Health Benefits of Green Vegetables
Health Benefits of Green Vegetables
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Did you know that only nine percent of Americans meet their daily minimum vegetable intake? Two-and-a-half to three cups of veggies per day are needed to meet baseline nutrition requirements, but most of us fall short. Green veggies are one of the most nutrient-dense and health-promoting categories of foods we can eat but they also tend to be one of the hardest to include.
Greens may not be as convenient to eat as other foods. Some people report that greens rot in the fridge quickly, or they don’t know how to prepare them in a tasty way. Some people struggle with the bitterness and texture of green vegetables. Yet others may not realize the full health benefits of including an abundance of greens in the diet.
Can you relate? If so, keep reading.
In this article, we will dive into the important nutrients that greens bring to the diet and what benefits they offer to prevent disease and promote wellness. We will also cover simple tips for how you can increase green vegetables in your diet, starting today.
Let’s dive in!
Nutrients in Green Vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are low in calories yet packed with nutrients. Here are some of the important nutrients you will find in these foods:
- Fiber – All whole plant foods contain fiber. Fiber is simply carbohydrates that humans don’t have the enzymes to digest. The fiber in green leafy vegetables promotes regularity, digestive function, and metabolic health.
- Vitamins – Dark leafy green veggies contain many vitamins, most notably folate and vitamin K. Folate, or vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient for preconception and pregnancy, promoting favorable genetic expression and development. Vitamin K is a critical nutrient for blood clotting.
- Minerals – Packed with minerals, green vegetables provide calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which help maintain an alkaline pH in the body. Greens are also a plant source of iron.
- Phytonutrients – Dark leafy greens contain thousands (yes thousands!) of phytonutrients, or plant nutrients, that cover the full spectrum of the rainbow. We can’t see most colors because the rich, green chlorophyll in plants masks the other compounds.
For example, leafy greens are a rich source of red, orange, and yellow carotenoids that act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and support reproductive health. If you’ve ever had a bunch of kale in your fridge that starts to turn yellow, you’ve observed the chlorophyll breaking down to reveal the carotenoids underneath.
While it can be easy to focus on the pieces of a particular food, remember that the whole food is greater than the sum of its parts. We can only study what we can isolate, but there are likely many phytonutrients and significant nutrient synergies within these plants that we have yet to discover. Therefore, eating the whole food is always the best strategy!
Health Benefits of Green Vegetables
Because of all the nutrients that green vegetables provide, it’s not hard to see why they are so beneficial to multiple areas of health. We’ve already mentioned some of them, like digestive and metabolic support. Let’s look at more of these health benefits. Green leafy vegetables are associated with:
- Reduced risk for chronic disease. Eating vegetables (and fruit) is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death. The total volume or servings of vegetables eaten and including a variety is important.
- Improved detoxification. Chlorophyll can bind to carcinogens in the body and help remove them. Vitamins and minerals found in green vegetables support liver detoxification, as do phytonutrients.
For example, sulforaphane, a sulfur-rich phytonutrient found in broccoli sprouts, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables plays an important role in liver detoxification. Additionally, sulforaphane activates the body’s antioxidant production, protecting from damaging compounds.
- Immune health. Many green vegetables contain essential immune-enhancing nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, eating vegetables supports a healthy gut microbiome, which interacts directly with the immune system.
- Anti-aging. Phytonutrients and antioxidants are anti-aging compounds associated with healthy aging. Just one cup of green veggies per day slows the cognitive decline associated with aging.
- Improved mineral status. The modern food supply offers fewer minerals than even a few decades ago. We also have increased body needs for minerals today because of stress, toxins, processed food, and other factors. An abundance of dietary dark leafy green veggies is one strategy for improving mineral status. They are high in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, known as electrolyte or alkaline minerals, that support mineral balance and homeostasis.
- Happiness and well-being. The discussion of health benefits focuses on physical health, but vegetable intake is also important for psychological health. Several studies link a high intake of a variety of vegetables with happiness, overall well-being, and an improved quality of life.
Green Foods List
Dark green leafy vegetables, also called green vegetables, or simply greens, include the following:
- Barley grass
- Beet greens
- Bok choy
- Broccoli sprouts
- Collard greens
- Oat grass
- Romaine lettuce
- Turnip greens
Recommendations for Eating Greens and How to Eat More
Government dietary recommendations are conservative and recommend a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day or around two-and-a-half to three cups. Research shows that in the case of vegetables more is better, with the most significant benefits around nine to 13 servings per day. For reference, a serving is around one cup of a raw vegetable or one-half cup cooked.
Leafy greens are often a source of pesticide and agricultural chemical residues, a downside to modern production practices. As you are able, choosing organic greens can mean decreased exposure to these toxins. But rest assured, the benefits of eating greens always outweigh any risk.
In addition, don’t forget about variety. It’s easy to grab the same produce each week at the store. Instead, mix it up. When you include more variety in what you eat, you’ll increase the nutrients and phytonutrients that promote the benefits discussed here.
Here are some tried and true tips for adding more vegetables, especially greens, to your routine.
Use convenience items. If you are busy and don’t enjoy the cleaning involved with fresh greens, opt for prewashed, prechopped, or frozen options. If green foods are convenient, you can easily add them to your meals.
Make them tasty! Vegetables don’t have to be soggy and tasteless like those you ate growing up. An easy fix here is to sauté greens in fat like ghee, olive oil, or coconut oil. Add some onions, garlic, and sea salt. Pairing greens with fat increases the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients. Greens taste better with fat and are better for you!
Seek out local options. Depending on the time of year and where you live, greens at the grocery store can look sad, old, and wilted. Local options will be fresher, hold up in your fridge, and you’ll experience subtle taste differences throughout the season. For example, greens harvested during the heat of summer may be more bitter compared to the sweet greens you’ll find as the weather turns cold. And through the winter, look for greenhouse or microgreen options.
Grow your own. All you need is a planter, some rich soil, and seeds. You can grow green herbs like parsley and cilantro, baby salad greens, or spinach in a small sunny space. Involving kids in the process is a great way to open them up to eating more green foods.
- Add a greens powder. Using a greens powder is one of the simplest ways to increase your veggie consumption and supplement your daily nutrition. Choose a high-quality, organic product that has been third party tested for contaminants. Twenty2 Greens checks all the boxes to ensure you are putting the highest quality greens into your body.
Add a scoop to your morning smoothie or mix with water to drink your veggies. A whole serving of Twenty2 Greens delivers the equivalent of 9.5 servings of veggies!
It’s no secret that green vegetables are good for you. We know greens are nutrient-dense and necessary for vibrant health and longevity. Yet, many of us still have a hard time committing to green foods. Pairing greens with healthy fat, finding fresh options, and supplementing with a daily greens powder are easy ways to nourish your body with solid nutrition.