Healthy greens—like dark leafy greens—get a lot of hype in health world.
Your mom told you to eat your broccoli. Green juices and green smoothies are essentials for any juice cleanse. And Popeye the Sailor Man made spinach cool.
But have you ever wondered, “Why are greens so good for me anyway?” After all, you hear they are—but what are the facts?!
Here are 7 Reasons Why Greens are Good for You, plus 21 Delicious Ways to Get Your Greens On (Beyond Salads).
7 Reasons Why Healthy Greens Are Good for You
1. Healthy Greens Aid in Digestion
Fiber in vegetables give your digestion a “boost,” aiding in the process of “pushing food through” your digestive tract. Imagine fiber as the “car” that helps carry your proteins and healthy fats down the road of digestion.
Dark leafy greens contain more insoluble fiber, similar to other vegetables, including carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools.
2. Greens Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria
Fiber is not only essential for pushing food through your digestive tract. Fiber also promotes healthy gut bacteria. Although soluble fibers (like cooked & cooled potatoes, white rice, plantains and squashes) are the best “prebiotic” fibers (i.e. they feed healthy gut bacteria), insoluble fibers (found in leafy greens) increase gut transit rate and consequently reduce the amount of time available for (unhealthy) colonic bacterial fermentation of non-digested foodstuff (1). Dark leafy greens also promote the formation of short chain fatty acids (aka: “post-biotics”). Short chain fatty acids are the “byproducts” formed from well-fed gut bacteria that help produce MORE healthy gut bacteria.
3. Healthy Greens Strengthen Immunity
Dark leafy greens and other green veggies — from asparagus to broccoli — are crucial for a well-functioning immune system. Green veggies ensure that first-line-of-defense immune cells in the gut and the skin [known as intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs)] fire properly. One study of healthy mice that were deprived of green veggies two to three weeks, found that 70 to 80 percent of these protective cells disappeared (2). The conclusion? More greens could mean less illness, autoimmunity, allergies and skin breakouts.
4. Greens Make You Stronger
Popeye was on to something when he told us spinach was good for us—dark leafy healthy greens, like spinach, can help boost fitness naturally. One study (3) on healthy people who ate a small dose of spinach for three days found significantly improved endurance and performance while riding an exercise bike, concluding that it increased efficiency of the mitochondria that powered their cells.
Another study (4) compared the muscle functions of mice who drank nitrates (a component found in spinach) in their drinking water to that of a control group, finding a striking difference in the force production of their fast-twitch muscles (power muscles).
5. Boost Brainpower
A diet containing approximately one serving of green leafy vegetables per day is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline. In a study (5) of 960 older adults, researchers looked at the association between performance on cognitive tests and dark leafy vegetables. Over the course of 5 years, the participants underwent 5 annual checkups with tests that assessed cognition in five domains (episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability, and perceptual speed). Data about nutrient intake was also considered—particularly attention to dark healthy greens.
Findings revealed that consumption of green leafy vegetables was positively and signiﬁcantly associated with slower cognitive decline. Participants who ate greens regularly (1-2 times per day) were up to 11 years younger cognitively, based on average global cognitive scores over time. In addition, there was no evidence that the association was affected by cardiovascular conditions, depressive symptoms, low weight, or obesity. Another study of kids, ages 8-10, found that the kids with higher levels of lutein in their brains performed significantly better. Lutein is a brain-boosting nutrient found in dark leafy healthy greens (6).
6. Prevent Heart Disease
Several studies have found a decrease in heart disease among individuals who consume dark leafy greens on a regular basis. One study (7) of over 40,000 participants, ages 20-70 found those that ate vegetables daily—particularly dark leafy greens—had significantly less oxidative damage, reduced inflammation, better blood sugar control, healthy lipoprotein (cholesterol) markers and even less risk of cardiometabolic disease than those who didn’t eat veggies regularly—regardless of smoking or living alone (two other factors that play a role heart disease).
7. Healthy Greens Help Detox the Body
Your liver is your body’s largest single organ. It converts nutrients from foods into forms your body can use; helps digest fat; stores carbs; and produces bile (waste) to send out of your body. (In other words: Your liver does alot!). Unfortunately, if your liver gets stressed from things like unhealthy foods, longterm medicine use, environmental toxins and tap water, it is unable to work as efficiently.
Enter: Dark healthy greens. Plants are an essential part of the human diet and contain various antioxidants which are closely related to liver health—including enzymes, glutathione, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, resins (help form bile acids) and 4-Hydroxynonenal (cell signals and liver metabolism). Dark leafy greens are no exception, and their antioxidants are essential to a healthy functioning liver (your body’s detoxification powerhouses).
The Best Green Vegetables
So what are the best greens to “get your healthy greens on?!”
Healthy greens go WAY beyond lettuce and tomato on a burger, Cesar salad or a green smoothie Juiceland. Here is a hit list of the best green vegetables, plus 21 delicious ways to incorporate more greens into your life.
Dark Leafy Greens
- Beet greens
- Sweet potato leaves
- Baby greens
Other Green Things
- Zucchini Squash
- Brussels Sprouts
- Green Beans
- Green Bell Pepper
21 Delicious Ways to Get Your Healthy Greens On (Beyond Salads)-AIP, Paleo Friendly
- Low Sugar Green Smoothie by Organically Mandy
- Lemon Ginger Green Juice by Fed & Fit
- Bone Broth Braised Greens by Tasty Yummy
- Garlic & Lemon Wilted Chard by Autoimmune Wellness
- Zucchini Fritters by Healing Autoimmune
- Potluck Broccoli Salad by Adventures in Partaking
- Mark’s Big Ass Salad by Mark’s Daily Apple
- Clean & Green Chicken Salad by Grass-fed Salsa
- Breakfast Salad with Sweet Potatoes & Bacon by Meatified
- Crispy Kale Chips by Real Food Forager
- “Cheesy” Zoodles by The Castaway Kitchen
- Avocado Pesto Pasta by A Clean Plate
- Super Easy Cucumber Salad by Food & Sunshine
- Zucchini Chips with Green Goddess Dressing by Unbound Wellness
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shallots & Rosemary by Gutsy by Nature
- Collard Green Wraps (Sandwiches) by Food By Mars
- Creamy Broccoli Cauliflower Soup by Girl in Healing
- Seaweed Salad by the Paleo Mom
- Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus by Nom Nom Paleo
- Classic Green Bean Casserole by Grass-fed Girl
- Zucchini Banana Bread by Azhar Cuisine
- Holscher, H. D. (2017). Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes, 8(2), 172–184. http://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756
- Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F. Grigorieva, Christoph Wilhelm, Marc Veldhoen. Exogenous Stimuli Maintain Intraepithelial Lymphocytes via Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation. Cell, 13 October 2011 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.09.025
- Filip J. Larsen, Tomas A. Schiffer, Sara Borniquel, Kent Sahlin, Björn Ekblom, Jon O. Lundberg, Eddie Weitzberg. Dietary Inorganic Nitrate Improves Mitochondrial Efficiency in Humans. Cell Metabolism, 2011; 13 (2): 149-159 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.004
- Hernández, A., Schiffer, T. A., Ivarsson, N., Cheng, A. J., Bruton, J. D., Lundberg, J. O., … Westerblad, H. (2012). Dietary nitrate increases tetanic [Ca2+]i and contractile force in mouse fast-twitch muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 590(Pt 15), 3575–3583. http://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.232777
- Morris MC, et al. Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline. Neurology. 2017 90:e214-e222. Research supported by NIA grants R01 AG031553 and R01 AG17917.
- Sasha M. Barnett, Naiman A. Khan, Anne M. Walk, Lauren B. Raine, Christopher Moulton, Neal J. Cohen, Arthur F. Kramer, Billy R. Hammond Jr, Lisa Renzi-Hammond & Charles H. Hillman (2018) Macular pigment optical density is positively associated with academic performance among preadolescent children, Nutritional Neuroscience, 21:9, 632-640, DOI: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1329976
- Conrad et al (2018). Greater vegetable variety and amount are associated with lower prevalence of coronary heart disease: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2014. Nutrition Journal. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-018-0376-4