Deep-green, or dark, leafy vegetables have more nutritional power than dietary or synthetic supplements

Eating green vegetablesGreen leafy vegetables are plants, or parts of plants, that are used as food. Leafy vegetables supply many nutrients; they also provide variety to our diet. They, of course, make our food attractive by their colour, texture, and flavour. Not vitamins or medicines, just deep-green leafy vegetables. Grandma knew what she was talking when she told us to eat our spinach, so we could grow up to be strong.

As most people are aware, good nutrition and balanced diet are important components of overall health. A healthy diet calls for many vitamins and nutrients. Green leafy vegetables are considered a major contributor of vitamins and minerals in our diet.

Today, even in the developed world, thanks to growing scientific evidence that links red meat consumption with heart disease, the focus has shifted to the consumption of more plant materials.

Though the Indian population has a lot of vegetables in its diet, the intake of these vegetables has been low in our daily diet. People do not eat greens, or they eat fewer greens without realising their importance in diet. Researchers have found that daily consumption of leafy greens can cause a 23 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease. Experts also say that it is advisable to include at least 50 gm of leafy greens in one’s diet, daily.

Facts and benefits

  • Greens contain a high amount of water content. Hence, they are low on calories. They are often the best ingredients in the diet of people looking out for weight loss. Green leafy salads are a “must” for overweight girls
  • Beet greens are excellent sources of iron and riboflavin. After the age of 40, women should include spinach in their diet as it is a rich source of iron. A 60-gm-serving of boiled spinach contains around 1.9 mg of iron. Other green vegetables contain less than 1 mg of iron for an equivalent serving.
  • Green leafy vegetables like amaranth, spinach and mint are good sources of folic acid [100 gm = 120-140 ug]. Folate [folic acid] helps the body form red blood cells. Women who are in the first trimester of pregnancy should consume adequate folic acid. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects [birth defects of the brain and spinal cord].
  • Dark green leafy vegetables contribute to the fibre content of diet. Fibre helps to reduce constipation and diverticulosis [disease of the colon]. Fibre is important for proper bowel function
  • Spinach, collards, turnip greens are rich sources of carotenoids [vitamin A]. Vitamin A prevents night blindness, cataract and chronic fatigue. Free radicals generated by sunlight, cigarette smoke, air pollution, infection, and metabolism cause damage. Dark green leafy vegetables contain two pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin that accumulate in the eye. These two pigments “flush” out free radicals before they can harm the eye’s sensitive tissues [Source: L Brown, E B Rimm, J M Seddon et al, “A Prospective Study of Carotenoid Intake and Risk of Cataract Extraction in US Men,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition].
  • Certain dark green vegetables like arugula, broccoli and kale are all members of the cruciferous family. These vegetables supply phytochemicals [nutraceuticals] such as indoles that help stop cancer before it starts. These phytochemicals also block enzymes that activate carcinogens [cancer-causing substances] and boost enzymes that detoxify them. Green cruciferous veggies contain anti-oxidant phytochemicals that help prevent and repair damage to the DNA; such damage can potentially lead to cancer.

Add greens to your diet

Although most of the greens are eaten raw, proper cooking methods [not overcooking] can preserve over 90 per cent of their nutrients while their flavour becomes more concentrated and sweet. Dark leafy greens are tasty and easy-to-add in to your daily meals.

  • Make a salad. Leafy greens like spinach, cabbage, lettuce, and broccoli taste great when mixed in a salad with different kinds of veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and onions. You can use lemon, herbs, garlic or vinegar, for dressing the salad and, thus, enhance taste
  • Roll it up. Make a roll with tuna, chicken or turkey. Add spinach, arugula, cabbage and other veggies for some extra flavour
  • Add to soup. Try mixing some leafy greens with your favourite soup
  • Stir-fry. Add chopped leafy greens like cauliflower greens, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli to chicken or tofu, or paneer, and stir-fry with olive oil. You may also add green chillies and other spices to “jazz” up their taste
  • Steam it. For something new, steam some kale or spinach. Steam until the colour of greens changes to bright green. Avoid over-cooking.
  • Make a juice.
Description How to select How to store Health benefits
Parsley [Ajmoda/Ajmuda] Choose fresh parsley that is deep green in colour and looks fresh and crisp. Avoid bunches that have leaves that are wilted or yellow as this indicates that they are either overmature or damaged. Just like with other dried herbs, if you choose to purchase dried parsley flakes, try to select organically grown parsley since this will give you more assurance that the herbs have not been irradiated. Fresh parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If the parsley is slightly wilted, either sprinkle it lightly with some water or wash it without completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, dietary fibre and folate. It also contains a host of minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and manganese.
Cabbage [Patta gobi] Look for a head that is heavy for its size with crisp, firmly packed leaves. Wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for a week. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, fibre, manganese, folate, vitamin B6, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Cabbage is also a good source of thiamin [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, and protein. Cabbage also contains phytochemicals called indoles and sulphoraphane, the break down products of compounds called glucosinolates.
Lettuce [Salad patta] The five varieties are butterhead, crisp head, leaf, cos or romaine, and celtuce. When purchasing lettuce, look for freshness, and do not selected wilted and discoloured leaves. To store lettuce, wash the lettuce and dry the leaves with paper towels, seal or wrap it securely in plastic and place it in the coolest part of the refrigerator, which is generally located in the rear and lowest shelf section of the refrigerator. Vitamin A and potassium are the most notable nutrients in lettuce. The darkest green varieties provide the highest levels of vitamin A.
Spinach [Palak] Available year round, but peak local season is May to August. Select bunches with crisp, dark leaves. Avoid limp bunches and yellowing leaes. Thin stems are also preferable over thick stems which indicate the spinach has been overgrown. Spinach may also be purchased canned or frozen. In a plastic bag in the refrigerator for three days. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magensium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, dietary fibre, copper, protein, phosphorous, zinc and vitamin E. In addition, it is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, niacin and selenium.
Tarla Dalal
Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.


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