The 4 Most Important Vitamins and Minerals in Leafy Greens

We associate the color green with vitality and health. There are probably no better foods to consume for overall wellness than dark, leafy greens. Whether it’s kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens or Yu Choy, greens are all chock-full of wonderfully beneficial nutrients. But what makes them so good for us that we should be having at least 5-7 servings per day?

First, the leafy greens are rich in dietary fiber. Fiber, the component that helps our digestion, aids in weight loss and diabetes regulation by mitigating blood sugar surges. The carbohydrates found in green leafy veggies are packaged in layers of fiber. Because the body digests these fiber layers slowly, leafy greens have little impact on our blood glucose levels. Fiber assists the body in lowering cholesterol levels and may stabilize blood pressure.

In addition, these greens are high in vitamins, including C, K, E and some of the B vitamins. They also contain important minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals support the body systems in various ways. Another important component of leafy greens are phytonutrients, which comprise beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are both important in supporting the health of our eyes. Phytonutrients are essential for the body. They protect our cells from damage and dangerous free radicals and may lessen the risk of cells mutating to cancer cells.

Let’s focus on a few of the vitamins and minerals that are important in these leafy greens.

  • Vitamin K:
    • Regulates blood clotting. Those on blood thinners need to ensure that their daily consumption of vitamin K-containing foods is consistent (talk to your personal doctor about this).
    • Helps in the formation of bone with calcium, vitamin D and boron. It may aid in protecting bones from osteoporosis.
    • May assist in preventing and possibly reducing atherosclerosis by reducing calcium levels in the arteries.
    • May help regulate inflammation resulting in protection from inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
  • Vitamin C:
    • Assists the body in making collagen, a major component of cartilage, which allows smooth joint movement.
    • Helps to keep hair and skin more supple.
    • Works with vitamin E as an important antioxidant system in the body.
  • Calcium:
    • Provides strength to both teeth and bones, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis. In one study, the risk of hip fractures in middle-aged women was reduced by about 45% with 1 or more servings per day of green leafy veggies compared to fewer servings.
    • Helps in the conductance of nerve impulses and muscle functioning.
    • Assists in the regulation of blood pressure levels.
  • Magnesium:
    • Works with calcium for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.
    • Alkalinizes the blood (see below for more explanation).
    • Works to regulate the heart by lowering blood pressure.
    • Aids in muscle relaxation and our overall body relaxation.
    • Assists in many chemical reactions throughout the body.

kaleWhile the green leafy vegetables are comprised of healthy forms of carbohydrates and have no fat, they also contain protein. One cup of spinach, for example, has 5 grams of protein. What a great way to incorporate a vegetarian form of protein into one’s diet! For more detailed info on the health benefits of green leafy vegetables, contact me at http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/index.html.

The pH of our blood is extremely important in our overall wellness. The ideal pH of our blood is about 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. Consuming foods that are more basic (alkaline) optimizes our body functions. Just as our bodies prefer a temperature in the normal range (around 98.6 degrees), so too do our bodies’ pH need to be in the correct range. When our blood becomes more acidic (below 7.4) usually due to poor diet and more acid-forming foods, the body tries to get back in balance and will pull alkaline minerals from our tissues leading to potential illness or disease. Fortunately, nature provided us with green leafy vegetables that are wonderful, alkalinizing foods. They provide the alkaline minerals that will counteract the excess acid foods. These leafy vegetables are rich in chlorophyll, a blood cleanser. Chlorophyll works by attaching to toxins and heavy metals in the blood and helps remove them from the body. Chlorophyll has an added function of stimulating red blood cell formation resulting in more oxygen capacity of the blood. As the body naturally becomes more acidic overnight, try incorporating green leafy veggies into your first meal of the day to get more in balance. To learn more about having more alkaline foods in your diet, consult “The Body Ecology Diet” by Donna Gates or click on the link in my resources section (http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/resources.html).

For a delicious morning vegetable frittata, click on the link (http://www.bettereatingcoach.com/recipe-late-springearly-summer-2012.html) and enjoy! And enjoy the wealth of dark, green leafy vegetables at this time of year. Try substituting a different green leafy vegetable that you haven’t consumed, as it will contain a different complement of nutritional value. Bon Appétit!

© Geri Wohl, CNC

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