By Dr Joe
Why should you eat dark leafy greens? Yep, that’s a perfectly reasonable question.
And on this page, I’m going to explain why.
You are going to know why you should eat dark leafy greens (everyday, if you can) and why these gifts of nature should constitute an essential part of your diet.
It is a given that leafy greens are supposedly good for you. But you have to wonder if this promise is being over-sold or not. Is it possible that the benefits of dark leafy greens represent a hyperbole?
I have dug deep into this and I can honestly say that, despite all the hype that the internet is known for these days, dark leafy greens do not fall into that category.
I have eaten and still continue to eat dark leafy greens and I can confirm that dark leafy greens actually represent one of the best things you can do to your health.
I am living proof of that but I will spare you the details of my personal experience here.
Suffice to say, I love dark leafy greens and you should love dark leafy greens too. Dark leafy greens are good for you. Take my word for it.
It doesn’t matter what diet you are on. Dark leafy green vegetables are always recommended. That fact is indisputable.
We aren’t just talking about vegetables in broad terms here. We are specifically talking about leafy green vegetables.
There is a difference. Dark leafy green vegetables are a subset of vegetables. Yes, by referring to leafy greens, we are actually talking about edible green leaves.
Broccoli for instance is a green vegetable. This is not about broccoli. This is about leaves that are green in colour.
That said, broccoli shares practically all the benefits of these dark leafy greens. So, the distinction here is purely academic.
So, what are the dark leafy green vegetables?
Allow me to share with you 10 of my best dark leafy green vegetables that you should be eating everyday. Just pick one for each day and eat it to your heart’s content. In actual fact your heart will thank you for it.
What are they? Well, below is a list of 10 dark leafy greens that should be in your grocery list without fail.
- Romaine Lettuce
- Wild rocket (Arugula)
- Swiss chard
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Bok choy
These and other leafy greens are what’s on the spotlight here.
Eating dark leafy green vegetables is not new.
We have been eating them since pre-historic times. But their popularity in North America only took off when the Africans arrived there in the 17th century.
They were more widely eaten in the south at the time. Their use spread northwards over time.
In prehistoric times and in our hunter-gatherer days, dark leafy greens were part of the diet along with root vegetables.
If you were unlucky with the hunt, you knew that dark leafy greens and root vegetables were a fall-back food to rely on.
It is this wisdom from history that your Grandmother insisted you ate them. She knew from history that dark leafy greens were good for you.
But you had other ideas. You preferred modern junk food to dark leafy greens. Not the brightest idea in terms of your metabolic health.
Dark leafy greens can do so much more for your health, your metabolic health that it borders on recklessness to ignore these lovely nature’s gift to you.
Leafy greens are a treasure trove of goodness. The moment you introduce them to your diet, you will within a day or two begin to see the difference. That’s how quick the benefits of eating dark leafy green vegetables begin to add up.
Dark leafy greens provide some of the principal health-promoting functionalities of life and they are:
What more can you ask for!
So, why should you eat dark leafy green vegetables?
Well, the importance of eating dark leafy green vegetables cannot be over-emphasized.
If you do nothing else as far healthy living is concerned, you should eat leafy greens. Seriously, you should.
I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record there. Only because of their benefits, hence.
Now let’s talk about why leafy green vegetables are good for you.
- Dark leafy greens have a high concentration of micro-nutrients.
One of the things people ignore when it comes to nutrition is micronutrients.
We concentrate so much efforts and energy on analysing macronutrients that we forget the most important element of healthy living. Micronutrients!
Micro-nutrients represent the most important part of cellular function.
If you lack micro-nutrients, it will manifest in all sorts of ways. Even that unexplained feeling of lethargy could be due to deficiencies in micro-nutrients.
Micro-nutrients are particularly important for smooth running of our cells. Micronutrients influence a range of bodily functions from hair growth to brain function.
By micronutrients, we are referring to vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Micronutrients will include minerals like zinc, copper, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, sodium, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc and even zinc.
Vitamins will include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K.
Why are they called micronutrients? It’s because the thinking is that we don’t need a lot of these minerals and vitamins to survive.
You might need very little to survive but you need a whole lot more to be healthy. A lot of people aren’t even getting the little that is needed for basic survival mainly because their diet is highly lacking.
Manganese for instance helps your body with the metabolism of the macronutrients – the fat, the protein and the carbs. Manganese facilitates the release of energy from those macronutrients.
Sodium is essential as a blood electrolyte. Sodium helps with fluid balance within and outside the cells. Low sodium for instance can lead to brain swelling with disastrous consequences.
Magnesium is necessary for nerve and muscular function. Lack of magnesium can lead to muscle tension and has been linked to some mental health problems.
Need I mention that iron is an important component of our red blood cells. Without iron you won’t make good enough red blood cells resulting in anaemia. Fatigue, lethargy and even heart failure could happen if you don’t have enough iron from your food.
Iodine is essential for thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland won’t make enough thyroxine. Some weight gain issues are traceable to underactive thyroid. Besides your cognitive ability will plummet in the face of an underactive thyroid gland.
I could go on and on with the functions that micronutrients perform and I haven’t even touched the vitamins.
Micronutrients functions is a book in itself.
The point here is that dark leafy greens have an abundance of micronutrients. Consuming enough leafy greens means you can dump those supplements you have in your cabinet.
Dark leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. You can’t go wrong with them.
And if you are wondering which dark leafy greens to start with. Well, it doesn’t matter much which one you eat. Just eat any.
However, if you would like a ranking based on nutrient density, you can have a look at the ranking scale that Brian Bender has put together at MyIntakePro here for extra guidance. Collard greens seem to top the list in terms of nutrient density and nutrient spread.
2. Leafy greens are the best for weight management
I have said it before. One of the best things you can do for weight management is consume lots of dark leafy greens and I am not joking.
If you are trying to lose weight, you should be adding leafy greens to your eating plan.
For me, it’s more than that though. It’s about the lifestyle. Eating leafy greens should be a lifelong plan. Not just for weight loss.
Having them in your weight loss plan however, is the most sensible thing you can ever do.
Why are leafy greens ideal for weight loss?
The main reason leafy greens are great for weight loss is because leafy greens are very low-calorie. Leafy greens have very little carb content. The glycemic index of dark greens is as low as you will ever get.
It means you can eats lots and lots of them without being concerned about their calorie content.
And you know what?
Leafy greens also fill you up because of their fiber content, So, you get the satiety without the calorie concerns. How cool is that?
And one more thing:
The nitrites in dark leafy greens can have a direct effect on fat burning.
How do leafy greens nitrites do this?
By converting white fat to brown fat. White fat is the fat you don’t want but is the fat we mostly have as adults. White fat is just a stored, illness-promoting fat.
Brown fat on the other hand, is the fat found in babies. Brown fat is thermogenic. In other words, brown fat facilitates fat burning. You want that, don’t you?
Beyond that, leafy greens slow down the release of glucose from other foods you eat them with, all of which help with a lower insulin level. Another bonus for fat burning.
3. Dark leafy greens are great for diabetes management
One of the problems with diabetes is blood sugar control.
Solution: eat foods that won’t raise your blood sugar.
That advice is one of the hardest for diabetics to stick to. One reason being a lot of popular foods especially in the West are refined. Refined foods especially refined carbs raise blood sugar.
How about you introduce dark leafy greens to your diet. Dark leafy greens have a low sugar content.
Dark leafy greens won’t spike your blood sugar. That’s for sure!
Because of their low sugar content, leafy greens will not spike your insulin levels. This is particularly important for those who are insulin resistant.
In insulin resistance, you need to consume foods that won’t spike your insulin levels. Leafy greens won’t. It’s another reason, leafy green vegetables are good for weight management.
For anyone with insulin resistance, prediabetes and has type 2 diabetes, you’ll be doing your health a lot of favour by including dark leafy green vegetables in your diet.
Leafy greens are also good for diabetes prevention. Because of their omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid), magnesium and polyphenol content, leafy greens enhance insulin sensitivity.
The more insulin sensitive you are, the better equipped you are, at dealing with glucose load from your meal. In fact, if you are sensitive, you would just have taken active steps to prevent diabetes.
4. Good for heart health
Another great reward for eating dark leafy greens is the protection leafy green vegetables provide for your heart.
And it’s not hard to see why leafy greens are good for your cardiovascular health.
- Low sugar content
- Low fat content
- Helps to reverse insulin resistance
- Helps with weight management
- High antioxidant content
- Have high nitrates leading to nitric oxide production.
Got problems with your heart and blood vessels? Eat more leafy greens.
There have been several cases of people who declined cardiac stents and reversed their heart disease by eating more greens.
In fact, dark leafy green vegetables are the main stay of Dr Caldwell Esselstyn heart disease reversal therapy. All the success Dr Esselstyn has had has been achieved wholly through nutrition.
And what does Dr Esselstyn advise? Eat more greens and lots of them every day.
Dr Esselstyn has had a lot of success reversing the heart disease patients whom had stent surgery planned and had a second opinion from him.
Not just heart disease patients who declined stent surgery but also those who have had so many stents and there was no more room for more stents. You could say, conventional cardiac surgeons had given up on them.
Dr Esselstyn’s dietary approach saved them via the gift of dark leafy greens. Don’t skip on the leafy greens.
5. Leafy Greens are good for your blood pressure and prevents stroke
One good reason why you should eat dark leafy greens is your cardiovascular health.
People with high blood pressure have blood vessels that have high resistance. That means the blood vessel walls aren’t pliable. Your blood vessels are stiff, so to speak, if you suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension).
If your blood vessel walls aren’t pliable, they put up a lot of resistance downstream, when your heart contracts to pump blood from within it.
The blood pressure reading you see on the blood pressure machine when your doctor or nurse checks your blood pressure is a measure of how resistant the vessel walls are, when your heart pumps blood from inside it.
Higher blood pressure reading means the resistance of the vessel walls downstream is high. Not ideal.
High resistance also means your heart has to do a lot more work to get the blood through to your body cells. Not what your heart was designed for.
Something that would alleviate that resistance is leafy greens. The reasons for that are as I stated earlier on in my preceding benefit for heart health. The same reasons apply here.
6. Leafy greens are a great source of fiber
You don’t need me to tell you that leafy greens have lots of fiber in them. That’s a given. It’s what the fiber does that is more important.
Fiber is your best friend and leafy greens got it…Plenty of it
Fiber is great for bowel health because it contains prebiotics. Prebiotics provide food for our healthy bowel bacteria through the production of short-chain fatty acids.
If you keep your gut healthy bacteria happy, they in turn will protect you in more ways than one. These gut healthy bacteria might just strengthen your immunity for a start.
Fiber also slows down the rate of glucose absorption from your carbs, thus preventing sugar spikes both in non-diabetics and diabetics.
Of course, fibre is great for making us ‘regular’ reducing our tendency to become constipated. Another bonus benefit from your leafy greens.
7. May help prevent cancer
Leafy greens are packed full of phytochemicals such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, quercetin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene
These phytochemicals have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties and also provide cellular support. Not just that, these phytochemicals play a role in epigenetics and the making of new DNA, RNA and new protein synthesis.
The last thing you want when new cells are being formed is for ‘accidents’ to happen. It is these accidents during cell division that lead to cancer.
For a start, you need folic acid to make new DNA and RNA as folic acid is involved in the methylation process.
Well, guess what?
Your lovely dark leafy greens have a rich abundance of folic acid.
There are several mechanisms by which leafy greens protect you from cancer. I have only just given a little overview here.
8. Leafy greens may help prevent vascular dementia
With 29% of Americans suffering from high blood pressure, that’s higher than 1 in 4 and a similar ratio in the UK, it is clear that a vascular dementia time bomb is in the offing in both countries.
Here is something that’s somewhat scary.
Guidelines for hypertension tend to define hypertension as blood pressures higher than 140/90 mm Hg.
This Whitehall Study showed that the threshold for vascular dementia is actually systolic blood pressure of 130 mm Hg NOT the 140mm Hg that guidelines set for doctors and the general population.
Your risk of developing vascular dementia goes up once your systolic blood pressure (the top value) is above 130mm Hg at age 50 and onwards.
High blood pressure in the middle age is a known risk factor for vascular dementia and vascular dementia is the next most common type of dementia after Alzheimers.
The brain is quite a huge tank of metabolic activity. This means your brain requires a huge supply of oxygen and nutrients. If anything compromises this supply, the risk of vascular dementia goes up.
In the same vein, anything that enhances this supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain protects your brain from degeneration.
That’s where the leafy greens come in.
Dark leafy greens provide powerful benefits both for your blood pressure and your brain. Leafy greens are full of nitrates which get converted to Nitric Oxide.
Nitric oxide relaxes your blood vessels making them less stiff. This enhances oxygenation of the brain and promotes nutrient supply as well including micro-nutrients.
All of these actions lower your risk of developing vascular dementia.
9. Dark leafy greens are good for sleep
One of the most ignored benefits of eating dark leafy greens is sleep promotion. I can attest to this benefit.
Once I introduced leafy greens into my daily routine, my sleep quality rocketed through the roof.
And it’s not rocket science, by the way. You should try it.
This is something that you can actually have a proof of concept affordably by trying it out yourself. You don’t need some randomized controlled studies to prove this to you. You can prove it to yourself.
Four micronutrients – tryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential for the manufacture of melatonin.
You need melatonin to sleep well.
Dark leafy greens have all of these substances, the tryptophan, the calcium, the vitamin B6 and the magnesium to varying degrees. Some more than others.
It’s not just about sleep. It’s more about the quality of the sleep. Get leafy greens and sleep better and wake up fresher.
Suggested further reading:
The Lazy Man’s Way To Get Their Daily Veggie Fix Effortlessly