Since we were children we’ve been told how important it is that we eat our greens. There are lots of reasons to make sure you are getting enough of the green stuff, no matter what age you are! Whether you are salad-shy or a broccoli-fiend, here are 10 good reasons to include the green team in your diet:
1. Protect against cancer
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale may help protect us against cancer. This has been attributed to a compound called sulphurophane which has been found in studies to disrupt cell division and may be useful in developing new treatments for breast cancer. Researchers have even named it ‘the green chemoprevention’.
Top tip: To make the most of these compounds, it’s best to eat some cruciferous vegetables raw (cabbage, kohlrabi, rocket, watercress) or only steam them lightly (bok choy, broccoli, spring greens, kale). When cooking with them, you can add a pinch of mustard powder which contains an enzyme that may boost the health benefits further.
2. Help healing
Vitamin K is essential for healthy blood clotting and can help wounds heal. Worryingly, six out of 10 people aren’t getting enough, but the good news is that you should be able to get all you need from greens. Just one daily portion of spring greens, kale or spinach can provide over ten times the adequate amount recommended!
3. Strengthening your immune system
Cruciferous vegetables, such as bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage are packed with antioxidants, which we know are essential for protecting our organs and strengthening our immune systems. Kale is a particularly high source of antioxidants – chuck it into a berry smoothie for a super-charged antioxidant fix!
4. Protecting your eyesight
Most of the cruciferous vegetables mentioned above, also contain a type of antioxidants called carotenoids. These may help protect your eyes against age-related macular degeneration (deteriorating eyesight).
5. Keeping your bones healthy
Many greens are good sources of two nutrients which are essential for your bone health – vitamin K and calcium. Low levels of vitamin K have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and arthritis, whilst, as we know, calcium is the building block for our bones.
Leafy greens such as kale, broccoli, spring greens and bok choy are all excellent sources of both of these nutrients.
6. Upping your iron levels
Everyone is familiar with Popeye getting his superhuman strength from spinach. Although spinach isn’t quite as high in iron as popular culture would have you believe, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens, are certainly a good source, especially when eaten with other rich sources such as lentils, tofu or wholemeal pasta.
7. They’re high in vitamin C
Along with being necessary for the growth and repair of all tissues in the human body, and being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron. Vitamin C is found in high amounts in broccoli, kale and spring greens, which are most nutrient-rich when eaten raw, or as close to raw as possible (such as lightly steamed broccoli).
8. A good source of folic acid
Folic acid (or folate) is crucial for many of the body’s essential processes such as brain and nerve function, DNA production and red blood cell formation. It also plays an important role in fertility and if you are pregnant, or trying for a baby, the government recommends that you take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplement daily until you’re 12 weeks pregnant to help prevent neural tube defects (such as spina bifida). All other adults need 200 micrograms a day. Thankfully, green vegetables such as asparagus, Brussel’s sprouts, spinach, kale, white cabbage, pak choi, rocket, broccoli, lettuce and peas, all contain excellent sources.
9. Packed with potassium
Potassium plays a key role in balancing fluids in the body, nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and helps to prevent kidney stones. Whilst bananas are often touted as being potassium-rich, spinach and broccoli, both contain more potassium. The best plant sources include pulses (peas, beans and lentils), potatoes, sweet potatoes, dried fruit, squash, avocado, spinach, broccoli and bananas. One average serving of raw baby spinach gives you 18 per cent of your daily potassium needs.
10. Full of fibre
Fibre is essential for a healthy digestive system – it encourages good gut bacteria and may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders and bowel cancer. Alongside all of their other benefits, leafy greens are high in fibre – kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard are all great sources. Whether you’re adding spinach to your smoothie, or broccoli to your stir fry, including one to two portions of greens in your diet per day is likely to have long-lasting health benefits. Aim for 30 grams a day from leafy green veg, oats, fruit (including dried), wholegrain bread, brown rice, pulses, nuts and seeds.
There you have it – 10 good reasons why you should eat your greens!