Is it true that you can really eat your way to good health? Can the symptoms of fibromyalgia, arthritis, and chronic illness such as pain, fatigue, and low energy be eliminated, reduced, or at least improved with foods? Why leafy greens?
The answer to those questions is yes – but of course – every person is different. While one food group (such as grains) works for one person, it may not work for another. It takes a bit of planning, awareness and self-experimentation.
I love to share information that increases healthy food awareness and allows people to see actual results. And if they’re fast results? All the better!
That’s why I always encourage those dealing with chronic health concerns to start with the basics. I suggest that they begin by including dark, leafy greens into their current meal plans. It doesn’t mean that their symptoms will magically disappear. But leafy greens are so nutrient-rich and power-packed with benefits, that the results achieved happen faster than with any other single dietary change.
Because there are so many nutrients in dark, leafy greens, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to narrow down the benefits.
There are a plethora of vitamins and minerals to be found including vitamins A, B’s, C, E, K, as well as folate, antioxidants, carotenoids, FIBER, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
While I could go on (and on) about the nutritional punch provided by leafy greens, I’ve decided to simplify this article to just six benefits and leave others for future exploration.
To begin, what are dark, leafy greens?
The following list will give you a good start on building your “greens” vocabulary.
In general, looking for the darker green and darker colored varieties of veggies (purple, deep reds, etc.) will provide more concentrated nutrients. But don’t skip over lighter colored greens (some cabbages, pea pods, even celery, etc.) simply based on color. Give them all a try and mix them up for a variety of textures and flavors.
Keep that “mix” in mind as you view the following tips. Each benefit actually adds to and complements the others. It’s not as if spinach only helps the heart, and kale only provides an energy boost. Most dark, leafy greens provide ALL of the benefits detailed below, so there’s every good reason to dig in right away.
Let’s get right to the heart of our 6 Proven Ways starting with the heart!
1. Heart (and Vascular) Protection
Leafy greens have natural antioxidant properties which support cardiovascular health. They help to purify the blood and limit the oxidative stress that’s known to damage cells directly related to the heart.
Dietary nitrates in particular (not to be confused with chemical-based food additive nitrates) found in celery, beetroot, spinach, and various lettuces, have been shown to have healing and restorative effects on the smooth cell structure of blood vessels.
What this means, is that dietary foods rich in antioxidants help to reduce the damage of aging and maintain a healthy circulatory system.
2. Energy Fortification
Isn’t everyone looking for more energy these days? Look no further than your garden or produce section at your local market. Folate – found in dark, green leafy veggies has been directly linked to the production of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells help to oxygenate the body and are fundamental in the body’s ability to generate energy. Specifically, folate helps to convert natural carbohydrates into fuel that your body converts to energy.
Do you think of Popeye when you think of strength? If so, there’s good reason. Popeye knows that just one cup of dark greens such as spinach can provide 80% of the daily recommended amounts of folate. That’s a strength and energy one-two punch!
Due to the food storage and constraints of our naval ships in the early 1940s, it was important to encourage our sailors to eat their spinach from a can (using motivating cartoons or whatever means necessary). But today we can toss that notion. It’s best to get our power-packed energy nutrients from fresh greens and ditch the cans.
On the flip side of folate’s benefits, it’s also important to note that a folate deficiency has been linked to the development of chronic health challenges including cardiovascular disease, brain health (dementia), hypertension, stroke, autoimmune conditions, pregnancy related concerns, and various cancers.
3. Builds a Strong Immune System
Would you like to stay healthy all winter long?
For argument’s sake, let’s pretend that your response to that question is no. In that case, I’d suggest that you simply follow the trend for the season ahead. Beginning in mid-October and continuing through the New Year, we’re bombarded with offers of sweet and nutrient-empty treats. What’s the best way to tear down the immune system? Consume sugar!
Most of us don’t need instruction on how to do that.
Rather, here’s instruction on the easiest way to build up the immune system. It’s simple – just increase your daily intake of foods rich in beta-carotene (a carotenoid). An influx of beta-carotene increases the numbers of infection fighting cells, meaning you’re in a better position to battle that nasty winter bacterial or viral infection.
Consuming a diet rich in infection-fighting nutrients gives you a fighting chance to get through the winter without sneezing, coughing, or finding yourself down for the count with the flu.
4. Boosts Brain Function
Got fibro fog? Building better brains isn’t just a Frankenstein-like idea. The nutrient-dense properties of dark leafy greens help to sweep away the foggy thinking familiar to those of us with fibromyalgia and other chronic health concerns.
You may not have heard much about vitamin K, but that’s changing. Discoveries made recently regarding the health benefits of vitamin K are quickly coming to the forefront due to the connection between this vital nutrient and brain, bone, and cardiovascular health as well as cancer prevention. Vitamin K studies have shown improvements in mental processing which is something to stand up and cheer about.
If you’ve ever wondered where you put your keys, healthy blood levels of vitamin K1 may help. Improved memory and cognition is a reward of this important nutrient.
5. Strengthens Night Vision
While this benefit may not sound as important as cancer prevention and brain health, poor night vision is a common problem for a large portion of the fibromyalgia and autoimmune population. Being able to see clearly (day or night) is a great concern.
Dark leafy greens offer an abundance of vitamin A which works directly to improve hair, skin, nails, as well as eye health. Vitamin A is linked to improved vision – but most importantly – to improvements in the ability to see better in lower light circumstances.
And, as with other nutrient deficiencies, vitamin A deficiencies have been linked to infectious disease vulnerability, as well as poor eye health and vision concerns.
6. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
I’ve given entire workshops on the importance of creating stabilized blood sugar levels through healthy eating. The damage done by over consuming high-calorie, empty-nutrient foods (such as packaged cookies, crackers, cereals, pastries, breads, pastas, etc.) is linked to diabetes, chronic health concerns, impaired immune systems, heart disease, vascular concerns, cancers, and more.
Leafy greens include flavonoids that help to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine. This translates to slow, steady blood sugar levels rather than unhealthy and potentially damaging blood sugar spikes. Of course, fiber works alongside to stabilize blood sugar levels as well.
You’ve now read my top 6 health benefits of leafy greens. Becoming more aware of a specific food’s benefits often leads to more kitchen experimentations. That’s a good thing!
Try them cooked, steamed, roasted, sautéed, raw, juiced, blended, or stir fried. Add them to any dish you’re serving and amp up the nutrient value of your meals. NOTE: If your diet is currently devoid of raw or high fiber foods, you may wish to ease into adding greens in your diet. Start slowly. It may take your digestive system a bit of time to adjust.
BONUS TIP! You didn’t think I could talk about leafy greens with only a few cursory mentions of FIBER did you? Not only is fiber one of the main nutrients missing in most packaged foods, it’s also a main nutrient needed to heal the many digestive disorders plaguing the fibromyalgia community.
Why is that important? By healing your digestive system, you’re better able to absorb and utilize the nutrients listed above. That means, you’ll be in a better place, physically, to experience the benefits of whatever nutrients you consume (both through foods and through supplementation).
Digestive health is where it all begins. Leafy greens will help you to get healthy and stay healthy. Are you ready to start adding leafy greens to your meals today?
Would you like a simple tip to show you how? Check on this quick Adding Greens to Your Meals tip here!
*This article is my original work and first appeared at ProHealth.com. It is reprinted with permission and may be viewed here:
I just wanted to question you on your statement of there being vitamin a in vegetables. I was under the understanding that vitamin a is only found in animal products such as liver, grass fed cream/butter and pastured egg yolks and that the “vitamin a” from vegetables is in a form the body can’t use but has to convert to usable vitamin a. I Was also under the understanding that this process is quite compromised in many individuals (due to various sicknesses) and children. Can you comment on this?
Suzy – thanks for the great questions. While vit A is found in many vegetables (as well as animal products), it is better-absorbed and utilized in the body when consumed with healthy fats. And, you’re right about those who have a compromised capacity to metabolize veggies – especially in raw form. For me, when I first started introducing healthier foods into my diet, I found that they didn’t digest very well. I continued to eat vegetables, and tried them raw, sauteed slightly, stir fried, etc. Different veggies worked better for me than others and it took a trial and error practice to figure things out. Over time, I was able to heal my digestive system and have improved my body’s ability to absorb the nutrients I need. Part of this healing process involved a good quality probiotic and a good digestive enzyme.
I have been implementing greens for over a year now. I can tell that it does help with overall health and wellness. It is helping me lose weight, gain energy, and lessen the fibro fog. The thing is that my body craves greens. Just call me Green Queen. LOL Excellent article as usual.
Julie – I’m so glad you’ve found success on your own! Isn’t it great when your body responds to what it needs and lets you know what works? Well done you!
Sue, thank you for your encouragement. Yes, I listen to this temple daily as desire to keep improving in all ways!
So glad you’re listening to your body daily. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit for us to get still and listen, doesn’t it?
Thanks so much, Julie! Love to call you the Green Queen!
One thing I would like to add to your article is that if you have Fibro you should get a blood test. The reason I say this is because my Wife (who has dealt with Fibro for the last 16 years) just had a blood test that showed she had food intolerances to a huge range of food (everything from chocolate to kale, … yes, kale). Kale is a super food…. that’s crazy right?
The Nutritionist (who is also a Chiropractor) that recommended the blood test grouped the foods in 3 categories (mild, moderate and sever). He said that some of the intolerances may go away after her stomach lining heals (leaky gut syndrome).
I’m not sure if this would work for all your readers but for a 200 dollar life changing blood test it’s worth checking out (I would think any Nutritionist could take care of that and they have at-home kits as well).
Our Dr. is Dr. D’Sousa at http://www.balance4lifechiropractic.com if you would like to reach out to him directly. We highly recommend him. My wife (Jamie) has never felt better =) Good luck!
Thanks for the great info, Brice – and it’s important for all of us to determine what foods (exactly!) work with us and which ones work against us. Thanks for your input!
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