Eat your vegetables.
How many times have you heard that line? Your mother tried to hammer that into your head when you were growing up, and doctors continue to tell you this. With so many people fussing about how you should eat your greens, you may wonder if eating veggies is as healthy as it sounds. And now that you are on a quest to lose weight, what you feed your body is critical.
In this article, we will first breakdown some of the fantastic health benefits of leafy greens. Then, we’ll list our favorite leafy greens and give you some tips on how to include them in your diet.
What Leafy Greens Do for Your Body
Help Your Heart
A particular hormone called erythropoietin helps keep the right viscosity of your blood. As you can imagine, this means you are less likely to develop blood clots, which in turn, means a lowered risk of heart failure. In terms of weight loss, the fiber in greens helps regulate the triglyceride levels in your blood. If you remember, triglycerides are the ‘bad’ cholesterol that causes havoc on your body and promotes weight gain.
Keep You Looking Young
The power of greens to keep you looking and feeling young lies in their abundance of antioxidants. Antioxidants are essential in preventing cell breakdown and promoting good cellular health. The vitamin K and folate found in greens have also been associated with its anti-aging quality.
Many assume that the reason why leafy greens are great for weight loss has everything to do with their low caloric content. However, there is much more to the power of greens than that. Greens are also rich in nutrients and other active compounds, including nitrates. Nitrates are known to convert fat-storing cells into fat-burning cells, which is every weight loser’s dream.
Rich in Folate
Folate is a vitamin that is critical for health. Folate deficiency leads to numerous health disorders from cardiovascular disease, birth defects, and digestive issues. This essential vitamin is also needed in the production of red and white blood cells and also helps convert carbs into energy. The point is your body really, really needs folate, and leafy greens have this vitamin in abundance.
Keep Your Sugar Levels Stable
Any imbalance in glucose levels can lead to diabetes. Once you start on this road, weight loss becomes even more difficult. Leafy greens have high amounts of magnesium, polyphenols, and omega-3, which all work together to keep your glycemic index manageable. By enhancing insulin sensitivity, leafy greens are just what you need to prevent both type 1 and type 2 diabetes from developing.
Great for Digestion
Fiber is one of the most essential nutrients to maintain a healthy gut, and when you are on a weight loss journey, this is critical. The more fiber you give your body, the better your digestion, and the better your metabolism, the less likely it is that your body will store fat. The fiber in greens also provides substrates for gut microbes to digest, which ensures your gut health.
Leafy Greens You Need to Add to Your Diet
Now that there’s no doubt in your mind about the health benefits of healthy greens, the question is: Which healthy greens should you add to your diet? Well, among the hundreds of greens out there, we have selected the best that have multiple health benefits and research.
Popeye knew what he was doing when he ate his spinach. Spinach is packed with vitamins and nutrients. In fact, a single cup of raw spinach offers more than enough vitamin K and up to 56 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin A.
Pregnant women, in particular, need ample amounts of folate. In one study, it was discovered that one of the easy ways to reduce the risk factor of spina bifida is to increase folate intake.
Since spinach is very versatile, you can easily add it to your soups, sauces, smoothies, and salads.
The great thing about cabbage is that it comes in so many different shapes and sizes. In terms of weight loss, cabbage is a must-have because it makes an excellent substitute for unhealthy foods. For example, you can switch your lasagna pasta for cabbage to create a healthier meal, or you can use cabbage leaves for wraps. Whichever the case, turning a high carb food for cabbage is always a good thing.
Fermented cabbage is another great dish to try with cabbage. Sauerkraut or kimchi is amazing in improving digestion, supporting the immune system and helping you shed off pounds.
Collard greens are closely related to kale and spring greens. Their texture resembles cabbage, and they have a slightly bitter taste. Collard greens are a good source of vitamin A, folate, and vitamin C. Also, one cup of these greens cooked has 1,045 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin K.
Vitamin K is an essential vitamin for weight loss because of its ability to promote good bone health. In one study, more than 72,000 women took vitamin K every day. At the end of the study, the women who took a vitamin K supplement had a lower risk of having hip fractures. This link between vitamin K and bone health is critical if you are trying to lose weight. With healthy bones, you can easily accomplish your fitness goals.
You can use collard greens raw in salads or sandwiches or even as wraps. If you prefer to cook them, steaming collard greens for ten minutes and seasoning them with herbs and spices retains their nutritional value.
We all know about beetroot, but nobody seems to care for the leaves. This is unfortunate because beet greens are also packed with vitamins and nutrients, including potassium, riboflavin, fiber, and vitamins A and K. They are also rich in antioxidants.
Beet greens can easily be added to salads or sautéed and used as a side dish. All you need to do to create a killer side dish is to sauté beet greens in olive oil and add some garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. You can even sprinkle some crushed red pepper for a spicy version. Toss the greens for a few minutes until they start to wilt and serve.
Swiss chard can be identified by its dark green leaves and thick stalk that can either be red, yellow, or green. Swiss chard is in the same family as spinach and beets, so it’s no wonder it offers incredible nutritional benefits. One of the unique compounds in swiss chard is called syringic acid, which can lower blood sugar levels. On top of this, swiss chard has minerals and vitamins, such as potassium, vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese.
One study involving 120 overweight adults showed that those who ate twice as many vegetables lost more weight and experienced better satiety.
Some excellent ways to add swiss chard to your diet include the following:
- Add it to stews and soups
- Mix it in a green salad
- Add a few leaves to your favorite smoothie
- Saute with garlic and olive oil for a side dish
- Use it as toppings on pasta
- Use it as toppings on pizza crust
Kale can safely be called the king of the greens because of its nutrient-dense nature. A single cup of these greens can provide 206 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin A, 134 percent for vitamin C, and 684 percent of vitamin K. Kale is also rich in antioxidants, which help reduce oxidative stress.
Adding kale to smoothies, using it as a side dish sautéed with garlic and olive oil, or using the leaves instead of lettuce in a salad are great ways of adding kale to your diet. Kale chips are also popular as a healthy snack, although they don’t have the same amount of nutrients as raw kale.
This leafy green is also known as colewort, rocket, rucola, and rucoli. The peppery taste makes it ideal for adding as a garnish or incorporating in salads. Like other leafy greens, arugula is rich in nutrients and vitamins A, B9, and K. It is also one of the best sources of nitrates, which can help increase blood flow.
Unlike other leafy greens, arugula is best eaten raw and is perfect as a topping for pizza, sandwiches, or wraps. Or you can serve it as a side salad by adding a drizzle of extra virgin oil and some salt and pepper. Arugula can also work as a base for salad recipes. Try adding grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and spices with the leafy green for a protein-packed salad. Many also use the leaves as a substitute for basil in pesto.
This is one of the less known leafy greens mostly because it is challenging to grow. The leaves are curly and have a crisp texture with a nutty flavor. A cup of these leaves raw provides 72 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin K and 9 percent of the daily need for folate.
Endive is also a source of a unique antioxidant called kaempferol, which can help hinder the growth of cancer cells. You can cook endive in various ways. For example, brush each leaf with olive oil, and then grill them until slightly wilted. Top the grilled leaves with balsamic vinegar, toasted walnuts, and olive oil. This makes a great side dish for any menu.
Also called Chinese cabbage, bok choy makes a perfect addition to soups and stir-fries. The leaves of this green contain selenium, a mineral that helps boost immunity and even has cancer-fighting properties. Selenium is also vital in maintaining proper thyroid function, which is critical for successful weight loss.
You can use raw bok choy leaves in salads and sandwiches. The sweet flavor makes it an excellent combination of mixed green salads. As a side dish, baby bok choy can be mixed with stock, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper, and sesame oil. If you have any leftover meat, you can add bok choy, onion, and one egg to create a yummy veggies mix. Stir-fries also work great with this green, so you can easily incorporate bok choy to your favorite stir fry recipes.
Like beet greens, turnip greens are often forgotten. The leaves of the turnip plant are packed with more nutrients than the root itself. Calcium, folate, vitamins A, C, and K, and manganese are all part of the package deal. Rich in antioxidants, turnip greens are also ideal for reducing oxidative stress in your body.
The high fiber content of these greens can also help lower blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. A single cup of turnip greens offers five grams of fiber, which is a large percent of the daily requirement.
Try adding a handful of the turnip greens to your omelet for a nutritious protein breakfast. If you aren’t feeling the omelet, you can also blend some leaves with your favorite fruit smoothie. Or you could saute the greens in some extra virgin oil and season them with parmesan cheese and black pepper for a tasty side dish. Turnip greens can also be added to soups or casseroles and, when raw, make a great addition to sandwiches.
This is probably one of the most common leafy greens that everybody loves. The crunchy texture and delicious taste make romaine lettuce perfect for salads. Romaine lettuce is more than just a tasty green. It is packed with many vitamins, including vitamin A and K. It is also rich in vitamin C, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Romaine lettuce is best known as the main ingredient in Ceaser salad, but there is a lot more you can do with the leaf. Since the leaves are sturdy and large, they make perfect wraps, and you can substitute them for sandwich bread. You can also use romaine for any type of salad and as part of your favorite taco or chili. When using the greens as part of a stir fry dish, be careful not to cook the leaves too long.
Microgreens are small in size and full of color and flavor, not to mention nutrients. Microgreens are young vegetable greens that measure one to three inches in height. These baby plants are not to be confused with sprouts, which don’t have leaves yet. Microgreens are more mature than sprouts with their leaves edible. Examples of edible microgreens are cabbage, radish, lettuce, chicory, fennel, dill, carrot, onion, and leek.
Microgreens are more nutritious than mature greens because their nutrient content is very concentrated. This means they offer higher vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than their mature counterparts. Since it is challenging to find microgreens in shops, the best option is to grow them yourself.
You can easily add microgreens to smoothies or juices, and they can also be added to sandwiches, wraps, and salads. You can also use them in soups, pizzas, curries, and omelets.
How to Sneak Leafy Greens into Your Diet
So eating leafy greens is the key to successful weight loss, but what if you can’t stand the taste of raw leaves? Don’t worry! You don’t have to turn into a vegetarian overnight to start benefiting from the nutrients found in leafy greens. Here are some sneaky ways you can begin incorporating greens into your diet without worrying about a flavor change:
- Start with spinach: The beauty of spinach is that it is nutritious and also very mild in flavor. For those ‘new’ to leafy greens, this is a perfect vegetable to start with. Once you get the hang of spinach, you can slowly upgrade to stronger tasting greens like kale.
- Add greens to your smoothie: Although your smoothie may turn green, you won’t have to worry about any flavor change. Your smoothie will taste the same but have double the nutrition with your added greens.
- Finely chop spinach and add it to anything: From lasagna to pizza sauce or burgers, once these greens are chopped finely, nobody will know they’re there.
- Use romaine as a taco shell or wrap: Everybody loves lettuce, so use this to your advantage. Instead of using traditional taco shells or wraps, use romaine instead. This may sound like a weird thing to do, but romaine is so mild in taste, you’ll never know the difference.
- Try iceberg lettuce as a bun: If you are on a low-carb diet, you can still enjoy your sandwiches with a healthier alternative. You may not like the appearance of your new burger, but once you start getting all the health benefits, you’ll want to continue.
- Blend the greens and add them to your soup: The beauty of blending greens is that you don’t have to see them in your soup. This is a small step you can take to get used to the taste, and then perhaps you won’t mind seeing greens in your dishes.
Leafy greens are a must-have for anyone trying to lose weight or eat healthily. Rich in essential nutrients and vitamins, leafy greens have everything your body needs to transform into a fat-burning machine. If you feel overwhelmed with all the choices you face, stick to the most nutritious leafy greens, and you’ll never go wrong. If you are not used to the robust taste of greens, start slow with a mild-tasting green like spinach and work your way up.
Remember, eating leafy greens does not mean you need to become a vegetarian. You can still enjoy all the healthy meats and fish you love and add a few greens for better nutrition.