Spring is the season when leafy greens are at their best, and you can put a spring in your step by making sure you get some in your diet every day. Some of the health benefits you could enjoy include:
Shaking off the winter blues with greens
There is evidence that regular intake of green vegetables significantly cuts the odds of developing depression, and there are even measurable mood-boosting effects by the next day!
Leafy greens have been shown to make you look more attractive, as dietary carotenoid deposition in the skin provides a subtle ‘golden glow’. It has also been shown that a higher intake of green and yellow vegetables is associated with decreased facial wrinkling, so there’s another good reason to eat your greens!
The pigment that makes leaves green, called chlorophyll, contains magnesium, and a higher intake of dietary magnesium may reduce the risk of heart disease. Leafy greens can also be a good source of potassium, which can help to reduce blood pressure. Also, green leafy vegetables are high in nitrate, which our body can use to create nitric oxide that improves the flexibility of our arteries. Please note that people on certain blood pressure medications or blood thinners should not increase their intake of leafy greens without advice from their health professional.
Protecting brain and eye health
The brain is especially vulnerable to free radical attack due to its high fat content and high metabolic activity. Dietary antioxidants can help protect our brain cells from damage and our eyes from age-related problems. The major fat-soluble dietary antioxidant concentrated in the brain is the carotenoid lutein, which is also present in dark green, leafy vegetables. Just one serving per day is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline.
Reducing cancer risk
Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that our body makes, but it needs to be regenerated to its active form to be useful. Amazingly, this may be boosted by eating greens, because chlorophyll in our bloodstream reacting with sunlight on our skin reactivates CoQ10 – but remember not to exceed sun-safe limits. Also, many spring greens come from the cruciferous vegetable family (e.g. kale, cabbage) and these are rich in phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane and indoles, that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties. However, if you have a thyroid disorder you should get advice before eating large amounts of cruciferous vegetables.
Better sports performance
Eating greens reduces muscle recovery time by combating oxidative stress, so you can return to training sooner. It’s also been shown that the extra blood delivered to the muscles, from the dilating effect of nitrates in leafy greens, boosts athletic performance.
What about oxalates?
Oxalate is a natural chemical which is high in some leafy greens, including spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard. Excessive consumption, particularly raw and liquidized (e.g. in smoothies), may increase the risk of kidney stones in susceptible people. So mix up your leafy greens – there are plenty to choose from, like kale, cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, rocket. If you have kidney stones it’s best to get professional advice.
Pro Nutrition SA Catrin Daly, Dietitian