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May 25, 2014, last updated May 30, 2014

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness professionals and other members
of our Editorial Board]

If you could add just one type of vegetable to your plate to
dramatically improve your health, what would it be? Look
no further than greens. Dark, leafy greens are the Number
One food you can eat on a regular basis for impressive
health benefits. But most of us don’t take advantage of
these benefits and our diets are sadly lacking in leafy
veggies. Here’s why you need to go green and stock up on
these nutritious superfoods.

Superstar Greens

Look for the leaves and dark green color – the foods in this
group of healthy greens include spinach, Swiss chard,
mustard greens, broccoli, leaf lettuce, arugula, and chicory.
And the greens that really pack a punch?

Try kale, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, watercress and
turnip greens. Kale has ruffly edges and comes in a range
of colors, while collards – popular in Southern cooking –
have a cabbage-like taste and offer similar nutritional
benefits to kale.

Why You Need to Eat Your Greens

Your mom always said it, but there’s good reason why you
should eat your greens.

These leafy vegetables are full of fiber as well as vitamins
and minerals.

For example, kale has got quite a reputation for itself
among foodies, and for good reason. Kale is an excellent
source of folate, potassium, vitamins A C, and K, and a
decent amount of calcium.

You may not be able to eat enough greens to get all the
calcium you need but it’s a good start – a half-cup of
mustard greens has 55mg of calcium.

Moreover, some of the substances in dark, leafy greens act
as antioxidants and may even protect you from cancer,
diabetes and heart disease.  A 2013 study from
Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto in Brazil found that
watercress and broccoli are especially rich in a type of anti-
oxidant called "isothiocyanates" which triggers enzymes
involved in detoxifying your blood, and which prevent the
growth of cancer cells.

How To Pick and Prepare Dark, Leafy Greens

Look for fresh veggies with no signs of dried or yellowing

Store your greens
away from tomatoes or apples as these
give off a chemical that causes the greens to wilt more

Make sure you get rid of all grit and dirt by washing the
greens in a sink of cold water, let the water drain, and then
repeat until the dirt is gone – don’t let the greens sit.

Dry the greens on paper towels or in a colander. Add to
salads or cook to use in pasta sauces, stir fries, and

If you cook your greens in oil, choose heart-healthy extra
virgin olive oil.

Want to know why these greens should be on your
shopping list? We found the top 7 benefits based on recent
scientific research.

10 Good Reasons to Eat Greens

1. Dark, Leafy Greens Protect Against Mouth Cancer

The American Institute for Cancer Research shows in its
publication “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the
Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective” that foods
containing carotenoids are likely to protect against cancer
of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx.

Guess what food is high in carotenoids? Green, leafy
vegetables like spinach, kale, lettuce, mustard greens,
chicory, Swiss chard and collard greens.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants, according to experts, and
may prevent cancer by attacking free radicals before they
have the chance to harm the body.

Leafy Greens Help Prevent Osteoporosis

Dark green, leafy vegetables help to prevent osteoporosis
in two ways. First, certain greens such as kale are rich in
calcium which helps to build solid bones, free of porous

Second, greens are rich in Vitamin K.  Vitamin K is hugely
important for helping your blood to clot. But, less well
known, Vitamin K Also helps to prevent osteoporosis. A
1999 study from Brigham and Women's Hospital and
Harvard Medical School, Boston discovered that vitamin K is
crucial for protecting against fractures caused by

This link between Vitamin K and osteoporosis was found  
when scientists noted that women in certain regions of
Japan who ate diets rich in Vitamin K experienced almost
no osteoporosis. Vitamin K enhances bone mineral density.

One cup of any of the leafy greens provides your
recommended daily serving of vitamin K, and kale is
particularly full of the vitamin, providing six times the
amount you need.

Eat kale, protect your bones.

Fiber in Dark Leafy Greens Helps Prevent Colon Cancer

The Second Expert Report from the American Institute for
Cancer Research shows that the fiber in dark, leafy greens
probably reduces the risk of
colorectal cancer.

A 1990 report from the Fox Chase Cancer Center,
Philadelphia also shows that increased amounts of fiber
contribute to lower levels of this aggressive cancer.

Dark Leafy Greens Protect Your Eyes

It’s not just carrots - eating your greens improves your

A 1992 study from Harvard Medical School shows that
increased intake of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin –
found in particularly high amounts in kale, Swiss chard, and
mustard greens – helps to protect against the development
of cataracts in old age.

In particular,  a 1997 study from Arizona State University,
Phoenix shows that the greens contain substances that
shield the eyes from glare, resulting in improved vision and
decreased cataracts.

Benefit from Vitamin A in Leafy Greens

Vitamin A is available in meat and dairy products but, for a
vegetarian source, look no further than collard greens,
kale, and spinach.

Vitamin A helps protect cells against the damaging effects
of free radicals ---which cause aging of cells and increase
your risk for cancer ---nand also plays other important
roles in the body.

You especially need Vitamin A if you are diabetic. For
example, a 1996 study from Stanford University School of
Medicine shows that enhanced vitamin A consumption is
associated with enhanced glucose control in people with

Get Your Folate from Dark Leafy Greens

Folate is an important nutrient for many bodily functions,
including reducing the risk of heart disease, preventing
birth defects and pancreatic cancer.

A 2001 study from National Cancer Institute, Bethesda
demonstrates that a high intake of dietary folate is
associated with a decreased risk of pancreatic cancer. The
American Institute for Cancer Research in its Second
Expert Report also showed probable evidence that foods
containing folate decrease the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Dark, leafy greens are folate-rich foods. Half a cup of
spinach, for example, provides 155mg of folate.

Dark Greens Contain the Super-Nutrient Magnesium

If there is a single, overlooked essential mineral in our
diets, it is magnesium.
Magnesium is involved in over 300
essential chemical reactions in our bodies. The short list of
key roles magnesium plays includes protecting nerves,
helping muscle relaxation, assisting with blood clotting, and
lowering blood pressure, and helping your body produce

Most of us have diets that are magnesium-deficient. Greens
can help that. Dark, leafy greens are packed with  
magnesium - half a cup of spinach contains 78mg of

Magnesium has a number of health benefits, including a
protective effect against increased atherosclerosis risk
caused by hydrogenated oils, which are the unhealthy fats
found in many junk foods, according to a 1999 study from
the University of Illinois.

Dark Leafy Greens Help to Stabilize Heart Rhythms

Eating dark, leafy greens is associated with lower incidence
of heart arrhythmia, according to a 2009 study from the
University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The study compared the incidence of erratic heart rate
between groups which ate little or none of the vegetables
with those who were at the highest range --those who eat
6 or more servings a month.

The leafy greens in the study included kale, raw spinach,
cooked spinach, mustard greens, leaf or romaine lettuce.  
Iceberg lettuce was not included as it does not have the
nutritional content of other darker lettuce leaves.

Dark Leafy Greens Help to Maintain Healthy Nerves and
Sufferers of Epilepsy

Dark, leafy greens contain magnesium and Vitamin K which
help to maintain the health of your nerves, as we have
noted. But, in particular, eating a diet of dark greens can
help to counteract a drop in Vitamin K caused by certain
epilepsy drugs, according to  1993 study from the
University Hospital, Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Dark, Leafy Greens Fight Anemia

Some dark, leafy greens such as spinach are high in iron,
which helps to prevent anemia. A 100 gram cup of spinach
for example, contains 2 milligrams of iron, which is 20% of
the Recommended Daily Allowance established by the Food
and Nutrition Board for women and men over 50.  Adult
women under 50 need 18 milligrams of iron each day.  


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