Eat like Popeye, Enjoy your Spinach …….. but Rotate your Greens!
It is this time of the year when you look out of the window and you can see the 40 shades of green for which Ireland is famous. Nature is at its most beautiful, everything is growing and blossoming in Summer. It is the perfect time to benefit from some of these lovely greens by including them in our daily nutrition.
What makes the greens so healthy and beneficial?
Greens are an excellent source of fibre, and many vitamins and minerals, such as folate, vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, carotenoids and other phytonutrients. Like most vegetables, greens are low in calories and packed with antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds, helping to reduce inflammation and to eliminate cancer causing compounds from the body. Leafy greens also are low in their glycemic load, which means they do not have a big impact on our blood sugar. A diet low in its glycemic load will lead to better control of blood sugar levels and support a healthy weight. It will also maximise energy levels, reduce recovery time after exercise and can help improve the mood by keeping the blood sugar levels even. The fibre present in greens will bind and increase the excretion of bile acids. Cholesterol is needed to build new bile acids. This way, due to their high fibre content, greens will use up cholesterol and help to reduce blood cholesterol levels. For all of these reasons, it is recommended to eat large amounts of fresh, high-quality greens every day to support our health and to avail of their many benefits.
So why would we want to rotate the greens we eat? Can you have too much of a good thing?
Each family of leafy greens has their own wide selection of nutrients. By eating a variety of leafy greens, you get a more balanced amount of nutrients and increase your nutritional diversity. By eating the same one or two leafy green vegetables you might miss out on nutrients that are not present in the chosen selection. (Poor Popeye ….. he missed out on so much variety!)
Furthermore, all leaves contain a small amount of defensive compounds, specific to their plant family type. This helps protect the plants from being eaten by herbivorous animals but for humans it can potentially lead to a build-up of these naturally occurring compounds. Leafy greens come from four plant families: the Brassica or mustard family, including kale, cabbage, pak choi, rocket and watercress, the Amaranth family, including spinach and chard, the Asteraceae or Composite family, including romaine and dandelion greens, and the Apiaceae or carrot family, including celery, coriander and parsley. It is key to diversify and enjoy a wide variety of different greens, particularly if you want to maintain a green smoothie routine long term. Use different types of greens from different families and rotate them throughout the week. This way you do not miss out on a variety of nutrients, and prevent a build-up of unwanted compounds.
Maximise the absorption of your greens
By including both, raw and steamed greens in your diet, you benefit most from them. Certain nutrients such as the carotenoids are better absorbed when slightly steamed. Yet, some nutrients such as vitamin C and certain enzymes will be lost by heat exposure. Consuming a variety of both, cooked and raw greens will help to optimise the nutritional value of your greens. To absorb the fat soluble nutrients in your greens, such as vitamin K or carotenoids, the body requires the presence of a little bit of fat. Including a little olive oil, flax or chia seeds or avocados in your green meal or drink, will help your body to absorb those fat-soluble nutrients. Iron, an important mineral found in greens, is vital for the transport of oxygen in the red blood cells. Iron from plant sources, so called non-haem iron, is better absorbed if it is consumed together with some vitamin C. So adding a citrus dressing to your green salad or some lemon juice to your green smoothie will help your body to absorb this valuable mineral.
Adding a wide variety of organic leafy greens to your diet will provide lots of precious nutrients and improve the nutritional value of your diet. What’s more, they are healthy and tasty! Good quality, organic fruits & organic vegetables are available in our online shop at www.greenearthorganics.ie - nutritious and delicious. Enjoy!
Monique Hegner, Nutritional Therapist