Why are greens good for you?

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Popeye Janice 1 | Why Are Greens Good For You?

 We hear all the time “Greens do a body good” and “Greens are superfoods”…but why? Read on…

Happy St. Patties’ Day!

I woke up today and totally forgot…it was a holiday.

For whatever reason we really St. Patty’s Day here in the States, it’s an excuse to wear one of my favorite colors (green) and incorporate more greens into my daily diet.

Have you eaten your greens today?

Ask this to most anyone, and the chances are…NO.

Greens are one of those foods that sound good in theory, or that we know are “good” for us, but when it comes to actually eating them on a daily basis, approximately only 1 in 10 people (10%) are getting their fruits and veggies in anyhow.

I used to hear the word “greens” and was instantly intimidated.

Again, I knew they were good for me…but actually eating them, outside my raw leafy greens in my lunchtime salad or breakfast omelet, was far and few between.

Sure, I ate some green vegetables—like zucchini squash, broccoli, asparagus and green beans, but “leafy greens” rarely happened in my diet as my main-side or veggie with my meals.

Then…one day, I got a wild hair. I bought a bag of pre-washed kale from Trader Joe’s and decided to see what this whole “green” thing was about

The challenge?

Preparing them.

I was super intimidated about how to cook the leafy things.

A quick Google search led me to my experiment:

Place 1 tsp. of coconut oil in a pan, turned up to medium heat. Throw greens into pan and season with sea salt, pepper and a splash of water (to keep moist). Cover with lid and let cook down for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Voila! Greens.

 

Dishing ‘em on to my plate, I topped my greens with my baked chicken thighs, added some avocado on top, and… Boom. Dinner was served.

After getting over my initial green “hump”, greens began to become part of my daily routine. I experimented with different types: Rainbow chard, red chard, spinach, Power or Super Greens (a mix of all sorts of greens), Collard greens, curly kale, Tuscan Kale—the sky is the limit.

While you can incorporate greens in a variety of ways (salads, green juices or smoothies, tucked into casseroles or soups, even in meat—like meatloaf and burgers), there’s nothing like the simplicity of cooked greens with meat and a healthy serving of fat (cooked in ghee or coconut oil with a dollop of avocado, coconut flakes or coconut butter on top).

Cooked greens are particularly beneficial to combat a chemical called oxalic acid, found in many greens. Oxalic acid is an irritating substance found in raw greens, particularly to the digestive system (ever had a belly ache after eating a big salad or raw veggies?). It also blocks the absorption of some minerals (like iron and calcium). The good news? Oxalic acid is reduced by lightly steaming or cooking your greens (making them easier to digest and absorb all your nutrients). Cook them in ghee, butter or coconut oil to get the biggest bang for your absorption.

Today, I feel “off” if I haven’t had my serving of greens. Not to mention, Popeye was onto something when he claimed that greens make you stronger.

As I began incorporating greens at least a couple times per day into my meals, I began to feel the difference—energy, strength, recovery from workouts, improved digestion (and definitely noticed the difference on the days I left greens out of the equation).

And I am not just talking about a placebo effect.

Science has proven greens, like spinach, CAN actually make us stronger.

According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers found that nitrate, found naturally in spinach and several other vegetables, tones up muscles.

Researchers placed nitrate directly in the drinking water of a group of mice for one week and then dissected them and compared their muscle functions to that of a control group. The nitrate was equivalent to a human’s consumption of about 200 to 250 grams of spinach a day.

Findings?

While no effect could be seen in the so-called slow-twitch muscles used for moderate exercise and endurance, the scientists saw a clear change (i.e. strength gains) could be seen in the fast-twitch muscles used for strength and more high-intensity exercises.

The nitrates prompted an increase in two proteins, found naturally in the muscles, that are used for storing and releasing calcium, which is vital to making muscles contract.

So, why are greens really so “good for you”?!

Check out a few more facts of some of my top green picks to know what exactly you’re getting from ‘em.

Got greens? They do a body good.

(Swiss) Chard.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of chard is its ability to regulate the blood sugar levels in our body. Syringic acid is one of the unique flavonoids found in Swiss chard, that has the special ability to inhibit the activity of a specific enzyme (named alpha-glucosidase) responsible for breaking food down into simple sugars, which means chard helps the blood sugar levels in the body remain stable.

Like many leafy, green vegetables, Swiss chard has anti-cancer properties due to the huge amounts of antioxidants found in it, and is also linked to heart-health, healthy hair and bone growth, cognition and blood circulation in body.

A serving of chard contains

  • Vitamin A: 122% makes up of the Recommended daily allowance
  • Vitamin K: 1038% (necessary for blood clotting and the uptake of calcium)
  • Vitamin C: 50% (one of the BEST sources of Vitamin C; enhances your immunity)
  • Vitamin E 9%
  • Iron: 10%
  • Potassium: 11%
  • Vitamin B6: 9%
  • Manganese: 18%
  • Potassium: 9%
  • Magnesium: 20%

Collards.

Collard greens are a great source of vitamin-A (222%), associated with antioxidant properties like most greens. Vitamin A is also required maintaining healthy cell membranes, skin and healthy vision.  In addition, this leafy vegetable also contains high levels of vitamin-K. Vitamin K can help increase of bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bone. It also has the beneficial effect for brain function (i.e. it has been shown to limit brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease patients).
The nutrient lineup includes:

 

  • Vitamin A: 222% makes up of the Recommended Daily Allowance
  • Vitamin K: 426%
  • Calcium: 14.5%
  • Folates: 41.5%
  • Vitamin C: 59%
  • Vitamin E: 15%

Kale.

Known as a “superfood”—it’s rich with antioxidants (substances that help counteract oxidative damage by free radicals in the body). Antioxidants fight against oxidative damage [believed to be among the leading drivers of aging and many diseases, including cancer]. In addition, kale is associated with enhanced urinary health (one of the best foods to fight UTI’s).
A single cup of kale contains

  • Vitamin A: 206% (converted from beta carotene) makes up of the Recommended daily allowance
  • Vitamin K: 684% of the RDA (necessary for blood clotting and the uptake of calcium)
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA. (one of the BEST sources of Vitamin C; enhances your immunity)
  • Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDA.
  • Manganese: 26% of the RDA.
  • Calcium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 10% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 6% of the RDA.

 

Spinach.

Popeye’s green of choice. The flavonoids in spinach work as antioxidants to protect your body from “free radicals” (invaders and bacteria) and fight inflammation in the body. The iron in spinach helps give you energy and keep your blood healthy. And spinach is also an excellent source of bone-supportive nutrients including Vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. In addition, studies also have shown that spinach helps maintain your vigorous brain function, memory and mental clarity. Fun note: Spinach leaves that look fully alive and vital have greater concentrations of vitamin C than spinach leaves that are pale in color.

  • Calcium: 24% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin K: 987% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin A: 105%
  • Folate: 66%
  • Potassium: 24% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 39%
  • Vitamin C: 24%
  • Iron: 36%

You knew greens were good for you. But now you really know.

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