Why You Should Add More Leafy Greens To Your Diet

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It is no surprise that adding more vegetables to your diet will have many benefits for your health. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and rocket are brilliant additions to your diet because not only are they a great source of fibre, but they are also jam-packed with vitamins and minerals which can boost your overall health and wellness.

In this article, we will be discussing the many benefits of incorporating these nutritious greens into your daily meals.

Nutritional value of leafy greens

A great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre:

Leafy greens are the most nutritious type of salad green because they are rich in a selection of vitamins such as A, C, and K as well as plenty of minerals such as potassium.1

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is naturally present in many foods. However, leafy green vegetables are rich in  beta-carotene which the body can convert to vitamin A.  Vitamin A is essential to our well-being because it has several important functions in the body such as supporting the immune system, integumentary system and the visual system.2 The leafy green which contains the highest amount of vitamin A is spinach because per half cup, it contains 573 mcg of vitamin A which is equivalent to 64% of a person’s daily value.3

2. Vitamin C

Leafy greens such as broccoli and mustard spinach contain high levels of vitamin C which is important for keeping the cells healthy, promoting wound healing,  maintaining healthy skin and blood vessels as well as bone formation.4

3. Vitamin K

The most common leafy green vegetables containing vitamin K are kale, collard greens and spinach.5 Vitamin K is needed by the body for blood clotting which in turn helps wound healing.6 Specifically, leafy greens are rich in vitamin K1 which is involved in bone health because it activates several proteins associated with bone formation.7

4. Minerals

Leafy greens are high in various essential minerals which you can obtain by including them in your diet.  Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron are found in abundance in leafy greens. Minerals are necessary for the maintenance of important body  functions such as controlling body fluid levels, building strong bones and teeth, and supporting a healthy cardiovascular system.8

5. Fibre

Alongside leafy greens’ rich vitamin and mineral content, they are also a great source of fibre. A cup of spinach or collard greens will offer you five grams of fibre.9 . Not only is fibre essential in helping to promote digestive health by normalising bowel movements, but also in lowering the blood sugar levels which can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. High fibre foods aid in weight management by keeping you satisfied for longer time and preventing you from overindulging in snacks.

Eating any leafy green will give you these health benefits, but if you are looking for the most beneficial leafy green, you should choose kale because it is regarded  as one of the most  nutrient-dense vegetables because it contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.10

Health benefits of leafy greens

Disease prevention

Consuming leafy greens is linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases including heart disease,11 type 2 diabetes12 and certain cancers.

Their main mechanism of preventing these diseases is down to their antioxidant properties which help combat oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. Leafy greens also contain a group of substances called glucosinolates which are sulphur-containing chemicals. When these substances are broken down during the process of chewing and food digestion, they form biologically active compounds which have been studied for their anticancer properties.13 They can prevent cancer by inactivating carcinogens, protecting cells from DNA damage and inducing cell death when needed.

Weight management

As previously mentioned, leafy greens are a great source of fibre which helps with weight management. If you are planning to go on a diet, you should use leafy greens in your meals because they are low in calories and virtually contain no fat which makes them an ideal choice for a calorie-conscious diet.

Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens are perfect for a calorie-conscious diet because their high fibre content promotes the feeling of fullness, causing you to reduce overeating and stay satisfied for longer. This could be due to studies finding out that eating sources of fibre can increase the production of hormones like cholecystokinin which make you feel full and suppress your appetite.14

Digestion health

The abundance of fibre in leafy greens can support healthy digestion by preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. This is done by increasing the weight and size of the stool which is easier to pass than smaller stools.

Fibre also plays an important role in creating a diverse gut microbiome and thereby contributing to a healthier digestive system which can reduce the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.15

It is important to note that alongside eating high fibre foods, you should be drinking enough water to allow the fibre to absorb the water which will soften your stools.

Skin and hair health

Leafy greens play a major role in enhancing the appearance of our skin and hair. Leafy greens are a good source of folate which is essential for the synthesis of amino acids, which are building blocks of proteins. This will keep your skin looking plump and bouncy. The green pigment (known as chlorophyll) has also been identified to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can therefore help in alleviating skin conditions such as acne, eczema and rosacea.16

Additionally, due to leafy greens having a high nutritional value, the vitamins they provide play an important role in strengthening the hair, making it shinier and less prone to damage, thereby increasing hair growth and improving the quality of hair.  

How to incorporate them into your diet

Leafy greens are an easy addition to any meal because they are very versatile. You can easily incorporate them into your diet by adding them to salads, smoothies, and sandwiches. The easiest way is to simply add a few handfuls of spinach into a pasta dish or saute some vegetables as a side dish to accompany your main. If you have some extra time, try making some kale crisps as they are a brilliant alternative to normal crisps and have a lot of health benefits.. These simple changes to your cooking will be beneficial to your health.

Special considerations

Although adding leafy greens to your meals will be life-changing, be aware of any allergies you may have and adjust your choices accordingly. If you have any known kidney issues, you may have to limit your intake of some leafy greens such as spinach as they contain high levels of oxalates.

It is also important to remember to wash your vegetables before you eat them, as sometimes raw fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with harmful germs such as Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria. To prevent food poisoning, do not eat unwashed fresh produce.17

Summary

To summarise, leafy greens are a brilliant, simple, and effective way to boost your health and wellbeing. Their nutrient-rich profile, disease-fighting properties, and numerous benefits for weight management, digestion, and skin and hair health make them a valuable addition to your diet. So, what are you waiting for? Start incorporating more leafy greens into your meals for a healthier lifestyle.

References

  • Salad greens: Getting the most bang for the bite [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2018. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/salad-greens-getting-the-most-bang-for-the-bite#:~:text=They%20are%20rich%20in%20a
  • NHS Choices. Vitamin A - Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. NHS. 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-a/
  • National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin A [Internet]. Nih.gov. National Institutes of Health; 2017. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  • NHS. Vitamin C - Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. NHS. 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-c/
  • Warfarin, your diet, and vitamin K foods [Internet]. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Available from: https://uihc.org/educational-resources/warfarin-your-diet-and-vitamin-k-foods#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20foods%20with
  • NHS. Vitamin K - Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. Nhs. 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-k/
  • Sim M, Lewis JR, Prince RL, Levinger I, Brennan-Speranza TC, Palmer C, et al. The effects of vitamin K-rich green leafy vegetables on bone metabolism: A 4-week randomised controlled trial in middle-aged and older individuals. Bone Reports [Internet]. 2020 Apr 26 [cited 2021 Mar 4];12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7235933/
  • NHS Inform. Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. www.nhsinform.scot. 2020. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/food-and-nutrition/eating-well/vitamins-and-minerals/
  • The Top Fiber-Rich Foods List [Internet]. www.todaysdietitian.com. Available from: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/063008p28.shtml
  • Kale: A Nutrient-Dense Choice For Your Diet [Internet]. The University of Vermont Health Network. 2019 [cited 2023 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.uvmhealth.org/healthsource/kale-a-nutrient-dense-choice-your-diet#:~:text=What%20is%20kale
  • Ojagbemi A, Okekunle AP, Olowoyo P, Akpa OM, Akinyemi R, Ovbiagele B, et al. Dietary intakes of green leafy vegetables and incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular Journal of Africa. 2021 Aug 31;32(4):43–51.
  • Wang PY, Fang JC, Gao ZH, Zhang C, Xie SY. Higher Intake of fruits, Vegetables or Their Fiber Reduces the Risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Journal of Diabetes Investigation [Internet]. 2015 Jun 22;7(1):56–69. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4718092/
  • HECHT SS. INHIBITION OF CARCINOGENESIS BY ISOTHIOCYANATES*. Drug Metabolism Reviews. 2000 Jan;32(3-4):395–411.
  • Bourdon I, Olson B, Richter BD, Davis PA, Schneeman BO, Backus R. Beans, as a Source of Dietary Fiber, Increase Cholecystokinin and Apolipoprotein B48 Response to Test Meals in Men. The Journal of Nutrition. 2001 May;131(5):1485–90.
  • Cronin P, Joyce SA, O’Toole PW, O’Connor EM. Dietary Fibre Modulates the Gut Microbiota. Nutrients [Internet]. 2021 May 13;13(5):1655. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8153313/
  • Versed Skin. Does Drinking Chlorophyll Really Help Your Skin? [Internet]. Versed Skin. [cited 2023 Nov 7]. Available from: https://versedskin.com/blogs/learn/chlorophyll-for-skin#:~:text=The%20Benefits%20of%20Chlorophyll&text=%E2%80%9CSome%20researchers%20found%20that%20by
  • CDC. Foods that can cause food poisoning [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2023. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foods-linked-illness.html#:~:text=Sometimes%20raw%20fruits%20and%20vegetables

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Lavinia de Saram

Bachelors of Science – BSc Biological Sciences, University of Reading

Lavinia is a recent graduate who is delving into the world of medical writing.

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