Out of the coldest months comes the greenest greens of them all. This is when your dark delicious leafy vegetables are at their peak! From arugula, kale, spinach to swiss chard. Going green is great and getting in your power green dark leafy vegetables is excellent for your health in addition to a diet that is rich in whole plant foods including fruits and vegetables, or even super powders. Remember when your parents told you to eat your vegetables? There is a reason because there are excellent for your health including immune system boosting, detoxification, reduction of free radicals, and reducing your risk for cancer.
Whether it’s your grandma who hammered that into your head or a billboard promoting healthy eating, it’s common knowledge that green vegetables are overall good for your health. I know some varieties are just not for you or taste great the best but things have changed and you can reap the benefits and the numerous health advantages in so many ways such as kale chips and smoothies, stir fry, and salads. The possibilities are endless and green vegetables are easy to grow and so versatile, there is no excuse to increase your dietary intake especially now when you can boost your immune response during these stressful times of COVID-19. You might be wondering though: Which vegetables can be considered a ‘green?
What Are Power Greens?
“Power greens” specifically refer to a combo of leafy vegetables abundant in vitamins, nutrients, and fiber—all of which are important to maintaining, supporting, and boosting your physical health. We prefer to grow our own or buy organic.
Here are our favorites
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Swiss chard
In terms of how to best prepare and integrate them into your daily meal, the vegetables can vary. Some varieties such as lettuces and kale are best eaten raw as cooking has the potential to destroy their Vitamin C content. While others are better for your health if eaten cooked. For example, it’s better to eat spinach and swiss chard cooked because cooking will break down the cell walls of the plant, meaning your body will have an easier time absorbing the nutrients.
Make sure to mix and match so you can get all the daily nutrients you need to sustain your health. Knowing how to best prepare your favorite leafy vegetables will save you money and bolster your health benefits in the long run.
What Are the Benefits?
1. Boost Up on Nutrients
Rich in Vitamin A, Potassium, and Calcium, and several important nutrients for your overall health. Your organs need Vitamin A to work properly, potassium to support muscle movement, and calcium to improve your bone health. In addition to these basic nutrients, they are rich in phytonutrients.
What are phytonutrients? They are natural chemicals produced within plants, and two of the common ones found are carotenoids and flavonoids. These two specific phytonutrients provide a powerful antioxidant boost, which will be addressed later.
2. Support Your Immune System
Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against viruses and harmful bacteria. Without our immune systems, our life spans would drastically be cut and our body functions wouldn’t be as supported. One nutrient essential to supporting our immune system and widely available in dark green vegetables is Vitamin A.
Why is Vitamin A necessary? According to the National Institute of Health, Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for your organs as it plays a large role in maintaining cell growth and differentiation. Without Vitamin A, our organs would not be able to function properly and our immune systems would be greatly weakened.
3. Softer Skin
Packed with vitamin A, which is critical for the creation and rejuvenation of skin cells. Clinical studies have shown that vitamin A is particularly effective at treating Eczema, a condition that leads to dry and itchy patches of skin.
Cruciferous vegetables are also high in beta-carotene, which is responsible for the deep resounding colors found in vegetables that have a yellow/orange shade. When digested, beta-carotene is effective at protecting your skin from UV rays and serves as a natural sun blocker. With softer skin and a better defense against the sun, leafy greens could help take your skin from dry to glowing!
4. Improve Your Memory
As we age, cognitive decline and memory loss become pressing issues. One simple way to safeguard your cognitive guard is by adding them to your daily diet.
In a study concerning the effects on the human brain at Tufts University, researchers found that those who consumed power greens daily had lower amounts of cognitive decline in old age. Even with other factors incorporated in the study, such as the sex, age, physical activities, and smoking, there was still a wide gap between those who consumed them regularly and those who didn’t.
5. Improve Gut Health
Strong gut health is necessary to prevent autoimmune diseases and to nurture helpful bacteria that help with breaking down food for its nutrients. However, your gut health is strongly influenced by your diet and lifestyle. By eating leafy greens you improve your gut microbiome and strengthen your stomach.
Along with the dietary benefits, the proteins within leafy greens have a unique interaction with cell surface receptors and stimulate the production of innate lymphoid cells. These cells line your intestines and protect your digestive system from bad, harmful bacteria, inflammatory diseases, and obesity. Without these proteins, your digestive system produces less innate lymphoid cells and thus lowers your overall gut health.
6. Soften Inflammatory Responses
An inflammatory response is an important function of your body. For example, when you cut your hand, the redness and the swelling of the wound is your body’s way of fighting against potentially harmful bacteria. Though the inflammatory response is the first wave of defense for your body and has certain benefits, the inflammatory response seen in chronic illnesses can be painful if not aggravating and frustrating. Another issue with inflammatory responses seen in chronic illnesses is that they can lead to further complications such as cancer and heart disease.
Power greens help in reducing the intensity of an inflammatory response due to the polyphenols they contain. Polyphenols are protective compounds and serve as powerful antioxidants that lower inflammation. By eating greens, you are including anti-inflammatory foods into your diet and taking an active role in improving your health.
7. Age Gracefully
Just because you are destined to age doesn’t mean your health has to be compromised. A study done by the Cancer Institute shows that by eating greens, you will be able to preserve your cell’s telomeres for a longer period. Telomeres are caps at the end of DNA strands that protect the DNA and ensure they replicate properly. As humans age, their telomeres shorten, which leads to a higher risk of something going awry in cellular replication. Rich in antioxidants, they help in preventing the degeneration of telomeres.
8. Lower Stress
Stress is something inevitable in life, whether it’s from school, work, or personal circumstances, but it can have severe consequences on our physical and mental health. While there’s no one solution to handling stress, eating greens can add a boost to your mood.
Full of folate, which is also known as Vitamin B9. Folate is essential to cell growth, but the added benefit folate gives is its support for the body’s neurotransmitters. For example, Finnish scientists in a medically reviewed study have found that folate can help the brain in producing dopamine and serotonin. These two chemicals are especially important in producing a ‘high’ in your brain. Furthermore, folate has been linked to a decrease in depressive symptoms.
9. Strengthen Bones
Bones are what hold up our body, and there’s a good reason why we’re told to drink milk every day as a child: once you reach a certain age, it becomes harder for your body to absorb the calcium it needs. Milk isn’t the only way to up your calcium intake though; dark leafy greens are also another great way to make sure your body is receiving the calcium you need, particularly with high amounts of calcium such as kale and dandelion greens. Another advantage is that they’re easy to prepare and can be eaten raw or cooked depending on your preference.
10. Stop Belly Bloat
For those with sensitive stomachs, it’s frustrating to be plagued with belly bloating and other digestive issues. One way to prevent belly bloating is to eat spinach. Spinach is full of potassium, and a cup of cooked spinach has 840 milligrams of potassium, which helps you get a headstart for your daily required potassium intake. Potassium is an essential nutrient for balancing your bodily fluids, so with an ample amount of potassium, you can better control your belly bloating. If you start to feel some bloat try to introduce them more slowly into your daily diet.
11. Manage Blood Sugar Levels Better
High blood sugar levels can lead to complications for your health, including diabetes and kidney disease. Power greens contain important vitamins minerals, such as vitamin c, magnesium, and antioxidants that can lower your blood sugar levels. Without these vitamins, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. By having a balanced diet with dark leafy greens, you can avoid serious health repercussions and lower the risk of diabetes.
12. Cleanse Your Liver
Your liver does important work for your body by clearing it of toxins and processing substances such as alcohol. To better support, your liver, consider some leafy greens for chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a molecule found in plants such as collard greens, and its main job is to trap sunlight and convert it into energy that the plant can use. When it comes to the human body, chlorophyll can detox the liver and cleanse your body of heavy metals as well as toxins. Though the human liver is extremely strong in maintaining our body’s health in the long run, don’t forget to give it a little chlorophyll boost via dark leafy greens!
13. Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
The heart is the core of the body, and because of its role, its important to eat the proper foods to keep it in pristine condition. Dark leafy greens play a huge part in supporting the heart’s growth by providing nutrients such as Vitamin K. Vitamin K is a medically reviewed nutrient, that is important for healthy hearts because it helps in building strong ventricles. Without Vitamin K, the structure of your heart can be compromised, leading to potential complications and a higher risk for heart disease in the future.
14. Lower Blood Pressure
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and strokes. To lower your blood pressure, you can incorporate dark green vegetables into your diet that contain a large number of nitrates, which are essential for managing blood pressure; just one to two servings of dark leafy greens can help lower hypertension for 24 hours!
One study showcases that you can lower the average diastolic blood pressure in as soon as 3 days by eating greens high in nitrates. The same study also verifies that you can improve the health of your blood vessels as well as reduce blood pressure. You can save time and money lowering your blood pressure by changing your daily diet, rather than facing the health consequences later.
15. Protect Your Eyesight
Over time, your eyes will naturally degenerate. While there is nothing you can do to stop this degeneration and maintain eye health is to eat green leafy vegetables abundant with carotenoids. Carotenoids are a type of plant nutrient, and there are two specific carotenoids found in the retina region of the human eye: lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids act like sunblock for your retina, protecting it from overexposure and harmful light.
Abundant with Vitamin A…
Vitamin A does not only support your immune system, but it also can drastically improve your eyesight. Some patients who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency struggle with night blindness and dying corneas (cells lining the surface of the cornea begin to die). Though vitamin A and carotenoids can’t prevent the degeneration of your eyesight, they can slow down the effects.
Easy Green Power Smoothie
- 1/4 Cup Organic Collard greens
- 1/4 Cup Organic Baby spinach
- 1/4 Cup Fresh or Frozen blueberries
- 1/4 Cup Organic Fresh Strawberries cubed without stem
- 1 Banana
- 1 Cup Vanilla Almond or Soy Milk
- 1/2 Cup Organic Kale
- 1/2 Medium Orange
- 1-2 Tbsp Honey
- 1/4 Cup Greek Pro-biotic Yogurt
- 1 Tsp Chia Seeds *Optional for garnish
- Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend to smooth and creamy. Add more soy or almond milk to thin the consistency. Serve in an ice cold glass or freeze for later.
It’s not easy keeping up a lifestyle based on healthy eating and living. However, you can take actions every day that don’t consume much time to support your overall well-being and support your physical health. By being conscious of what you eat and how to prepare your dark leafy greens, you can make a big difference for your body in the long run.