July 17, 2013

Wellness Wednesday: Eat Your Greens

Green Leafy Vegetable Nutrition
I have heard that it was common for our ancient ancestors to eat up to six pounds of leaves per day. Can’t you just picture them now, walking along from one place to another, just picking and eating leaves as they go. Can you imagine eating a grocery bag full of greens each and every day? Few of us even eat the minimum USDA recommendations of 3 cups of dark green vegetables per week. And yet, these veggies contain a boatload of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients
                                                                   Quick Facts

Dark leafy greens are a rich source of vitamin C, K, E, and B, as well as iron, calcium, and fiber, which are essential for good health. Recent studies have shown that Vitamin K plays an important role in preventing osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. Vitamin E has been shown to prevent skin cancer.

Greens contain beta carotene (vitamin A), lutein, and zeaxanthin which are powerful antioxidants that destroy free radicals (that damage and weaken our body cells), and help protect our bodies from cancer. Beta carotene strenghtens the immune system, while lutein and zeaxanthin prevent degenerative eye diseases like cataract.

They are also known to slow down general age-related cellular degeneration, and are great for our skin, hair, and nails. Our bodies’ convert the beta carotene in leafy greens like spinach to vitamin A which regulates the production and turnover of cells so skin's surface is smooth.

Vitamin A has also been shown to reduce skin sensitivity to sun. For excellent skin health, include three 1-cup servings of foods rich in beta-carotene such as spinach and other greens.

Greens also contain folate, which plays an important role in the repair of damaged cells. Folate is known to reduce the risk of colon, lung, cervix, and breast cancer.

The phytochemicals or antioxidants in greens like Bok Choy and kale are enzymes that help fight cancer. These enzymes also help with digestion and keep our digestive tract healthy.

Greens are a rich source of potassium and magnesium. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and magnesium regulates blood sugar. A new study conducted at University of Leicester, UK, has shown that eating one and a half cup of extra servings of green leafy vegetables a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent. Greens such as spinach may also help reduce type 2 diabetes risks due to their high magnesium content.
Perhaps the star of these nutrients is Vitamin K. A cup of most cooked greens provides at least nine times the minimum recommended intake of Vitamin K, and even a couple of cups of dark salad greens usually provide the minimum all on their own. Recent research has provided evidence that this vitamin may be even more important than we once thought (the current minimum may not be optimal), and many people do not get enough of it.
Vitamin K:
·         Regulates blood clotting
·         Helps protect bones from osteoporosis
·         May help prevent and possibly even reduce atherosclerosis by reducing calcium in arterial plaques
·         May be a key regulator of inflammation, and may help protect us from inflammatory diseases including arthritis
·         May help prevent diabetes
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, so make sure to put dressing on your salad, or cook your greens with oil. Topping the leafy charts with the highest amount of vitamin K is kale, which has 1147 mg per cup. But be wary: the Environmental Working Group's 2009 list of dirty dozen foods with the highest pesticide residue included kale. Look for kale at local farmers' markets in fall and winter, and be sure to ask your farmer how he grows this leafy green super food.
Greens have very little carbohydrate in them, and the carbs that are there are packed in layers of fiber, which make them very slow to digest. That is why, in general, greens have very little impact on blood glucose. In some systems greens are even treated as a "freebie" carb-wise (meaning the carbohydrate doesn't have to be counted at all).
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