‘Eat your greens’ has been on the lips of generations of parents when encouraging their young children to eat them – and often met with a determined refusal! It’s not so surprising because whether the child was initially breast fed or bottle fed, both would have tasted sweet, and green vegetables have a bitter taste when compared. This is the reason why the sweeter root vegetables, like carrot and parsnip, make such a good introduction to puree mixes when moving a child onto solid food. As we develop our taste buds and accept a broader range of foods, we often find bitter foods acceptable, and indeed preferable.
All the same, it can be that we unwittingly restrict our leafy vegetable choices and don’t include a wider variety, whatever the season. This is a shame because there is such a wide choice, and each have their own particular nutrient benefit for our all- round health. They are also quick to cook by retaining their nutrient content, many can be eaten raw, and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, and low in calories while being the perfect food to build a healthy gut and microbiome.
Here is a list of the healthiest leafy green vegetables and how they benefit us in particular.
Much lauded these last few years and with good reason, kale is considered one of the most nutrient dense vegetables on the planet due to it’s many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. High in vitamin K needed for blood clotting; vitamin A for eye health, bone health, reproduction, growth, and immune system; and vitamin C needed for tissue repair and the production of certain neurotransmitters. Kale contains the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene which reduce the risk of disease by oxidative stress and help prevent macular degeneration.
Microgreens are the immature greens produced from the sprouting seeds of herbs and vegetables. They measure up to 7.5cm, hence ‘micro’. They are often used as a garnish and I imagine most us have bought or grown mustard cress, but there are so many seeds to sprout, than just mustard seed alone, offering diverse benefits. Microgreens are ‘super powered’ in that they contain a dense nutritional profile because they are in their early growth stage – in fact, up to 40 times more nutrients compared to their mature stage! Some of their nutrients are vitamin C; vitamin E and vitamin K. Vitamin E may prevent coronary heart disease; it supports immune function; prevents inflammation and lowers risk of cancer.
Its so easy to grow your own and you can buy ‘incubators’ for them like seed trays, but just a jam jar with wet kitchen towel at the bottom can work. The results can be seen – and eaten in a week – snip off a small bunch to add more nutrients to your meals, just like a pot of herbs. They also have the benefit of being available all year round.
Commonly available seeds to sprout are alfalfa, broccoli, celery, chia, fenugreek, radish, kale, pumpkin, sunflower, plus nuts, seeds, and beans with ready made mixes in a selection.
Collard greens are loose leaf greens, related to kale and spring greens. They have thick leaves and are slightly bitter. Collard greens are a good source of vitamins A; B9 (folate) and vitamin C, while also having one of the best sources of vitamin K. We need folate for making our red and white blood cells in the bone marrow; folate also converts carbohydrates into energy. Its extremely important during periods of rapid growth such as pregnancy, infancy and adolescence
Spinach is a popular leafy green vegetable used raw in salads, soups, sauces, whizzed into a smoothie or blanched as a side veggie, or topped with a poached egg. Also high in vitamins K and A and having a good percentage of manganese.
Manganese has many roles including bone health in combination with other nutrients; it’s a strong antioxidant; may help to reduce inflammation, particularly in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin. Manganese plays a role in blood sugar regulation and has been linked to lower incidences of epileptic seizures.
Manganese is packed with folate too, and its role in red blood cell production and the prevention of neural tube defects in pregnancy.
Cabbage leaves form a cluster of green, white and purple colours. It belongs to the Brassica family, along with Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli. The image I’ve used to go with this post is of a bowl of raw kalettes, a fairly recent cross fertilisation between brussels sprouts and kale – They have a sweet, nutty flavour and I love them quickly pan fried to slightly wilt, tossed in virgin olive oil, seasoned, with a scattering of mixed seeds for added crunch.
Vegetables in this Brassica family contain glucosinolates, which gives them their bitter flavour. Early studies have shown that they may confer cancer-protective properties, especially against lung and oesophageal cancer.
Another benefit of cabbage is that it can be fermented and turned into sauerkraut, which provides numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion – feeding gut bacteria; and supporting the immune system. It may even aid weight loss.
Beet greens are the edible green leaves of beetroots. There are often discarded but have been claimed to be beneficial for health since the Middle Ages.
Beet greens are rich in potassium, calcium, riboflavin, fibre and vitamins A and K. They also contain antioxidants beta-carotene and lutein, which may reduce the risk of eye disorders, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
We need potassium for relief from stroke, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disorders, anxiety and stress. It helps enhance muscle strength; metabolism; water balance; electrolyte functions; and the nervous system.
We need calcium to build and maintain strong bones. Our heart, muscles and nerves also need calcium to function. There have been suggestions that it may help protect against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Watercress is an aquatic plant from the Brassicaceae family and similar to rocket and mustard greens. Its said to have properties used in herbal medicine for centuries but there is no evidence as yet to support this. Test-tube studies have shown an extract from watercress to be beneficial in targeting cancer stem cells and impairing cancer cell reproduction and invasion.
Watercress only grows along the Dorset Chalk belts and in the neighbouring counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire in the UK in its natural habitat. Chalk filters flowing stream water, and therefore we can be sure there are no contaminants. It is still grown and harvested like this today by a few family business as it has been for centuries. Originally, it would have been foraged by the local community but when it became more popular, a transport link to London resulted in the building of a train service called The Watercress Line. Restored to its forming working condition this steam train and line now operate as a tourist attraction.
When buying watercress in your supermarket you might have noticed one of the growers to be John Hurd. His family have been farming watercress since the 1950’s and has stayed true to its British roots by only producing 100% organic watercress.
More commercial companies emulate the conditions by growing over man made gravel beds. If you want to trace where your watercress comes from search www.thewatercresscompany.com
You will also be supporting small business.
These all have a similar nutrient profile to the ones I have already covered but each has its own taste, colour and shape for added interest.
Endive belongs to the Cichorium family. Its crisp in texture and has a nutty, mildly bitter flavour. Endive had high levels of vitamin K and D; and its also a source of kaempferol, another antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test tube studies.
Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage and contains selenium which is important for thyroid function; cognitive function; immunity and cancer prevention.
Selenium is important for proper thyroid gland function. This gland that is located in the neck releases hormones that play a key role in metabolism.
An observational study associated low levels of selenium with thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis and enlarged thyroid.
These are the leaves from the turnip plant and actually pack more nutrients than the turnip itself! Including calcium, manganese, folate and vitamins A, C and K.
A cruciferous vegetable, which has been shown to decrease risk of health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammation.
Turnip greens also contain several antioxidants not covered previously in the article including gluconasturtin, glucotropaeolin, quercetin, myricetin, and beta -carotene too – which all play a role in reducing stress in the body.
To be sure of having a good mix of these wonderful, green leafy veggies make certain to vary the range you include in your weekly shop.
Eat Yourself Healthy!