The Ultimate Guide to Greens: How Eating More Leafy Greens Can Transform Your Health
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, and arugula are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They contain a wide array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant compounds that can have tremendous health benefits.
Eating more greens is an easy way to significantly improve your overall diet and reduce risk of many chronic diseases. Read on to learn all about the many evidence-based health benefits of incorporating more greens into your meals.
The Nutrition Powerhouse
Greens like spinach and Swiss chard are nutritional superstars. They are packed with essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamins A, C, K1, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
Some greens even contain omega-3 fatty acids. For instance, spinach provides a plant-based form of omega-3 called ALA. 100g of spinach contains almost 400mg of ALA.
Greens also contain various antioxidant compounds like lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin and kaempferol which protect cells from damage.
Some of the most nutrient-dense greens include:
- Collard Greens
- Beet Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Romaine Lettuce
- Bok Choy
For minimal calories, greens give you the most nutritional bang for your buck. Adding more to your plate is one of the easiest ways to increase your overall vitamin and mineral intake.
Powerful Antioxidants to Fight Aging
The antioxidants in green vegetables counteract free radicals that can damage cells. This antioxidant effect may help slow aging and offer protection against diseases like cancer and heart disease.
Lutein and zeaxanthin specifically help prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts. Consuming more greens can help you maintain good vision as you age.
Other compounds like sulforaphane and isothiocyanates in cruciferous veggies like broccoli, kale and arugula activate antioxidant genes and enzymes in the body that mop up harmful free radicals.
Folate for Heart Health
Green veggies are fantastic sources of natural folate, with just 1 cup of spinach providing around 20% of your daily needs.
Folate helps prevent the build-up of a harmful amino acid called homocysteine in the bloodstream. Too much homosysteine has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
Getting adequate folate from leafy greens or supplements can help keep homocysteine concentrations in a healthy range, protecting heart health.
Chronic inflammation is connected to almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
Leafy greens are loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds that can help put out the flames of inflammation. These include antioxidants like kaempferol, vitamin C, vitamin K and magnesium.
Less inflammation equals better health and lower disease risk across the board.
Improve Blood Clotting
Leafy greens like spinach and kale provide a substantial amount of vitamin K1, an essential nutrient that plays a big role in proper blood clotting.
Vitamin K helps activate coagulation factors that allow blood to clot normally after an injury. This helps prevent excessive bleeding while making sure internal wounds can heal properly.
Just one cup of raw spinach provides over 150% of the recommended daily vitamin K intake.
Build Strong Bones
Green vegetables provide nutrients needed for maintaining healthy bones, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K1.
The calcium and magnesium keep bones dense and prevent porous, weak bones associated with conditions like osteoporosis. Vitamin K1 improves calcium absorption and reduces urinary excretion of calcium.
Getting enough of these key minerals can help lower risk of bone fractures for both men and women as they age.
Mental Health Benefits
Compounds in leafy green vegetables may also offer brain and mental health benefits.
The B vitamins folate, B6 and B12 found in greens help convert homocysteine into benign amino acids, preventing buildup in the brain that may impair cognitive function.
Green veggies also provide iron and magnesium that are important for energy, focus andmood. And the anti-inflammatory effects may help lower risk of depression.
Get More Greens for Glowing Skin
The antioxidants in leafy greens can help protect skin cells from sun damage, pollution and free radicals. Carotenoids like beta-carotene found in spinach, kale and collard greens may give your complexion a healthy glow.
Greens are also excellent sources of vitamin C. This essential nutrient is needed for the synthesis of collagen, the structural protein that keeps skin looking firm and youthful.
Filling Up on Fiber
Green vegetables provide plenty of satiating fiber without a lot of calories, making them smart choices for weight management or weight loss diets.
Fiber moves slowly through the gut undigested, helping promote feelings of fullness. Foods higher in fiber and water content like greens are best for curbing appetite and preventing overeating.
The insoluble fiber found in vegetables also feeds the healthy bacteria in your microbiome linked to weight, immune and metabolic benefits.
How to Eat More Greens
To reap all the amazing benefits of greens, aim to incorporate them into your diet daily. Here are some simple ideas:
- Add a big serving of spinach, kale or mixed greens to an omelet, soup, curry, sandwich, wrap or grain bowl.
- Toss greens into pasta dishes, casseroles and stir-fries.
- Make green smoothies with spinach, kale or lettuce and your favorite fruits.
- Snack on raw veggies with hummus, guacamole or a green goddess dip.
- Substitute lettuce cups or collard greens wraps for grains in burgers or tacos.
- Sauté greens in olive oil with garlic and spices for a quick side dish.
- Buy pre-washed bagged greens to add to meals on busy days.
- Top pizza with arugula after baking.
- Grill radicchio, romaine or endive leaves as an alternative to bread.
- Mix tender baby greens into salads.
- Cook greens in coconut milk-based curries or stews.
Start increasing your weekly intake of nutritious greens to amplify your nutrient consumption, support beautiful skin, and reduce inflammation and disease risk. Your body will thank you!