There's a heck of a lot we can learn about leafy green vegetables and just how important they are for our health. Did you know that they have the power to deliver more nutrients for fewer calories than virtually any other food? And this is no trick question either. There are simply tonnes of essential nutrients in leafy green veggies, whether they are the dark variety or not. Leafy greens such as Swiss chard, spinach, kale, collard greens all contain plenty of the right stuff our body desperately wants and needs. Examples of these health-giving properties are iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin B6. And this is just the beginning of more good stuff to come.
Leafy green vegetables also contain heart disease and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. These vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods that we have available, yet how many of us are getting enough of them. We need to love our leafy green veggies. Munching on iceberg lettuce may not make it to the top of the list because of its lower nutrient content. You'd be a lot better off chewing on dandelion greens, beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, chicory greens, collard greens, kale, spinach and Swiss chard as mentioned above.
You might want to consider the difference between people who have heart-related problems and those who don't. You could well assume that by the number of trips they make to the salad bar. Fast food such as burgers and french fries are not the way to go if you want to keep a healthy heart. And this is especially true as we get older. However, it's never too late to change to a vegetarian diet if you want to improve your health and your heart.
And in this case, as with many issues regarding the food we consume, the answer boils down to chemistry and specifically to an amino acid called homocysteine. While homocysteine is a natural compound that in itself is harmless as long as your body keeps it in check, the real problem comes when it reaches high levels. It's when it can quickly become toxic, and the result could easily contribute to clogged arteries and heart disease.
Would you like to know more about the connection between homocysteine and leafy green vegetables? That's simple enough! Your body uses folate as well as vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 to keep homocysteine under control. Many of us fall short of these vital nutrients, especially folate and vitamin B6. As it turns out, leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of both folate and vitamin B6.
It's for this reason you should add plenty of leafy green vegetables to your diet to counteract those homocysteine levels. And vegetables such as spinach is probably one of the best bets for managing homocysteine. A half-cup of Popeye's favourite snack delivers a whopping 130 micrograms of folate, 33 per cent of the daily value. Spinach also contains 0.2 milligrammes of vitamin B6, 10 per cent of the daily value.
In addition to these essential B vitamins, certain leafy greens such as spinach, beet greens and chicory will provide you with some powerful heart-healthy minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. And these minerals, along with sodium, will help regulate the amount of fluid that your body retains.
All too often, people with too much sodium and too little magnesium, potassium and calcium, could lead to high blood pressure. Even though eating leafy greens is an excellent way to help regulate high blood pressure, it's also important to mention that your body does not absorb calcium from vegetables such as spinach and beet greens that well. So be sure to eat a wide variety of leafy greens to meet all your minerals requirements.
Has it ever occurred to you why many cancers happen less often in countries where people eat plenty of leafy green vegetables along with a wide variety of other veggies, fruits, and whole grains as the "meats" of their meals? A fact you can take to the fresh produce market. You'll also find that should you consume fewer carotenoid-rich plant food such as Swiss chard, chicory and spinach as well as beet greens and cabbage you'll be more prone to certain cancers than those who consume significantly more of these plant foods.
Carotenoids act as antioxidants to help protect you against chronic diseases such as cancer and heart conditions. Leafy green vegetables have large amounts of carotenoids which act as bodyguards against cancer-causing agents. Carotenoids are also responsible for counteracting free radicals by acting as antioxidants.
What this boils down too is that those carotenoids step between the free radicals and our bodies cells neutralising them before they can do any harm. There's also enough evidence out there to suggest that carotenoids may help in the fight against cancer by activating your body's detoxification enzymes called phase II enzymes which are responsible for ridding your body of harmful, often cancer-causing chemicals.
Dark green leafy vegetables are among the best sources of some essential carotenoids such as beta-carotene. But this, I'm sure most of us are reasonably familiar with, as well as others that we might not be so familiar with, such as alpha-carotene and lutein. While leafy green vegetables are rich in carotenoids, the godfather of carotenoids is spinach, with a half-cup providing you with one milligramme of beta-carotene.
We've all heard the story about how good carrots are for your eyes and nobody I know of has ever seen a rabbit wearing glasses. There's a good chance that it's not only the roots of this vegetable that are good for your eyes but also all those leafy greens too. After all, Peter Rabbit and all his cotton-tailed friends munch on a whole bunch of greens. And did you know that you can eat the green tops of carrots as well as the orange, yellow or purple bottoms? Most people I know throw the green part away, but you can easily use them in a stew or a soup dish. If you consume leafy green vegetables, you'll not only have better all-round health, but you're less likely to get macular degeneration than those who eat them less frequently.
Most of us may not be that familiar with cooking greens, but that's okay as we can eat and drink them raw too. You'll get a lot more nutrients if you toss some leafy green vegetables in a salad or on a whole wheat sandwich. Better still, make a delicious healthy green juice or a delicious smoothie with some of your favourite greens. To sweeten, add an apple and or a few pineapple pieces. There are endless ways to enjoy the health benefits of leafy green vegetables, so why limit yourself. If you are the type of person who loves cooking, check out the tips below.
Trim the stems. While the leaves are often the delicate part of the vegetable, the stems can sometimes be a little tough and if necessary, can be discarded from the cooking process. However, please don't throw the stems away as you can easily add them to any juice making skills you may have. Before cooking your greens, run a sharp knife alongside the stem and centre rib, separating the leafy part from the stem.
Clean your vegetables well. Because leafy greens grow close to the ground and the frilly leaves often capture dirt and grit, it's imperative that you wash them thoroughly. After all, there's nothing worse than finding bits of gravel in your food or drink. The easiest way to clean your greens is to fill the sink or a large bowl with clean water and then swish the greens around thus allowing the dirt or grit to sink to the bottom. When all the vegetables are squeaky fresh or thereabouts, transfer them to a colander to drain.
Cut them into Ribbons. When cooking thick leafy greens such as Curly Kale or Swiss Chard, it's a good idea to cut them into ribbons of small pieces as this will help them cook better while maintaining their tenderness.
Boil your green veggies quickly. To do this, submerge the green leaves in boiling water. Start with a small amount of water, drop in the greens, cover and cook for about four minutes or until sweet and tender.
The question most people keep asking me is whether they should cook their leafy green vegetables, eat them raw as they are or in a juice. A couple of things spring to mind when asked this question. And the answer is quite simple. If you are consuming plenty of leafy green vegetables regularly, that is every day; you can use all of the above methods. However, I'm sure many of you are well aware that cooking removes a fair amount of essential nutrients, which certainly makes the raw variation a better bet. I like to break it down like this for you -
If you should suffer from a dread disease, be it cancer or any heart conditions, I suggest you drink plenty of the raw juice variety. If you need a pick-me-up because you're not feeling good at the moment, eat fresh in a salad. If you are in good health, cook some, eat some raw and juice some. Just note that you'll be a lot healthier if you juice all your veggies. I know a lady who cured her leukaemia by drinking lots of raw vegetables and fruit juice.
Please take note that the information on this site is designed for educational purposes and is intended solely for a general readership. The contents herein are not intended to offer any personal medical advice or to diagnose any health issues you may have. This information is also by no means a substitute for medical care by a licensed healthcare provider. For that, you'd need to consult your medical doctor or a health care practitioner for any advice should you require prescription medication.