Many of the products promoted as superfoods (Goji berries, Spirulina, Acai berries etc) come with a considerable price tag. I’m not questioning their value, but many of our humble, common foods have significant nutrient value too and could also be called superfoods. One group of common foods worthy of this title is dark green leafy vegetables and herbs.
If you want to lose weight, prevent premature aging, protect your body from disease, have great skin and maintain strong bones then make adaily date with green leafy vegetables.
Leafy green vegetables include: beetroot greens, kale, spinach, silverbeet, chard, young celery leaves, rocket, watercress and leafy green herbs such as parsley, chickweed, mint, nettle (yes, you can eat it) and young dandelion leaves.
All leafy green vegetables and green culinary herbs are high in anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids. Carotenoids are a potent family of antioxidants that include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein. Spinach also contains coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid.
Antioxidants protect the body from harmful free radicals and thus help to prevent disease, particularly cancer, and premature aging. Lutein improves visual performance and helps prevent the onset of retinal degeneration and cataracts. Coenzyme Q10 increases circulation, has anti-aging effects, helps to metabolize fats and carbohydrates and is beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Alpha-lipoic acid helps the body to utilize (and re-use) other antioxidants. It also helps control blood sugar levels, detoxify the liver, block cataract formation, protect nerve tissues against oxidative stress and reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Dark green leafy vegetables and herbs are a good source of calcium and magnesium. These are both essential for healthy teeth and bones.
Dark-green vegetables contain B vitamins, particularly riboflavin, folate (folic acid) and B6. The B vitamins produce more of a natural compound which helps boost your body’s production of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
Vitamin A is needed for the repair and maintenance of skin cells and helps to smooth the skin and prevent dryness and flaking. Dark green leafy vegetables contain beta-carotene which the human body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin K helps strengthen and maintain your bones and protect your arteries from calcification.
Please note: Vitamin A and K are both fat soluble vitamins. You need fat in your digestive system to effectively absorb vitamin K and to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. This can be achieved by drizzling olive oil on your salads, serving steamed greens with meat or eggs or making greens into pesto or salsa verde sauces.
Chlorophyll, the ‘blood’ of plants, gives green plants their colour and is known to help build strong, healthy blood in humans by providing the precursors to haemoglobin. It is also a potent internal deodorizer, with the ability to cleanse our blood and eliminative organs such as the bowel and liver . All leafy, dark green vegetables, but especially cruciferous ones (eg cabbage, broccoli) can inhibit the carcinogenic effects of chemicals. Leafy greens may also help to reduce cravings for things such as milk and coffee. Bitter leafy greens like rocket may help to reduce cravings for alcohol.
Our bodies thrive in an alkaline state. Maintaining an alkaline state can help you to feel calmer and burn body fat. Things such as stress, alcohol, coffee, sugar, cigarettes and processed foods are acid-forming and upset our acid-alkaline balance. Many common health problems such as arthritis, eczema, acne, digestive tract ulcers, inflammatory bowel conditions and osteoporosis are associated with an over-acid system. Eating leafy green vegetables is one of the best ways to alkalinise your body. Leafy green vegetables also contain calcium and magnesium which are both ‘buffer’ minerals that neutralise acidic substances.
Another reason to eat your greens is that they are inexpensive to buy and quick and easy to grow. Greens don’t need deep soil so you can easily grow them all year round in containers, or in the garden. Some, such as dandelion and nettles, even grow without any help from us!
Ideally aim to eat leafy green vegetables at least once a day, every day. Raw is great so experiment with different combinations in salads. If you are cooking greens then only cook them at low temperatures for a short period of time to preserve nutrients. Add them at the end of cooking things like stews and soups. For a good dose of lutein try an omelette with finely chopped spinach and parsley added. The best way to get a saturated hit of green nutrients is to make leafy green vegetables and herbs into juice or pesto. Other ideas include the following: toss chopped herbs and a dash of olive oil through cooked rice and pasta, make cheese and spinach/herb muffins, grow your own sprouts or add chopped spinach/herbs to meat patties.
Remember to eat your greens with a source of fat for best absorption of the nutrients.
For a super-cheap superfood green leafy vegetables are hard to beat. Think of ways to include them in nearly all your meals and your energy and health will soar.