Functional Food Super Hero #8 Leafy Greens
You can hear it now. Nona waving her hand at your 8-year-old self saying, “Eat your bloody greens!”
It seems the fervent desire for the grown-ups of our childhood to have us chow down on broccoli, beans, and the like was not misplaced. Green veg, and especially leafy greens, are nutritional powerhouses.
Do you still have an aversion to the green stuff? If you were served up over-boiled Brussel sprouts, stringy old silverbeet, or wrinkled defrosted peas, who can blame you?
Yet, when eaten fresh and properly prepared, greens can be incredibly tasty. They can enhance many a meal, and provide nourishment for you and the family.
Leafy greens in particular are easy to digest, low GI, and hypoallergenic while serving real nutritional bang for your buck.
The nutritional powerhouse
Leafy greens are an amazing source of B vitamins – in particular they offer a highly bioavailable form of folate (B9) essential for healthy fetal development, and used to synthesize neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, boosting mood.
Iron can also influence mood due to its role as a co-factor in creating neurotransmitters. The form of iron in green leafy vegetables is non-heme, and may be less bioavailable than animal-sourced heme iron. Consider soaking raw greens for 15 minutes before using and always eat with some vitamin C rich foods for increased absorption, for increased energy and happy days!
Speaking of, you will find good amounts of vitamin C, as well as beta-carotene, in leafy greens, brilliant for supporting a kick-ass immune system. Keep in mind: it is best to not go OTT with heating vitamin C containing foods (it is very sensitive to heat), and beta-carotene is better absorbed when eaten with a little fat. So, add a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to your spinach, and you are onto a winner.
Protein and fibre
Another great attribute of leafy green vegetables is their amino acid content, coupled with health-supporting fibre. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, required for countless functions in the body. Fibre is needed to feed the array of friendly gut bugs of the intestinal microbiome, yet most of us lack adequate intake. So, think like Popeye and start tucking into some spinach to diversify your sources of protein and get in more beneficial fibre!
Calcium and vitamin K
Bone supportive nutrients calcium and vitamin K are in abundance in leafy greens – particularly the dark varieties. Do you usually reach for dairy for your calcium fix, only to end up with an upset belly? Leafy greens could be your alternative. These are far easier on digestion.
Some verde favourites
There is a variety of leafy green vegetables available at supermarkets, so experiment and try new flavours. If possible, buy your greens organic and local, or even grow your own!
Here are some of our favourite greens, ideal to incorporate into your every day!
The least intense tasting of the nutrient-dense leafy greens, try adding a handful to a smoothie, soup, stir-fry, stew, or curry, or blend into a pattie mixture or spaghetti sauce. You can also chop or tear a handful and sprinkle fresh leaves over nearly any savoury meal. The options are endless!
More bitter-tasting, this green is delicious in salads, or sprinkled fresh over a hot meal! Bitter greens are super helpful to our liver’s detoxification system.
Silverbeet and Swiss Chard
Easy to grow and incredibly sturdy and nourishing, silverbeet/swiss chard are from the beetroot family, and like spinach can be added to soups, stews, stir-fry, and more. When fresh it can be enjoyed raw, but if the bitterness is too much, cook it up and it will become more palatable.
This green has certainly gone through a renaissance of late, having a massive boost in popularity. And no wonder! It is nutrient-dense, packed full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients ready to protect brain cells, support the liver, and dampen inflammation. Kale is wonderful when roughly chopped, massaged with some extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, and tossed into a salad with nuts, seeds, and grapes. It can be made into kale chips, lightly sautéed with lemon and salt (bringing out a beautiful bright green colour), and added to soups, salads, and smoothies.
Other leafy greens include bok choy, cos lettuce (great as a crisp and fresh wrap alternative), turnip, beet, and mustard greens, and more.
Aim to eat 1 cup per day of a variety of leafy green veg, and let your body enjoy the amazing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects to support and protect you, your mood, and your organs.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)