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Raw fruits and vegetables are one of the oldest foods consumed by mankind.
According to a recent research, even as early as 20,000 years ago, our ancestors showed a strong inclination towards vegetables amongst all food choices.
Unfortunately, in this age and time, most of the ready-to-eat food options are laden with preservatives, resulting in obesity, heart problems, and many other diseases.
Hence, green and leafy vegetables are considered to be one of the most beneficial sources of food we can consume.
After all, besides being rich in essential vitamins and minerals, they are also easy in the pocket.
Although everyone is aware of their health benefits, leafy green vegetables are one of the least consumed vegetables in the USA.
According to a research performed by the US Department of Agriculture, the highest consumed vegetables by Americans were either potatoes or tomatoes.
The third most favorite vegetable of Americans was lettuce.
According to USDA (US Department of Agriculture), an adult should consume at least 2.5 – 3 cups of vegetables every day to meet the required dietary guidelines.
But, it was found that on average less than 1.7 cups of vegetables are consumed daily per person.
These statistics are an eye-opening reality that point towards the poor eating habits of this generation.
USDA recommends a variety of mixed vegetables including dark leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables and beans along with potatoes and tomatoes.
A healthy diet that includes all these recommended vegetables will help reduce the risk of heart diseases, obesity and some types of cancer among people, as proven by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention.
Dark and leafy greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, countless minerals, and a rich dose of phytochemicals.
Nutrition professionals are yet to discover their actual goodness.
Some of the most widely consumed green and leafy vegetables are kale, bok choy, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, parsley and Swiss chard.
These leafy greens have proven to benefit our immune system, improve the body’s blood circulation, detoxify the liver, lower cholesterol and help maintain a healthy weight.
So, what’s stopping us from leading a disease free and healthy lifestyle?
Let us take a look at 7 of the lesser known benefits of these dark leafy greens.
Help Improve Brain Function
Eating green leafy vegetables can help improve your brain function and reduce cognitive decline in older individuals.
A nutritional epidemiologist, at Rush University Medical Center, Martha Clare Morris, observed the link between eating habits and brain function of almost 1000 adults over a period of 5 years.
She found that people who ate at least 1-2 servings of green leafy vegetables daily had the mental capability of someone 11 years younger than those who didn’t eat greens at all.
Of all of the different types of vegetables, green leafy appear to be most related to protection against cognitive decline,” says Morris.
Let us take a look at the individual compounds present in leafy green vegetables that contribute to better brain function.
Here are some of the prominent nutrients that work in different ways to support healthy cognition.
- Chlorophyll – This is one of the most commonly found nutrients found in all dark green vegetables. The molecular structure of chlorophyll resembles that of hemoglobin in human blood, hence, enhancing production of red blood cells which help in faster and better transportation of oxygen to all body parts.
- Vitamin K – Scientists have recently discovered the innumerable benefits of vitamin K and it was found to support a healthy brain function. Besides enhancing brain activity, it also improves psychomotor behavior, reflexes, and overall cognition.
- Folate – When folate is oxidized, it transforms into folic acid as it is a B complex. Folic acid is extremely important for maintaining the hemoglobin levels of the body and it helps to reduce depression and anxiety as well.
- Calcium – Calcium is an integral part of our bone structure and is also necessary for a healthy brain. It engages neurons to release transmitters from the brain and also improves memory. Lack of calcium can result in weak bones and osteoporosis as well as declining cognitive skills.
- Fiber – People may associate fiber only with digestive health, but did you know that fiber consumption affects parts of the brain too? Hypothalamus is that part of the brain which signals for hunger and thirst and keeps the fiber levels in check at all times.
Furthermore, green vegetables are also rich in vitamin B9 which improves concentration and memory.
The anti-oxidants and carotenoids act as a protective layer for your brain and prevent brain cells from getting damaged.
This is why, if you are looking for a natural way to enhance your brain function, don’t forget to stock up on your veggies.
Help Build Strong Bones
Did you know that one cup of milk has 280mg of calcium, while a bunch of any green leafy vegetable has 336 mg of calcium?
As researched by two physicians, Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Barnard, calcium absorption from green leafy vegetable sources is higher as compared to calcium absorption from milk.
This is a very important piece of information that many people are still not aware of.
Dairy products come from animal sources because of which they have the ability to produce an acidic environment in the body.
Because of this reason, a certain percentage of calcium is excreted from our kidneys rather than being absorbed completely by our bones.
On the other hand, leafy green vegetables can make the blood more alkaline, which subsequently improves the calcium absorption process of the bones.
Women should be particularly aware of the calcium content found in green leafy vegetables.
Osteoporosis and endocrine bone diseases are very common among women nowadays.
This is mainly because of the poor diet that is consumed by the majority of women all over the world.
With age, bones are prone to become weak and brittle and can cause a lot of pain if ample amounts of calcium are not consumed.
The high amount of vitamin K present in leafy greens, however, produces osteocalcin which is a protein that helps improve bone density.
So, if you want your bones to stay strong and healthy in the future, increase your daily intake of leafy green vegetables.
Help You Conceive
Doctors all over the world emphasize a healthy diet if you are planning to conceive.
If you increase your daily intake of greens and add kale, spinach, and cabbage to your meals, chances are that you will conceive easily.
As discussed earlier, leafy green vegetables are a rich source of folate which can greatly help in ovulation and prevention of birth defects.
Iron is also a necessary nutrient for women who are planning to have a baby and leafy green vegetables play an important role in increasing iron levels in the body, which in turn increases red blood cells that aid in providing a favorable environment for the egg to thrive.
Moreover, leafy greens also provide an alkaline balance to the body, which helps the sperm in reaching the egg successfully.
Most couples struggle to conceive because the food they eat consists of a lot of meat which increases the acidic levels in the body, making it difficult for the sperm to travel.
Therefore, don’t forget to drink a green smoothie every day if you are planning to have a baby soon!
Give You Younger Looking Skin
It is a universal fact that your diet will have an impact on your appearance.
Hence, a diet that is low in fat and sugar and rich in anti-oxidants will keep your skin glowing and wrinkle-free.
One of the best leafy green vegetables that you can consume for hair and skin vitality is kale.
It is a very popular ingredient in green smoothies and a staple in many salads.
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Maria Marlowe, states, “Kale is essentially nature’s multivitamin.”
She explains that being the largest organ of our body, our skin needs a lot of vitamins and minerals to keep it looking healthy especially as we age.
According to her, kale is rich in antioxidants, vitamin A and collagen-boosting vitamin C, which work wonders for the skin.
Retinol, which is produced from vitamin A, helps to fight effects of aging and appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Kale also has a healthy dose of fiber which keeps the digestive system on track, hence promoting clean and glowing skin.
Marlowe also suggests eating another “true beauty food” which is spinach.
This leafy green vegetable contains “anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which support clear skin”.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for the growth of long and shiny hair and this is the reason why they are present in many hair care products to moisturize and restore hair health.
All this research supports the fact that eating green and leafy vegetables can help you get the skin and hair of your dreams.
But did you know that you can use kale and other leafy vegetables as a part of your skincare regime too?
According to beauty experts, using kale and chamomile tea extract in your skincare routine will leave your skin looking fresh, taut and moisturized.
Elizabeth Hale, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center says, “Vitamin C and vitamin E have been used in skin care forever. Whether the nutrients come from kale or something else, they have the same effect.”
So, it’s about time you ditched those highly synthesized skin care products and turned to Mother Nature for a complete and wholesome skincare regime.
Prevent ADHD and Autism in Children
In this age of preservative-laden food, our children are exposed to thousands of unseen chemicals at a very young age.
Dr. Robert Melillo in his new book titled Autism highlights that environmental factors contribute greatly to the mental health of children.
Children who are diagnosed with ADHD or autism should have a diet full of leafy green vegetables.
Leafy greens are not only responsible to fulfill the daily requirement of nutrition but also help in absorbing toxic matter from the body and excreting it through the digestive tract.
One of the most important organs of our body is the liver.
It acts as a filter and is responsible for eliminating all kinds of toxins from the body and is also crucial for maintaining a proper digestion.
Many children are diagnosed with digestive issues and liver toxicity nowadays.
It is essential to understand that liver toxicity does not mean that the liver is suffering from some kind of disease; it just implies that the liver is actually burdened more than its capacity which is making it sluggish and slow.
The liver is a regenerative organ.
If you start focusing on your child’s diet, the liver can repair itself and your child’s health will start to improve almost instantly.
So, even if you have made bad eating choices in the past, start improving the health of your liver by focusing on a diet that is rich in leafy greens.
Still confused about how to sneak in some greens in your child’s diet?
Here are some healthy recipes that you can follow to make delicious and healthy meals for your child.
Help Prevent Cancer
Did you know that, after smoking, obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer?
If you eat right and consume enough leafy green vegetables daily, you will be able to maintain a healthy body weight.
Let us take a look at how being overweight can put you at a risk of cancer.
Fat cells act as messengers in the body which produce hormones and proteins and spread them all around through the circulation of blood.
If the number of these fat cells in our body is more than what is required, they can circulate a lot of unwanted immune cells and hormones within the body, which increases the risk of cancer.
Moreover, being overweight also disturbs sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone levels in the body making it a perfect breeding ground for cancer cells.
The hormone known as insulin helps utilize the energy we get from food.
Overweight people have increased insulin levels in their body, which can cause cancer cells to multiply rapidly.
One of the most dangerous forms of fat is the ‘belly fat’.
Studies have shown that people with increased belly fat are more prone to bowel, pancreatic, esophageal and breast cancers.
Hence, if you want to live a healthy and disease-free life, it is important to maintain your weight within its healthy range.
Leafy green vegetables have a lot of nutrients that can keep cancer away and also help in overcoming cancer symptoms.
Glucosinolates, which are responsible for the bitter taste of these vegetables, help in creating biologically active compounds including indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates which are known to have anti-cancer effects on the body.
According to a research, indoles and isothiocyanates showed marked inhibition in cancer development in mice and rats.
These compounds also help in protecting cells from DNA damage, deactivate the effects of carcinogens and have a lot of anti-inflammatory properties that help the body to fight cancer cells effectively.
According to another research by NCBI, women who ate leafy green vegetables daily were at a lower risk of breast cancer as compared to those who didn’t eat them at all.
Other nutrients like vitamin C, E, and K, folate, and minerals also make it a very healthy source of food which can battle cancer cells effectively.
Good for Your Eyes
You may have heard that carrots are good for the eyes, but so are green leafy vegetables.
According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science, leafy greens improve the visual performance of eyes and also help prevent age-related eye diseases.
Leafy green vegetables contain carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are responsible to maintain a good and sharp vision.
These carotenoids also have a good impact on the retina of the eye, as found by Billy R. Hammond, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and experimental psychology at the University of Georgia.
Out of more than 20 carotenoids found in the human bloodstream, only lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the eye.
Lutein and zeaxanthin can help overcome discomfort that is caused by glare, increase contrast and also improve recovery from photo stress.
Additionally, they can also facilitate in increasing your overall visual range.
Hammond and colleagues concluded that eating leafy green vegetables daily may “even help prevent age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataract”.
So, if you want a sharp vision and yearn to rid yourself of those bothersome glasses, start increasing your daily intake of leafy green vegetables, especially kale and spinach.
Some Ways to Enjoy Leafy Greens
Now that we have reinforced the benefits of leafy greens, it is time to make it a habit to consume them every day.
Make a resolution to add more leafy vegetables to your diet, as they are not only low in calories but also high in nutrients.
You can choose from a variety of options including kale, collards, spinach, bok choy, Swiss chard, arugula, cabbage, romaine lettuce and much more so that you don’t get bored.
You can perhaps combine lettuce with other greens like kale and spinach and add some other vegetables to make your daily bowl of salad even more interesting.
Here are some other ways to enjoy leafy green vegetables:
- Try out a green smoothie. Blend spinach or kale with a sweet fruit and add some milk or yogurt along with ice. It will turn out to be delicious and you won’t even taste the vegetables! It also makes a perfect post-workout drink.
- Go for a quick stir-fry noodles recipe – heat some olive oil and sauté some garlic, add some chopped leafy green vegetables with other colorful vegetables and toss in the boiled whole-wheat spaghetti.
- Add leafy greens to your soups and pasta sauces for a unique taste.
- Try lettuce wraps or use steamed collards as tortillas and fill it with your favorite protein.
- Simply place a couple of leafy greens in your sandwich to increase its nutritional value instantly.
- Start your day with a healthy dose of leafy greens. They go well with any variety of eggs. Try it once, and you’ll love it.
The real beauty of leafy green vegetables is that they are easily available anywhere and everywhere and are literally nature’s supplements, full of energy and nutrients.
They are completely safe and can be consumed by people of all ages and health conditions.
Leafy greens will benefit anyone who eats them on a regular basis.
A few cups of leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce or kale are enough to cover your daily nutritional intake.
We tend to trust prepackaged health supplements because they have a label that describes its contents and the manufacturer informs you exactly how many milligrams of calcium or vitamin A you have consumed.
But, try to envision leafy green vegetables as an organism that grew from the earth.
Instead of a bunch of preordained chemicals, vegetables are actually living organisms with real vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Once we learn to appreciate natural wholesome food without a label, life will be much more simple and healthy.
So, don’t waste time analyzing food labels in the grocery store aisles and head up straight to the fruits and vegetable section.
If it’s leafy and green it means it’s safe to eat and extremely beneficial for your health.
Don’t overanalyze, and try to consume your greens whether steamed, boiled, baked or raw.
Just make sure you are regular in your intake of leafy green vegetables.
Start slow and gradually increase your vegetable portion size.
You will definitely notice a stark difference in your health, skin and energy levels within a few days!