by Geri Walton ~ February 27th, 2009
Leafy green vegetables are important for a variety of reasons. Many people consider them nutritional superstars because when eaten raw they are one of the best sources of amino acids, which are the building blocks needed for protein in the body. Leafy greens are easy to digest, and they stimulate digestion by encouraging digestive enzymes. They also strengthen the immune system and provide needed nutrients required for proper hormone balance.
Leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses extremely low in calories. For instance, despite the fact 100 grams of spinach contains only 23 calories, it also contains 188% of a person’s daily value of vitamin A and 604% of a person’s vitamin K. In general, leafy greens have numerous vitamins, including many B vitamins and vitamins C, E, and K. They are extremely rich sources of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium, and they also provide many phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. In fact, greens are so nutritious, many greens contain small amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Greens are also packed with fiber. Fiber comes in two types, water-soluble and insoluble, and both are found in plant foods to one degree or another. Water-soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and insoluble fiber promotes regularity, so fiber slows digestion and has little impact on blood glucose levels. Fiber foods have also been linked to low incidences of colon cancer. If you’re interested in learning more about fiber, read Fiber is More Than a Hill of Beans.
Other specific health benefits attributed to greens include:
|Cilantro||This pungent and spicy herb is also great for your eyes because of it’s lutein and zeaxanthin, which may prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. To learn more about other great lutein and zeaxanthin sources, read The Eyes Have it When You Eat Your Greens.|
|Collard Greens||A cross between cabbage and kale, collard greens are considered an anti-cancer food because of its cruciferous properties.|
|Kale||Three times as much calcium as phosphorus makes kale a great osteoporosis inhibitor. To learn more about other calcium sources for osteoporosis, read Calcium-Rich Foods and Osteoporosis Health. In addition to kale’s calcium, it is also one of the richest plant sources for vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin that is important to blood clotting; however, it also builds bones, slows bone loss, and heals fractures, all of which can be important to osteoporosis sufferers. In fact, one study showed people who had high vitamin K diets were less likely to suffer hip breaks than people eating low vitamin K diets.|
|Lettuces||There are a variety of lettuces you can enjoy. Besides supporting eye healthy, they enhance skin health and improve immune function.|
|Parsley||Parsley has many of the same health benefits as cilantro and kale. In addition, apigenin, which is an antioxidant flavonoid found in parsley, protects the prostate and may also reduce breast, colon, skin, and thyroid cancers.|
|Spinach||Nutrition Data notes spinach is a strong anti-inflammatory and rich iron source. However, it also contains oxalates, which may bind with the calcium and make the calcium unusable. To learn more, read Oxalates.|
|Swiss Chard||Similar to collard greens, swiss chard is a powerful anti-cancer food.|
The good news about leafy greens is they are versatile and offer many healthful nutrients. Leafy greens are also a major source of chlorophyll and have become increasingly popular in things such as smoothies. In addition, they may be your best bet to preserve bone health because they have an excellent calcium and magnesium ratio. If you want to enjoy leafy greens, here are are few ideas: argula, beet greens, cilantro, collard greens, dandelion greens, lettuce, kale, lambsquarters, mustard greens, nettles, parsley, swiss chard, spinach, and watercress.