Why are leafy greens so good for you? Below are 8 wonderful ways they can help to improve your health…
You are probably just about sick of hearing about how good leafy greens are for you, but is it all just hype, or are they really the miraculous food everyone says they are?
In fact, these plant foods truly are one of the healthiest things you can eat. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and they also are low in calories so you can eat pretty much as much as you want without gaining weight. There are also lots of ways to enjoy leafy greens. Some people love green smoothies, but if they’re not your thing, leafy greens can also be eaten in sandwiches, included in casseroles, or in a huge variety of salads.
Leafy greens are easy to find in just about any local supermarket, but for some of the less common varieties you may have to visit a specialty store like Whole Foods, or grow your own.
Some of the more popular leafy green vegetables include:
• Red and Green Leaf and Romaine Lettuce
• Wild Edible Green Leaves such as: dandelion, red clover, plantain, watercress and chickweed
• Mustard greens
• Dandelion greens
• Swiss chard
• Turnip greens
But just what is it that makes leafy greens so special when it comes to your health? Here are 8 stand-out reasons to include more leafy greens in your diet:
1.) Disease Prevention
It seems that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing, as leafy greens contain disease preventing plant-based substances that may help protect humans from diabetes, heart disease and even various cancers – mainly because of the powerful antioxidants they offer. Kale for example, is a great source of vitamins A C, K, and calcium and also supplies folate and potassium.
2.) Weight Loss
These vegetables have so few calories that they hardly even count! Lettuce, kale, spinach and most other leafy greens can be eaten in abundance. These are also high-fiber foods and so they will help fill you up when eaten in place of other, higher calorie foods. Another benefit of all that fiber is that it helps to stabilize blood sugars, which results in fewer cravings for sweets and other junk foods.
3.) Vitamin K
Different leafy greens have different properties but all of them can be considered good for you. They contain vitamin K, which is essential in helping the body to properly clot blood. Vitamin K also helps prevent several conditions related to advancing age and can help prevent bone loss, arterial calcification, kidney damage and heart disease. Just a single cup (cooked) of most leafy green vegetables will provide you with more than enough vitamin K for your system per day. Kale is especially helpful, providing about six times the recommended intake of vitamin K.
4.) Lower Cholesterol
Did you know that you can actually lower your cholesterol by eating leafy green vegetables? The reason it works is that the bile acids produced by the liver which help fats digest within the gastrointestinal tract are bound by the fiber in the leafy greens. The bile acids pass through the body along with the residue of leafy green vegetables, forcing the liver to use up more cholesterol to make more bile acids. This reduces your endogenous cholesterol level. One study in the Nutrition Research journal indicated that slightly steamed kale and mustard greens did the best job of binding bile acids.
5.) Eye Health
Leafy green vegetables are also good for your eyes. The best leafy greens to eat for eye health are mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale and dandelion greens because they are high in carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids help filter the high-energy light created by sun and therefore prevent sun-induced cataracts. These carotenoids have also been found to improve overall visual acuity – so your mom was right when she told you to “eat your greens for bright eyes!”
6.) Vitamin B5
A cup of raw escarole can help your body by providing pantothenic acid, also called vitamin B5. The B vitamins together help carbohydrates break down into glucose to be used for cellular fuel. The body cannot store B vitamins so you need to find a daily source for these vitamins. Leafy greens are a great way to get more of them in your diet.
7.) Calcium For Bone Health
Leafy green vegetables contain large amounts of calcium. It’s the calcium that gives these foods their sometimes slightly bitter taste. While leafy greens alone won’t give you the full amount of calcium you need in one day (about a thousand milligrams of calcium per day for women between 30 and 50), they do provide easily absorbable kinds of calcium. A half a cup of dandelion greens will give you about 75 mg of calcium, while mustard greens can give you 55 mg calcium.
Considering that these are virtually fat-free foods, they give high fat dairy foods as a source of calcium a run for their money.
8.) Prevent Colon Cancer
Kale and mustard greens and other brassicas (the group of vegetables that includes cabbage and broccoli) have been shown to help prevent colon cancer. In a study in one dietetic journal, those people that ate more of these leafy greens suffered a lower risk of developing colon cancer over the long term.
So how can you eat more leafy greens?
Fortunately, there are lots of ways! Leafy greens can be eaten raw in salads, or steamed and mixed with things like herbs, other vegetables, or added to stir-fry. Generally, it is advisable to have as little heat applied to these vegetables as possible to keep their nutritional content intact. Some greens such as spinach are easy to overcook as they cook very quickly.
A good rule of thumb when cooking is to only steam to a bright green color, such as the case with broccoli; once it turns a dull green color it is likely overcooked and has lost some of its valuable nutrients.