7 Health Benefits of Leafy Green Vegetables
You’ve probably heard claims about the health benefits of dark leafy green vegetables but did you know that they are some of the most immune boosting foods you can eat?
I have vivid memories of watching Popeye eat a can of spinach and grow muscles in about 2 seconds.
I guess the message to kids in those days was: “eat your greens and you’ll be strong!”
Which, by the way, I didn’t buy because greens rarely made it onto my dinner plate growing up.
But you know what?
If I could go back in time I would have eaten all the greens I could, because the truth is:
Greens are superfoods.
There was a time when the only greens I ate (ocassioanlly) was lettuce. Lettuce might be green but it’s not the kind of greens I’m talking about.
Just so that we’re on the same page, let’s define and discuss the health benefits of dark leafy green vegetables:
Dark leafy green vegetables are edible plant leaves with a serious dose of nutrition. Examples include:
– swiss chard
– broccoli florets (more nutrient dense than broccoli)
– bok choy
In this case, I’m talking about dark greens.
All greens are nutrient dense foods with unique properties but for the most part, dark leafy greens are a good source of vitamins A, C, K2 and minerals like calcium, iron and potassium.
When you compare that to say, romaine lettuce, you’re getting more vitamins and minerals than what you find in lettuce.
These vegetables are high in fiber too yet low in calories making it a really ideal way to get a healthy dose of nutrition and fiber into you and your family’s diet.
Vegetables have long been seen as health giving foods. They are low in acid which help the function of the kidneys, high in fiber for healthy bowel movement and give health to the gut and microbiome which leads to better overall health.
Greens cleanse the body of unwanted toxins. Since we live in a very toxic world, we are in more need of adding more greens to our diets.
In our home, my kids love their veggies. Yes, even dark leafy greens! I’ll tell you how I get my kids to eat their vegetables in another post but for now, I want to tell you about the health benefits of leafy green vegetables.
1. Dark greens are full of chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is the pigment found in leaves that turns energy from the sun into nourishment for the plant. It’s also what makes leaves look green.
In the human body, chlorophyll helps normalize red blood cell production, absorbs toxins like bad breath and body odour and even fights cancer.
The anioxidant capacity of chlorophyll is much higher than say blueberries or dark chocolate, making it better at fighting the oxidative stress that we encounter every day through our diet, lifestyle and environment.
To get the benefits of cholorophyll, make sure to consume your greens in healthy fats like this coconut ghee recipe for better absoption of the nutrient.
2. Dark leafy greens are prebiotics
Your firendly gut bacteria really like dark leafy greens. It’s what they feed on.
That’s what we mean by prebiotics.
So much attention is given to probiotics and their health benefits, which isn’t wrong in any way. We need more probiotics!
But we also need prebiotics.
This study showed an interesting discovery of healthy strains of bacteria in the gut specifically feeding on a sugar molecule found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach.
If we can feed the beneficial bacteria in or guts, we’ll improve our health and protect ourselves from disease.
3. Greens are high in minerals
This is what makes them slightly bitter; a common reason why kids tend to avoid vegetables. They taste slightly bitter. But they’re a great source of 6 of the 8 most needed minerals needed for proper body function.
These minerals are:
– calcium (for healthy teeth and bones, muscle and nerve coordination)
– iron (for red blood cell production)
– potassium (important to regulate fluid retention, nerve signaling and muscle contractions)
– copper (helps the body make collagen ( think hair, skin and nails) and absorb iron)
– zinc (needed for proper cell function and a healthy immune system)
– magnesium (for everything from muscle and nerve function to heart health and even the digestion of sugar)
4. Greens boost oral health
Greens are naturally alkaline. Geneally today people eat a highly acidic diet. There are some claims that have been made about the link between consuming foods that are acidic on the ph scale like grains, dairy and eggs with diseases like cancer.
One thing is certain though, foods like grains, dairy and eggs can cause inflammation in the body if they aren’t well balanced with alkaline forming foods like vegetables.
All of the food groups can have nourishing effects if prepared the right way and sourced from the right place.
Dark leafy greens are a really great choice for fighting inflammation which, for example, is one of the results and causes of gum disease. They also help to maintain a balance of healthy microbes in the mouth.
The mouth is one of the most microbe-filled places on the body and is also a window into your overall systemic health.
5. Greens boost immunity
In her book, Gut and Psycholpgy Syndrome, Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride highlights regularly consuming greens as one of the top 10 ways to boost your immunity.
[Relatd reading: 10 Natural Ways to Boost The Immune System]
Dark leafy greens create chemical symbols to encourge the growth of IEL cells in the gut that protects and boosts immunity.
Which also leads me to the next point…
6. Greens are high in phytonutrients
What are phytonutrients?
Let me ask you this:
Have you ever walked by the produce section of your grocery store or market and saw bold coloured fresh produce that caught your eye?
That’s what phytonutrients are; the chemicals produced in plants that have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Phynutrients also give the plant the colour that draws the eye to it.
Some examples include:
- Carotenoids (found in all orange, red and yellow food)
- Restravesol (found in red wine)
- Curcumin (found in turmeric)
- Flavonoids (found in lots of foods from coffee to legumes and some vegetables and fruits)
Phytonutrients are beneficial to brain and eye health, immunity and can prevent diseases like cancer.
7. Greens detoxify the body
Let’s face it. We live in a toxic world.
Our grandparents and greatparents did not even have half the load of toxic bombardment that we face everyday today.
“10 million tons of toxic chemicals [are] released into our environment by industries each year.”
Now couple that with EMF’s from wifi radiation and cell towers and the toxins found in our food and water and you have a pretty large accumulation. What can the body do with so many toxins?
The liver is forced to work overtime to undo all of that accumulation. Dark leafy greens help the liver to get rid of toxins and can even prevent liver and other diseases.
Some of the best green leafy herbs for detoxification are parsely and cilantro. Coriander leaves are delicate but powerful at eliminating heavy metal accumulation in th blood stream. Parsely is an antioxidant and rich in vitamin C.
How to get your kids to eat their greens
I’ve mentioned before that the best way to get kids to eat healthy is to make every option available to them a healthy one.
What I mean is this:
Do you have a pantry full of processed snack foods? Potato chips? Cereal bars? Cakes and biscuits?
If so, start purging and eliminating all processed and unhealthy options. Then introduce healthier options slowly and be patient. Healthy eating is a way of life. If you’re learning something new it’s going to take time and persistense. Don’t give up. Keep going.
Here’s how to add greens to your diet:
1. Add a handful to a smoothie
2. Add some to your juicer
3. Throw some into fresh bone broth or meat stock
4. Or into your omelette or scrambled eggs
5. Saute them on the side to add to your meal
Summing it up
There are many benefits of leafy green vegetables like reducing the risk of disease and illness, slower aging and better physical health as we age, as well as necessary nutrients that both children and adults benefit from.
With a little intention we can help our kids grow in health by teaching them to make healthier food choices.
How about you? Do you like leafy greens?