Benefits of Dark Leafy Greens
By: Josey Hartley, Samford University Dietetic Intern
Kale has become a widely known superfood over the past years, shining a spotlight on the benefits of dark-leafy greens. Greens can range in color from light to dark, with darker colored leaves providing the most vitamins and minerals. When shopping for greens, a key tip to remember is the darker the leaves, the higher the nutrient value. For example, the commonly used Romaine lettuce provides more than seventeen times the Vitamin A as iceberg lettuce, and contains double the fiber. Adding a variety of greens to recipes not only enhances the vitamins and minerals, but also contributes to the flavor, color, and texture of the meal. For individuals who have vision loss or difficulty seeing, be sure to ask a store employee for assistance with distinguishing the different light and dark shades of greens.
Greens are part of a daily balanced diet. Dark leafy greens have shown to be beneficial for vision, digestion, and bone health, as well as for the prevention of cancer, birth defects, and other diseases. The fiber found in dark greens aids in digestion and the regulation of hunger. Studies have shown daily fiber intake is important for weight maintenance and feelings of satiety after eating. Combine greens with other vegetables and whole grains to increase the fiber content of the meal even more!
The abundance of antioxidants found in dark-leafy veggies have a protective effect against inflammation. Eating two to three servings of dark greens every day can help to decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease due to the high amount of antioxidants. Mixed greens, kale, and spinach are great examples of nutrient-dense vegetables, providing vitamins A, C, E, and K. The high amount of folate and other B-vitamins found in mustard greens and bok choy also play a protective role against cancer through the function of cell repair. Folate is especially important for pregnant women to decrease the risk of birth defects. In regards to bone health, the vitamin K found in dark-greens can play an important role in preventing osteoporosis.
Adding dark-leafy greens can be an easy way to add a variety of vitamins and minerals to everyday meals. Store bought greens can be purchased as salad mixes, conveniently including a wide selection of leafy-greens; however, salads are not the only use for leafy greens. Try adding greens to smoothies, omelets, soups, wraps, and stir-fries. As spinach and other greens are heated, they typically cook down to half their size and are easily hidden when mixed into recipes. Cooking leafy-greens by sautéing or steaming and seasoning with olive oil and spices can be a quick and easy side-dish.
Visit near-by farmers markets or a local grocery store to see the large variety of colors and textures different leafy-greens can add. For more information on how to encourage family members to eat more leafy-greens, read the article “How to Get Your Kids to Eat Dark Leafy Greens” by registered dietitian, Jessica Cox and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.