I’ve always loved my greens but I know this isn’t how the story always goes.
I happily ate broccoli as a kid but I used to choke on pumpkin most nights, even though my mum told me it was good for my blood (I’ve since worked on this and I definitely love pumpkin now.)
Our ancestors have been eating green plant matter for millions of years. More recently, greens have become a ‘trend,’ in the form of green smoothies and green juices (always happy to hear that a vegetable is trendy).
Green smoothies consist of blending soft greens like spinach, silver beet and kale or even zucchini and broccoli with some fruit and coconut water and enjoying the benefits of ‘getting more greens.’ The green juice is similar although without the fibre of the food itself. I won’t go into the smoothie vs juice debate here but any sort of health fad that encourages more greens in the diet is probably a good thing.
My favourite way to eat greens
But what’s my favourite way to eat greens? Not juicing them but cooking them. I cook them and chew them, not to just drinking them down in a smoothie as I run down the street and potentially causing a lot of digestive discomfort.
Cooked greens will always be my pick because I actually get to eat them and I’m really quite fond of eating, chewing and the whole experience of meal time, rather than throwing down a liquid meal because it seems easier. Cooking greens is actually very easy. So many ways – steaming, stir frying, sautéing, salads, roasting, thrown in an omelette, thrown in basically anything.
So greens, we are told to eat them, eat more of them and that greens are vitally important for our health. Why are they good for us?
Green vegetables and especially the leafy green varieties like spinach, rocket, kale, silver beet, lettuces etc are absolutely full of vitamins, minerals and tiny molecules of Chlorophyll which is what gives them their highly pigmented green colour. They absorb sunlight and all the inorganic matter from the soil the grow in, e.g. minerals and present as perfect edible nutritional matter.
Greens are our oxygen
In nature, greens like all plants are the lungs of the earth; they give out oxygen into the environment and store carbon dioxide. When we ingest them they do the opposite, they oxygenate our blood and our lungs breathe out the carbon dioxide. Isn’t that incredible?
Have a look up close at the tiny network of veins and arteries in your leafy greens, just like our own lungs. It’s no surprise then that leafy green foods have been traditionally seen as especially for the Respiratory and Circulatory systems. Greens also reduce inflammation in the body and reduce the free radical activity by providing a huge burst of antioxidants and phytonutrients (including carotenoids and flavonoids).
They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which work to protect our cells from damage. Greens are absolute superfood, the original superfood!
It would be hard to find a single food group that provides broader “all systems” support than the cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables include Broccoli, Kale, any form of cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens and Watercress.
Note: if something smells kind of like sulphur or an eggy smell, it’s probably a cruciferous vegetable and that means it’s really good for you! This food group shines not only in terms of conventional nutrients (including vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) but supports optimal functioning of the whole body and is highly regarded for it’s strong anti-cancer cell components.
Greens and Thyroid Health
Greens are vitally important in supporting our body’s inflammatory response. Being a professional dancer and having an auto-immune disease means I am always conscious of keeping my inflammation levels at their lowest. Inflammation is a natural reaction to stress, illness or injury in the body but in terms of my thyroid condition, eating lots of green vegetables can really help keep my thyroid inflammation at a minimum.
When I am feeling a bit thyroidy, a little off, eating a whole lot of greens with some good fat like avocado, flaxseed oil, coconut oil and olive oil with some sea salt, sets me on the path back to balance. It’s important to include some fat when eating our greens, because we can’t absorb those gorgeous fat-soluble nutrients without fat – that’s why they are fat-soluble. So don’t be scared of eating good fats, they really do have an integral role in optimal health and nutrition, and they don’t make you fat!
As a general rule, you should aim to eat at least five servings of vegetables daily (that’s about 2 1/2 cups of cooked vegetables), and that includes leafy greens. I try to have a mixture of salad greens and cooked greens in my diet as particularly in colder months I find cold salads a little hard going on the digestive system, even when I’m aware of chewing really well.
Greens need chewing
Chewing our greens properly is essential to activate the necessary chemical pathways for optimum nutrient absorption. Greens are a high fibre food too which is great at keeping us full and satiated and our blood sugar balanced. It also means they can cause a bit of indigestion or stomach discomfort if we don’t pay attention to slowing down and chewing.
We have to break down the cellulose fibres of plant food to activate the enzymes inside the cell wall and release the nutrients. Like any carbohydrate, even though greens are on the low end of the carbohydrate spectrum, we need the enzymes in our saliva to partially break down so it doesn’t cause a whole lot of pain when it hits the stomach.
This is why I believe and in my experience, eating a lot of raw salad greens and not chewing them properly can cause bloating and stomach pain. Try taking some deep breaths and take the time to enjoy and chew your greens and they will only do good things for you!
Greens and renewal
In traditional medicine, greens are known for their light, creative and flexible energy. They are also associated with spring which is seen as a time of renewal and new fresh energy in nature.
It’s true for us too, eating greens provides us with the ideal conditions and nutrients to oxygenate the blood, provide alkaline minerals to balance out an acidic environment from poor diet or environmental toxins.
Including more greens in your diet can also address mineral deficiencies which in turn can lessen cravings for sugar and sweets – try it out and see what you think!
So many reasons to love your greens, so many benefits and so many ways to cook them – endless opportunity for wellbeing. Let me know your favourite way to prepare your greens in the comments below!