Leafy Greens: Staying Heart Healthy, Hydrated and Lean

Do you remember with great fervor and obstinate arguing refusing to eat your greens as a kid? “No way am I eating my broccoli!” “Where’s the cheese?” to smother the greens and hide their flavors. How I have changed my tune since then. In my defense, and in defense of children from the 80’s everywhere, boiling is no longer the sole cooking method when it comes to veggies. Greens, like food-celebrity, kale, are showing up in recipes everywhere whether they are grilled, blended, juiced, steamed, sautéed, pureed, or secretly hidden in your child’s dinner. This is for the better good when it comes to our health and nutrient consumption. Here are a few reasons why you should not concede to the “green-free or bust” argument of your youth, and eat your greens, whether it’s for their nutrient-density, your cardiovascular health or maintaining healthy body-weight.

Benefits of Eating Leafy Greens:

1. Supports Healthy Skin Dark leafy greens contain vitamin C and beta-carotene. Vitamin C is commonly known to support immune health and is also an essential component for stimulating collagen production in your skin cells, the elastic-feeling integrity to your skin. Beta-carotene is equally as important for healthy skin; supporting collagen synthesis, but it may even help people with sensitive skin by reducing damage to certain skin cells. 1 A daily intake of leafy greens containing beta-carotene just may be a great addition to your beauty routine.

2. Cardiovascular Health Here’s why mom was right when it came to coercing veggies onto your plate and into your diet. Research shows that maintaining 5-7 servings of veggies and some fruit a day may improve cardiovascular health up to 28 percent. 2  With groups that consumed 2-3 servings per day little benefit came from vegetable and fruit intake. It was only when daily servings increased to 5-7 that a significant benefit was noted.

3. Hydration When we think of hydration, water should be what comes to mind. Our bodies are arguably 60-75% water in body weight and for good reason. 3  Water is a major component of blood, in delivering nutrients, and in delivering hormones; however, an adequate intake of electrolytes is just as important for proper hydration. Electrolytes are minerals – sodium, magnesium, chloride, calcium and potassium for example – that are a small part of our basic nutrition but act as powerful catalysts that have a huge impact on everyday bodily functions. These minerals are essential for retaining appropriate amounts of water in the body, utilizing energy appropriately, muscle relaxation and contraction, and even efficient digestion. Choosing to eat leafy greens on a daily basis is one way to ensure that you are getting quality minerals into your body to assist in hydration. Pair an increased plant intake with at least 8 glasses of water a day and you are on to a good start; in addition add 1.5-2.5 glasses after sweat loss from vigorous exercise or humid weather.

Fun tip – Research has shown that drinking adequate amounts of water outside of diet and exercise is associated with weight and fat loss. 4 To make sure you are getting enough H2O, grab a personal 1L water bottle that you can bring with you when you are on the go or around the house. Keep things interesting by adding slices of washed lemon, mint leaves, or 2 Tbs of frozen berries for added flavor.

In Balance’s Top Greens of Choice:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Romaine
  • Chard
  • Collards Greens
  • Arugula/ Rocket

*Special mention goes to the numerous amounts of delicious herbs and microgreens – pea shoot and sunflower shoots, to name a couple – sprouting up this time of year at your nearest farmer’s markets.

 

Best Cooking Methods

1. When bright it’s just right – Cooking these vegetables for too long can eliminate important nutrients, like B vitamins. When their cooking time is at its peak the vegetable turns a bright green and it at that point they are ready to be served.

2. In soups add your greens last –when your soup is about done add your greens about 10-5 minutes before serving to retain important nutrients.

3. Older greens and or Swiss chard are better cooked – Oxalic acid is a challenge to digest and is found on older leafy greens, Swiss chard and spinach. Instead of eating these raw, cook them in sautés, BBQ vegetable packs and soups.

4. Eat raw – Delicious in salads and smoothies. Try adding a squeeze of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to brighten up the flavor.

 

Adult and Child Friendly Recipes

Uber Green Pesto

zucchini noodles
2 to 3 garlic cloves (if scapes are in season omit garlic cloves and add 1½ – 2 garlic scapes)
½ cup hemp seed or walnuts or pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup spinach
1 cup sweet basil
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp. sea salt
Optional: 1-2 Tbs shredded Asiago or parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Blend ingredients in a blender or food processor and add to pasta dishes (whole grain, zucchini, spaghetti squash noodles), warm or hot, or spread a teaspoon onto a sandwich.

Snack Time Warrior Smoothie

Smoothie!

1/3 cup frozen blueberries or blackberries or cherries
1/3 cup spinach
1/3 of a frozen banana
1 Tbs almond butter or 1 Tbs sunflower seeds or 1 generous Tbs of Greek yogurt, or 1/3 scoop of whey powder plant-based protein powder
¾ cup of milk or any other milk alternative.

Directions:

  1. Blend well and serve. Serves one or could be 2 snack-sized servings for a child.

 

*Leafy Green Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[1] Verani, J. (2000) Vitamin A Atagonizes Decreased Cell Growth and Elevated Collagen-Degrading matrix Metalloproteinases and Stimulates Collagen Accumulation in Naturally Aged Human Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Received on May 22, 2014 from: http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v114/n3/abs/5603297a.html

[2] Hung, HC. (2004) Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Risk of Major Chronic Disease. JNCI: Oxford Journals. Received on May 22, 2014 from http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/96/21/1577.long

[3] Popkin, B. (2010) Water, Hydration and Health. PMC: Nutrition Rev. Received on May 22, 2014 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/

[4] Stookey, D. (2008) Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity. Obesity: PubMed.gov. Received on May 22, 2014, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18787524

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