Leafy greens are an important part of a healthy diet. Vital nutrients required for health and well-being are supplied by green leafy vegetables. These include amino acids, vitamins, essential fatty acids, nutrients, and dietary fiber. They are low in calories and high in fiber, especially insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes regularity, adds bulk and softness to stools, helps maintain weight, and helps avoid certain gastrointestinal disorders.
Now that we know what makes green leafy vegetables such an important part of a healthy diet, let’s understand what a specific leafy green has to offer. So I have made a list of my top 5 favorite leafy greens that come packed with nutrition.
The first one to make it to the list is our humble Spinach
The scientific name of spinach is (Spinacia oleracea). The English word “spinach” dates to the late 14th century from espinache (French, épinard) of uncertain origin. Its leaves are a common edible vegetable. It’s eaten in varied forms mainly – fresh, canned frozen, or dehydrated Spinach has high carotenoid and lutein content which are good for overall brain health, it is one of the best natural sources of zinc. 100g spinach contains approx 0.53mg zinc. It is a trace mineral and plays an important role in wound healing and immune function, cell division, and the formation of DNA and proteins. Zinc is essential for the production of thyroid-releasing hormones in your brain. In males, the body does not secrete thyroid hormones as it should, also the development of testosterone is often compromised due to zinc deficiency.
Spinach can be eaten cooked or raw but cooked spinach is preferred as it reduces the high oxalate content in it. Oxalates are present in many foods as a natural material. During digestion, they bind to calcium in the stomach and intestines and leave the body via defecation. Oxalate that is not bound to calcium passes from the blood to the kidneys where it exits from the body in urine as a waste product. Many kinds of kidney stones exist, but 8 out of 10 stones are stones of calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate particles produce crystals when there are too much oxalate and too little liquid in the urine; which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. Iron plays a vital role in the operation of red blood cells, helping to transport oxygen throughout the body, generate energy, and synthesize DNA. In addition to being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, and vitamin B2, spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate. For the preservation of bone health, vitamin K is essential and it is difficult to find vegetables richer in vitamin K than spinach. Other such vegetables are kale, green cabbage, and broccoli.
The medium to dark green, fresh-looking, and free from signs of deterioration should be new spinach. For storage, it should be put in a lined plastic bag loosely wrapped in the refrigerator and should be consumed in 2-3 days. Before storage, do not wash spinach, as the moisture may allow it to spoil, but make sure it is thoroughly cleaned before consumption as soil and contaminants can be absorbed by the leaves and stems.
Next up is, Kale
The scientific name of kale is Brassica oleracea var. sabellica. Kale originates from Northern Middle English cale (compare Scots kail) for various cabbages. The ultimate origin is Latin caulis ‘cabbage’.Kale is a nutrient-rich dark, leafy, cruciferous vegetable. For the entire body, it can provide a variety of health benefits.
Kale provides fiber along with antioxidants, calcium, Vitamin K & C, iron, and a wide variety of other nutrients that can help avoid different health issues. The body needs antioxidants to destroy unwanted contaminants arising from natural activities and environmental stresses. Identified as free radicals, these poisons are reactive molecules. If too many free radicals pile up in the body, they harm the cells. This can result in health problems such as diseases and inflammation. Kale is a protein powerhouse, it is a rare vegetable as it contains all 9 amino acids crucial for normal body functioning. Kale has high lutein content which is best known for its supportive role in eye health. It is also a great source of essential fatty acids for vegans/vegetarians as it contains both omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids.
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The third leafy vegetable to the list is, Methi
The scientific name of methi is (Trigonella foenum-graecum). The English name derives via Middle French fenugreek from Latin faenugraecum, foenum graecum meaning “Greek hay”. Fenugreek has a long tradition of medicinal use in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and has been used to boost metabolism and wellbeing for various indications, including labor induction, helping digestion, and as a general tonic. Methi is not a new name for Indian households and is consumed at least once in a week or two. One of those plants that offer both a cooking herb and a spice is fenugreek. Leaves of this plant are used as a vegetable whereas seeds as a spice. The Kasuri part of the name comes from the Punjab area of Kasur (or Kasoor), where fenugreek grows wild. Apart from helping in the control of diabetes and high blood pressure, it prevents heartburn and inflammation. It is an excellent source of magnesium. It plays many crucial roles in the body, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production. Fenugreek leaves can help to increase the absorption of intestinal cholesterol and cholesterol production in the liver. In people suffering from atherosclerosis and diabetes, it can help to reduce cholesterol.
Fourth on the list is Green Amaranthus
The scientific name of the green amaranth is Amaranthus viridis. The name Amaranthus comes from the Greek amarantos, “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading”, alluding to the brilliant bushy flowers that retain color long after harvest. It has been mentioned in Ayurveda under the Sanskrit name Tanduliya and is used as a medicinal herb. The juice extracted from amaranth leaves helps in treating diarrhea and hemorrhage conditions. They are a superior source of calcium, protein, carotene, iron, vitamin C, and trace elements. It is filled with carbohydrates, fats, minerals and helps to ease digestion, prolonged menstruation, and weight control through the daily intake. It is ideal for anemic patients because it is rich in iron content and dietary fiber, and decreases cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is said that the presence of lysine, an essential amino acid along with other components, helps to counteract free radicals that result in aging or malignant cell development.
Amaranth leaves are high in calcium and are also helpful for those suffering from osteoporosis and other bone health issues due to calcium deficiencies. Amaranth greens may be eaten raw or cooked. The younger leaves are soft and delicate, whereas the more mature plants produce a bitter taste and are slightly fibrous. Prefer Amaranth leaves that lack any flower buds and have short thin stems.
Fifth and the final leafy green to this list is Arugula/Rocket leaves
The scientific name of Arugula/Rocket leaves is Eruca vesicaria ssp. Sativa. The English common name rocket derives from the Italian word Ruchetta or rucola. In many parts of southern Europe, it’s a common salad vegetable. It has risen in popularity around the world for its peppery, nutty flavor and nutritious quality. Arugula is low in calorie plants, as is the case for other greens. 100g serving of fresh rocket leaves contains around 25calories.
Also, there are many important phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals in it that can be of great health value. It has adequate levels of calcium and magnesium. Magnesium is essential for calcium absorption and plays a role in bone health and maintenance. It is a good source of vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting. Healthy amounts of vitamin-C are found in fresh rocket leaves. Vitamin-C is an effective, natural anti-oxidant. Foods rich in this vitamin help the human bodyguard against scurvy disease, develop resistance to infectious agents (boosts immunity), and eliminate toxic free radicals from the body that are pro-inflammatory. According to an adult’s daily nutritional goals, set out in the FDA’s daily values (DV), a cup of arugula will provide 27.7% of vitamin K, 3.2% of calcium,2.5% of vitamin C.
The health benefits that come from consumption of leafy vegetables are substantial according to nutritionists. A study conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measured nutrient density for nearly 50 fruits and vegetables, 17 out of top 20 were green leafy vegetables.Analysis suggests that there is a lowered chance of heart disease, some tumors, and type 2 diabetes associated with a diet that includes lots of leafy greens. They can even help keep a person’s mind sharp as they age. So ensure that you make leafy green vegetables a part of your daily diet today!