Mom was right (but aren’t they always). Eating your greens is a good thing but in this case, not just any greens will do. The darker the green and the leafier the vegetable, the better for you they will be. When we consume leafy greens frequently, we are the ones who reap the nutritional value they offer us.
Which foods are considered leafy greens?
It used to be iceberg lettuce was the standard leafy green on our dinner plates. Maybe for some of you it still is. I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on poor, pale iceberg lettuce, but let us (intended pun) face it, it is mostly water and it’s about as nutritious as cardboard. Thankfully, many of us have broken free of the iceberg lettuce habit expanding our repertoire replacing it with other, more nutritious leafy greens with our meals.
Here are the healthier leafy greens to look for and buy next time at the grocery store: kale, arugula, collard greens, turnip greens, escarole, Swiss chard, mustard greens, broccoli, Romaine lettuce, red and green leaf lettuce, cabbage, watercress, Bok choy, and of course, spinach.
Like I said, the darker the green, the greater the nutritional strength they give us and that’s why green stands for go – as in go eat a leafy green vegetable today.
Why leafy greens are good for us
A dark green leafy vegetable is one of the best foods we can eat. Yet so many Americans bypass this fabulous source of really important nutrients without realizing what they are missing out on.
First, the goal is to consume at least five servings of vegetables daily – this is equivalent to about 2 ½ cups of cooked vegetables, including leafy greens.
Okay, here’s the really sad news – less than nine percent of Americans eat the daily recommended number of servings of vegetables. What’s up with that?
Leafy green vegetables have a little bit of an image problem – they are rather intimidating, they have unique flavors, you have to use them up quickly before they spoil, and they may not have that popularity appeal like corn or green beans. But, don’t let those factors sway you from trying them out. Knowing how to use them and knowing their health benefits, will make you a lover of leafy greens. Here’s why:
· Weight loss – Naturally low in calories, leafy greens are also rich in fiber which slows down digestion helping you feel fuller longer and helps control hunger.
· Manage blood pressure – Because leafy greens are full of fiber in addition to the mineral potassium, this helps lower blood pressure.
· Lowers risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes – All that fiber found in leafy greens helps put the brakes on absorption of blood sugar thus keeping blood sugar levels within a more normal range throughout the day. Leafy greens are devoid of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol yet high in phytochemicals, all factors associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Leafy greens fiber may also lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol-containing compounds in bile, therefore carrying extra cholesterol on out the body with our bowel movements.
· Promotes beautiful skin and hair – Abundant in vitamin C and water, eating leafy greens can make a difference in a dewy complexion and shiny hair. Vitamin C helps make collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body, giving skin its strength and structure. Water aids in keeping us hydrated so our skin and hair don’t dry out, becoming dull and flaky.
· Eye health – If you want to lessen your risk of macular degeneration, eat leafy greens daily. The phytochemicals lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene found in these vegetables, play a protective role in reducing cataract and age-related macular degeneration.
- Reduce cancer risk – A cure for cancer remains elusive, but leafy greens have an advantage in providing powerful antioxidants having cancer-protective properties. Isothiocyanates, indoles, sulforaphane, and quercetin, all valuable compounds in fighting cancer, are within the fibers of leafy greens, waiting to help you avoid this serious disease.
- Bone health and blood clotting – Vitamin K is found in high levels of leafy greens. This vitamin is important for the production of osteocalcin, a protein essential for hone health. In fact, middle-aged women who ate one or more servings daily of leafy green vegetables decreased their risk of a hip fracture by 45%. Vitamin K is also well-known for its role in maintaining adequate blood-clotting.
How to use leafy greens
All produce, including leafy greens, should always be thoroughly washed before consuming. Washing them under cold, running water or swishing them in a water-filled sink until the leaves are dirt and grit free, is necessary to get rid of any possible contamination. Shake excess water off and place in a salad spinner or dry them between clean towels. Many of the leafy greens can simply be eaten raw or mixed into a salad. Others can be sautéed by cooking about five minutes along with olive oil, minced garlic and broth. Once you know how to use leafy greens within your meals, they’re easy to prepare in no time flat.
A couple of caveats to leafy greens
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may notice leafy greens possibly triggering IBS symptoms. IBS symptoms include abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and gas. Certain foods containing fermentable carbohydrates can trigger IBS symptoms in some people. The key is to choose foods low in fermentable carbohydrates to avoid the unpleasant symptoms. The best leafy greens low in fermentable carbohydrates and least likely to cause symptoms of IBS are spinach, arugula, Swiss chard and bok choy.
The other caveat to leafy greens is if you are taking a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin). Many of the dark leafy greens are rich sources of vitamin K. Warfarin works by interfering with how your body uses vitamin K by preventing the production of vitamin K dependent clotting factors. This means clotting occurs at a much slower rate. Your doctor will need to monitor your blood as you may need to limit and keep consistent the amount of vitamin K from your food sources.
Go out and get leafy greens
Now that you know why leafy greens should be a daily part of your diet, why wait? Go today filling your grocery cart with leafy greens and fill your body with the important nutrients they offer.