Leafy green vegetables are well-known for their exceptional nutrient content: they’re loaded with key vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals thought to keep your heart, brain and eyes healthy as you age. And research has uncovered yet another reason to eat your greens, this time for gut health: sugar.
The unusual and over-looked sugar in green vegetables – called sulfoquinovose or SQ for short – is essential for your good gut bacteria to thrive. SQ is the only sugar that contains sulfur, a mineral vital for building proteins.
There are other reasons to eat leafy green vegetables beyond digestive health. A diet rich in leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, hip fracture and certain cancers. And it’s thought to guard against cataract, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Eating at least one serving per day (1 cup of salad greens or one-half cup of cooked greens) has also been linked to better brain function and slower cognitive decline. Vitamin K, folate, lutein and beta-carotene in leafy greens are thought to be connected to improved brain function.
Aim for one serving a day
Include at least one serving of leafy greens in your diet every day. Eat them both raw and cooked.
And don’t stop at spinach. Other nutrient-packed greens include arugula, beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, rapini, Romaine lettuce and Swiss chard.
Cooked versus raw
To get more minerals – calcium, magnesium, iron – from greens eat them cooked more often. Heating vegetables releases some of the minerals that are bound to natural compounds called oxalates. Cooking also increases the amount of antioxidants available for your body to absorb.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat leafy greens raw, too. In fact, most research suggests that salad greens, in particular, are beneficial for brain health.
Whether you eat them raw or cooked, enjoy leafy greens with a little fat to help your body extract more fat-soluble nutrients and phytochemicals including vitamin K, lutein and beta-carotene. Eat raw greens with an oil-based salad dressing or dip; sauté leafy greens in olive oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil or coconut oil.
7 ways to eat more leafy greens
Use the following tips to eat a variety of greens in a variety of different ways.
Assemble your favourite sandwich ingredients, taco fillings or stir-fry on trimmed collard or Swiss chard leaves and wrap as you would a burrito. If you prefer, you can soften the leaves before filling by blanching in a saucepan of boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds.
Puree a handful of raw or frozen, pre-cooked greens into a fruit or green smoothie. Or, make a green juice by blending Romaine lettuce, kale, cucumber, green apple and ginger.
Stir chopped or baby greens into tomato-based pasta sauces during the last few minutes of cooking; cook until the greens are wilted or tender. My favourite additions to pasta: chopped rapini and baby spinach.
Add chopped kale, Swiss chard, collards, mustard or beet greens to sautéed garlic and red chili pepper flakes and sauté until tender. Drizzle with lemon juice and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or roasted sesame oil for an Asian-inspired diet dish.
If Romaine or leaf lettuce is your go-to salad green, mix it up. Toss in baby arugula, dandelion greens, chopped kale or chopped beet greens. Pass on fat-free salad dressings; many nutrients and phytochemicals in leafy greens are best absorbed in the presence of a little fat.
Top cooked pizza with raw salad greens such as baby arugula or spinach.
Fortify homemade or store-bought soups with chopped or baby greens. (Ditto for chili and stir-fries.) If using baby greens, add them at the end of cooking.
Tear washed kale into bite-sized pieces (4 cups) and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet; bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until crispy.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.