Green Leafy Vegetables Guide to Health and Healing

GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES FOR THE WIN

We all remember parental figures shaking a finger at us when we were younger, imploring us to “eat our greens.” Perhaps at the time of this wise advice—or a threat, depending upon how you look at it—green vegetables weren’t something that interested us. Why would they be with all the other alternatives out there, such as potato chips and candy bars? Green leafy vegetables were probably the last thing on our minds, given all the alternatives.

The truth is, there really isn’t an alternative to leafy greens. They are rich in nutritional content, as well as delicious to eat in a variety of forms. Haven’t you noticed that they have been making a comeback as of late? Doesn’t it seem like more and more people are turning to healthy greens such as kale, spinach—among others—for a meal or even a snack? If we could go back in time, I’m sure many people would be amazed at the comeback some of these green super foods have made. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they also are fun to cook and give your stomach an overall good feeling of wellness.

Thankfully, leafy greens have healing capabilities, in addition to nutritional ones—and not just one or two, but a vast array of them! Hippocrates once said, “Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Well, this certainly couldn’t apply more to the vegetables that we’re going to talk about, as they are proving more than just a rich vegetable to look at, but a food crucial for our wellbeing. Hopefully, this provides some insight into some green leafy vegetables you love to eat or are looking to eat more of!

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HEALTH BENEFITS OF KALE

Well, it’s hard to have a conversation about leafy greens without mentioning kale, isn’t it? Kale seems to be everywhere—in a variety of salads, soups, and even in the form of kale chips. Thankfully, kale is rich in Vitamins A, C, and K and possesses three grams of protein, which is helpful for vegans and vegetarians looking to enhance their diets with energy-packed food. Kale contains Folate, which is vital for brain development, and it also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that give it its dark color that also protect against macular degeneration and even cataracts.

One cup of this incredible leafy green is filled with 10% of the RDA of omega 3 fatty acids, which aid in fighting arthritis, asthma, as well as autoimmune disorders. It’s high in iron and has five grams of fiber in one cup! Because of its high fiber and levels of sulfate, kale is ideal for detoxifying your body while also maintaining proper liver health. Its healing properties are also in its unique ability to prevent constipation and promote regularity. It almost makes you wonder why the kale craze didn’t catch on sooner!

Kale has few disadvantages, but one of them is it’s to be avoided by people with hypothyroidism, since it has a high goitrogen content, which interferes with iodine intake and can suppress overall thyroid health. Buying organically grown kale is also preferred since the conventionally grown kind is often high in pesticides.

While you’d be hard-pressed not to see kale on menus all around the country, if you are looking for ways to incorporate it into your diet, we have a few fun suggestions. Kale salads are clearly all the rage, offering a denser consistently than usual go-tos like Romaine and arugula. Baked kale chips are fun to make and don’t require much, since all you need is a bit of olive oil and salt drizzled over the leaves after being popped in the oven. Kale and artichoke dip is a great party favorite, as is kale and white bean soup for rainy day weather. Rest assured this leafy green is full of great things for your body and easy to find in grocery stores and restaurants. It’s made a comeback few people could have predicted, but we’re glad it’s reigning in full force!

HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPINACH

Spinach is one of those primary vegetables that comes to mind when you think of healthy leafy greens, right? Not only is spinach high in insoluble fiber, which helps prevent constipation, but it’s rich in Vitamin A and C, which promote immune function and skin health. Perhaps spinach is best known for its cartoon advocate, Pop Eye, whose muscles could put Hercules’ to shame, primarily due to its high iron content, which helps create hemoglobin, which brings oxygen to the body’s tissues.

Also high in antioxidants, which help combat stress and reduce the damage it causes, spinach aids in eye health, as well as cancer prevention, containing two important components, MGDG and SQDG. Both of these have shown to slow down cancer growth in cervixes and help decrease tumors.

People on blood thinners should not eat large amounts of spinach due to its high amounts of K1. Because of its high iron content, you want to be sure not to “overdo it” and pace yourself, since this is a very powerful leafy green. In regards to recipes, spinach is ideal for stir frys, especially with garlic and olive oil. You can also make spinach in pesto upon combining it with basil. Spinach is quite commonplace and can be found in a handful of international cuisines. Whether it’s a spinach pie quesadilla, palak paneer—an Indian dish, or on top of pizza, this phenomenal green is celebrated all around the world for all that it has to offer our palettes and bodies. (And when you have a cartoon advocate, you know you’ve gotten somewhere!)

HEALTH BENEFITS OF SWISS CHARD

Swiss chard is an outstanding source of Vitamins K, A, and C and is also high in magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, and dietary fiber. Believe it or not, this is a great leafy green for lowering blood pressure because all those minerals help release sodium out of the body to help the arteries dilate.

Because it’s rich in alpha-lipoid acid, Swiss chard can also help manage diabetes, which has been proven to help reduce glucose levels, prevent oxidative stress-induced changes, and increase insulin sensitivity. It also helps prevent against osteoporosis with its high Vitamin K amounts, which help modify bone matrix proteins and enhance calcium absorption.

Swiss chard can be eaten raw or cooked, but frankly taste better when cooked. When doing so, the stems must be cooked longer since they are so dense, or removed altogether. This leafy green goes great with scrambled eggs, is ideal in quiches, and is found in a lot of soups, especially vegetable or minestrone. Looking for an unadulterated flavor? Try Swiss chard steamed, you won’t regret it!

HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHINESE CABBAGE

Chinese cabbage, otherwise known as “Napa cabbage,” is an incredible leafy green for fighting off bacteria, as it contains antiseptic and antibacterial properties that help fight off unwanted organisms within the body. It’s very low in calories—only 20 per cup—and is high in potassium, which helps support healthy brain function, relieve hypertension and regular blood sugar.

Chinese cabbage also helps with inflammation, as the cabbage itself helps accumulate a buildup of cadmium-binding complexes in its leaves, a main component of which is glutamine, one of the premier anti-inflammatory agents. It has some additionally surprising benefits, too, such as alleviating allergies, joint pain, irritation, fever, as well as skin disorders.

While cabbages of all sorts are known for its gaseous and bloating side effects, the health benefits far outweigh some of the disadvantages. In particular, this vegetable can be found in a multitude of Chinese and Asian dishes, facilitating a nice counterpart to a hearty protein in exotic sauces. It’s also great in slaws, particularly with rice wine and vinegar, and we’d be amiss not to mention cabbage soup as a winter staple for many people in cold climates. Thankfully, you don’t have to go all the way to China to get your hands on Chinese cabbage, as it’s sold in groceries and markets all around the country.

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As you can see, there is a lot to choose from when it comes to picking a leafy green that makes sense for you and your nutritional needs. With these varieties offered year-round, there’s no shortage of opportunities to include them in your favorite salads, soups, and healthy snacks. If all of these benefits weren’t enough, a recent report in Neurology even found that people who have diets rich in leafy greens have a slower age-related cognitive decline. When speaking of these vegetables’ healing properties, I bet you never thought kale, spinach, Swiss chard or Chinese cabbage could positively affect your brain!

Clearly, the benefits are endless and the science is only proving that to be more so every day. Take some time and explore your local markets’ leafy greens and which ones resonate with you. Not only are you making those adults from your childhood urging you to “eat your greens” proud, but you’re also taking your eating habits and health to a whole new level by finding a green that makes your body stronger.

Taylor Rohwedder