Nutrition Expert- Saba Shaikh, Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
When we think of health, we think green. When we think of nature, we think green. Green is a color associated with the good aspects of life, yet when it comes to dietary choices we generally have a certain reluctance towards this food group.
Why is it important to eat vegetables?
Eating vegetables provides health benefits — people who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.
Leafy greens including kale, spinach, arugula, and chard are the undeniable superstars of the food world. Low in calories, yet high in fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients, greens are incredible for your health in more ways than you would even suspect.
• Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol. (Sauces or seasonings may add fat, calories, and/or cholesterol.)
• Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
• Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.
• Dietary fiber from vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
• Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, and in addition 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
• Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
• Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption. (1)
Health Benefits of Leafy Greens:
Leafy greens are packed with health benefits. Here are some examples of how these vegetables can improve your well-being:
• Weight management: Most green vegetables are low in calories. You can eat as much as you like without putting on extra weight.
• Mortality rate: Frequent consumption can substantially lower your mortality risk. Leafy greens contain vitamin K, Magnesium, the B vitamins, Calcium, amongst many other essential nutrients. These nutrients are critical for every cell function and hence, prevent the aging process and help us look youthful.
• Cardiovascular disease: Greens are low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and rich in folic acid, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and phytochemicals. One extra serving per day can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Type 2 diabetes: The high level of magnesium and low glycemic index that can be found in greens is ideal for preventing and treating diabetes.
• Bone health: The high levels of vitamin K, Magnesium, and calcium in leafy greens produces osteocalcin, the bone builders. Middle-aged women who eat over one serving of greens per day will lower their risk of a hip fracture.
• Immune function: The rich beta-carotene and Vitamin A improve the immune system.
• Protect eyes: Children who consume inadequate amounts of Vitamin A have a higher risk of going blind. Carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) found in leafy greens are concentrated in the macular region of the retina and the lenses of the eye. A diet dominant in leafy greens protects the eyes from needing eye glasses in kids to macular degeneration and cataracts in adults.
• Cancer: Carotenoids, antioxidants, and flavonoids found in leafy greens protect from most cancer.
As part of an overall healthy diet, eating foods such as vegetables that are lower in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be useful in helping to lower calorie intake.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
Eating a diet rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers.
Adding vegetables can help increase intake of fiber and potassium, which are important nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet.
Which Green Vegetables Should You Eat?
There are many leafy greens you can eat. Here is a list of the healthiest greens commonly available:
• Kale: It contains almost all the goodness leafy greens can offer. Kale is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, folate, potassium, and fiber. It protects the heart and can prevent or slow down cancer.
• Collards: Collards contain nutritional value very similar to Kale.
• Green leaf, red leaf, and Romaine lettuce: These are full of vitamin A and folate. The darker leaves are more nutritious than lighter varieties.
• Turnip greens: The tops of turnips are low in calories, and are loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, and calcium.
• Swiss Chard: These vegetables have a beet-like taste and a soft texture. They contain a healthy amount of vitamins A and C.
• Broccoli: It is rich in vitamins C and A, potassium, folate, fiber, protein, and iron. Broccoli also contain cancer-fighting sulforaphane.
• Spinach: Spinach contains folate, vitamins A and C. Cooked spinach is more nutritious than raw.
• Mustard greens: These greens have a similar nutrition profile to turnip and collards.
• Cabbage: This vegetable is an excellent source of vitamin C and cancer-fighting compounds.
• Small leafy greens, like cilantro, parsley, mint, spearmint, sage, thyme, and fenugreek: These greens are potent in nutrients similar to the large leafy greens noted above. (2)
Tips to Increase Your Intake
There are countless varieties of both dark green and dark green leafy vegetables to choose from. To boost variety in your diet, try to experiment and consume different types and different preparation methods.
Consider these three ways to add leafy greens to your diet:
• Smoothies: Add frozen green leafy veggies like kale, spinach, or beet greens to your green smoothie along with fruits like banana and apple. If you don’t like veggies, this is a great introduction to increasing your intake because you are not likely to taste them.
• Sandwiches or wraps: Bulk up your sandwich by piling on leafy greens like spinach or romaine lettuce. Or try using green leafy vegetables in the place of bread in sandwiches or wraps to reduce starchy or processed carbs.
• Egg scrambles: Add your favorite leafy green vegetables to omelets or egg scrambles. (3)
Green leafy vegetables are an important part of our daily diet, and with so many varieties available, it’s easy to add them to your plate. Always choose crispy leaves with a fresh green color. When the leaves are turning yellow or brown, it means they are aging and losing their flavor.