If you follow me on Instagram, you know that my meals almost always feature a leafy green vegetable. The spicy and crunchy flavors that leafy greens add to all meals are pretty compelling, and it’s for these reasons I have spent so much time perfecting the satisfying salad. Flavor, and honestly, aesthetics, is a huge reason why I choose to include these greens in all of my meals, every day. I have been known to add spinach to a plate so that it looks less sad. But, if you’re not a fan of the way they taste, and aren’t convinced that greens make your plate look “happier”, there is another extremely compelling reason to include them in your diet: they are jammed packed with a veritable treasure-trove of nutrients.
Although the list of vitamins and nutrients you can find in leafy greens is incredibly long, below I’ve called out three important nutrients that may not find themselves in the spotlight as often as they should. I hope they inspire you to go build yourself a salad, make a green smoothie, or throw a huge bunch in your veggie stew. Just eat your greens.
When I hear vitamin A, I think of carrots and good eyesight. That was the common wisdom instilled in many of us when we were younger, and while it’s definitely valid, it turns out you can also get a great dose of vitamin A from your salad greens as well. Vitamin A is is converted by our body from beta-carotene, a pigment that makes the greens greener and the yellows yellower in our fruits and vegetables. Besides the famous improved eyesight, vitamin A has been shown to improve mucus membrane health, and in turn immune system health.
Despite observational studies showing that people who eat diets high in beta-carotene have decreased risk of heart disease and some cancers, it doesn’t look like that effect is enjoyed by those that supplement with a beta-carotene pill. Another great reason to get more of these bad boys in your diet rather than via supplements.
The beautiful thing about getting your vitamin A sources from leafy greens or other whole foods is that you can’t dose too high – our body only converts what it needs into vitamin A, and so there is no risk of toxic dose as there is with supplemental versions.
Spicy chicken "nuggets" with honey mustard dipping sauce and a salad for dinner! #dinner #dinnertime #jerf #eattherainbow #eatrealfood #realfood #salad #chicken #homemadefood #food #foodie #instafood #foodstagram #instayum #paleo #primaldiet #eatyourgreens #eatyourveggies #healthyeating #healthyfood #healthyfoodshare
Although commonly touted as a key nutrient for women during pregnancy (especially in the early weeks when the fetus’s neural tube begins to form), adequate folate is incredibly important for a healthy liver and nervous system function for people of all ages. Although the scientific community is still working to unearth the exact mechanisms, folate (along with vitamin B12) is believed to be a key player in prevention of mood disorders and dementia, such as Alzheimer’s in the elderly. Folate has also been shown to control levels of homocysteine in the blood, which can work to prevent heart disease.
Getting folate from leafy greens rather than folate supplements (also known as folic acid) is a good idea because studies have begun to link high intake of folic acid with increased risk of various types of cancer. It’s also estimated that about half of the population has at least one form of a mutation on a gene called MTHFR, which inhibits your body from properly processing folic acid. This renders the folic acid supplement you may be taking useless, and the more you consume it, the more it builds up in the body. This problem doesn’t occur with folate found in whole foods, because it doesn’t require that same activation process.
Woke up craving alllll of the fruit. 🍌🍓 So I added a bunch to my bacon and kale saute and it was awesome! #breakfast #eatrealfood #eattherainbow #fruitisfuel #fruit #breakfastbowl #bacon #kale #savoryandsweet #paleo #primaldiet #realfood #simpleanddelicious #healthyeating #healthyfoodshare #instafood #foodstagram #food #foodie #eatyourveggies #eatyourgreens
Choline is a less well known, but still entirely essential, nutrient that is thought to affect atherosclerosis and possibly neurological disorders. Like folate, some studies have shown that choline has the effect of lowering homocysteine levels, which can help prevent heart disease. Aside from these benefits, patients with adequate levels of choline also showed significantly lower levels of inflammation for a variety of markers.
Although the best sources of choline will be liver and egg yolks, I know not everyone gets those (or can stomach them) on a regular basis. Leafy greens such as spinach and bok choy are much easier to slip under a mound of slow roasted meat and chow down on.
Those are the nutrients I found most fascinating in my own research regarding the benefits of making room for leafy greens in your diet. As I mentioned before, this is by no means an exhaustive list!
Looking to eat more greens but need some inspiration? Check out my compilation of green veggies rich in the nutrients we talked about, and how to cook them! Throw them raw into a smoothie, or sauté a bunch in a stir-fry!