can simply cut a pomegranate in half and eat the seeds with a spoon!
An apple a day keeps the cardiologist away? Yep, as it turns out. An apple a day—peel and all—can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 40 percent. One study of 34,000 postmenopausal women found a link between apple eating and a lowered risk of dying from heart disease.
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t eat cranberries aside from two times a year (in cranberry sauce). You can reap these berries’ benefits—including high concentrations of their proanthocyanidins, which can inhibit bacteria associated with urinary tract infections, gum disease and stomach ulcers—in supplement form.
Green is a go
Eat your greens! If you follow a plant-based diet, you’ve surely heard—and heeded—this advice. Obligingly, you toss familiar favorites like broccoli and spinach into the grocery cart. But what about artichoke or nori? There are so many greens you might not be eating (but should). Here are some of our faves, from the classic to the unexpected.
Cruciferous kale, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant gem, delivers vitamins A, C and K and offers cholesterol-lowering properties. Blend kale (including the stems!) into smoothies or chop it up for soups.
Spinach is filled with powerful antioxidants supporting eye and bone health, and it’s rich in vitamins A and K, iron, calcium, magnesium and folate. Be sure to eat spinach along with foods that contain vitamin C, like red peppers, to help with iron absorption. Add a little healthy fat—like olive oil, avocados or chopped nuts—to best assimilate vitamin A.
Broccoli boasts an array of antioxidants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. This jolly green giant gives us healthy blood-clotting vitamin K, immune-supporting vitamin C and blood sugar-regulating chromium. Lightly steam broccoli to preserve its nutrients—then serve with a touch of olive oil, sea salt and fresh lemon juice.
A member of the cabbage family, bok choy is has been cultivated in China for more than 5,000 years. It’s a surprisingly rich source of vitamins A and C—one cup of cooked bok choy provides almost all the vitamin C you need in a day. Add baby bok choy to your stir-fries and soups for a pop of crunch and freshness.
The ancient Greeks used artichoke as a diuretic, breath freshener and even deodorant. But these days we rely on research to tell us about the health benefits of these thorny beauties. One study of antioxidant levels in 278 fruits and 303 vegetables cited artichokes as among the antioxidant rich. A medium artichoke delivers up to 400 mg of potassium, close behind bananas.
Yes, asparagus has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac. But these sexy spears can offer you so much more than liberated libido. Heart-healthy asparagus is rich in folate, potassium and fiber. Asparagus is also a good source of prebiotics (food for probiotics), so it supports overall digestive health and may even help combat bloating.
Probably the most widely recognized sea vegetable, nori is the green “paper” that hugs sushi bundles. Nori offers an impressive array of nutrients, including calcium, potassium and zinc. Beyond sushi, use nori sheets as burrito-style wraps for avocado slices, red pepper, celery and sprouts. You can also try roasted nori, a delicious ready-to-eat snack.
Hardy spirulina, found in freshwater lakes and waterways, has been consumed in Mexico and central Africa for centuries. Like other aquatic vegetables, spirulina is rich in hair- and skin-benefiting minerals and a surprising supply of protein (making it a great choice for vegans). To start, try adding just 1/2 tsp of spirulina powder to smoothies—it’s an acquired taste for some.*
Not so good about getting your greens when the holiday bustle strikes? Green superfood powders offer a quick way to get the power of multiple servings of fruit and veg in a little scoop. We’ll greenlight that!
*Want to acquire it right now? Try the spirulina-spiked Creamy Greek “Feta” and Oregano Dressing!