Wooden box filled with various kinds of lettuce and leafy greens

What are Greens and Why are They so Important?

You hear it all the time: “Eat your greens!” But what does that mean and why should you do that? Well, this phrase literally means eat green-colored leafy vegetables. Some examples include:

  • kale

  • beet greens

  • spinach

  • collard greens

  • mustard greens

  • kohlrabi

  • swiss chard

  • broccoli rabe

  • cabbage

  • arugula

  • bok choy

  • dandelion greens

Wait, dandelions?! Yes, indeed. We’re talking whole plant foods, fresh and intact. As a food group, these leafy and fibrous plant materials certainly have earned a bit of a bad reputation for being unpalatable or bitter. So why dig into “rabbit food” when there’s a freshly baked pot pie steaming on the counter? Remember the cartoon Popeye? There’s a reason why this lovable guy became stronger after eating his spinach. Greens are some of the most healthy whole foods on the planet and they have a lot to offer you in such a simple package.

They are chock full of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and even contain surprising amounts of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. They also have high water content to keep you hydrated and fiber to keep you feeling full. To receive these benefits, nutritionists suggest eating a minimum of 3 cups of leafy greens per week. Darker greens usually signal a more nutrient-dense option, so look for deep hues when shopping for greens. Read on for more specifics on why greens should be a staple in your diet.

Outstanding Nutrient Profile

Greens boast an impressive nutrient profile. Let’s take a look at kale. Per single cup serving, this superfood provides you with almost three grams of protein and is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and copper. It’s considered a very good source of vitamin B6, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin E, and vitamin B2. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also got a significant amount of other nutrients worth mentioning such as iron, magnesium, vitamin B3, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, and folate.

Kale’s got only 36 calories per serving, so you won’t be getting your vitamins at the expense of bulking up. All greens have powerful nutrient profiles with low-calorie counts, so feel free to switch up your greens on a regular basis.

Greens for Healthy Eyes

Perhaps you've heard that carrots are good for the eyes, but greens also deserve some credit. They are packed with phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids prevent cell deterioration, protecting the eyes from age-related diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. In addition, they assist the eye in its natural functions such as managing glare, enhancing contrast, and potentially increasing visual range. Researchers are excited about these findings, as it means individuals can take eye health into their own hands before resorting to surgeries or other invasive treatments.

Weight Loss

Are you looking to shed a few pounds while maintaining muscle mass? Greens are your secret weapon in combating fat! The Vitamin C in greens helps keep your hormone cortisol in check. Too much cortisol and your body will store fat instead of burning it. Also, don’t forget the fiber found in greens. Fibrous roughage slows down digestion, releasing energy gradually so your body won’t cry out for more food as quickly.

You can still maintain muscle strength even as you slim down by consuming spinach. This particular green contains arginine, an amino acid important in the development of lean muscle mass. Muscles burn fat, even when you’re not using them, so concentrating on muscle development is a key component in weight loss. One great and easy way to get both your spinach and your muscle-building protein in a single meal is by making a smoothie. Blend spinach with fruits, milk, and the best protein powder for lean muscles. What a delicious way to kick your weight loss into high gear!

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About The Author

Mikkie Mills's picture

Mikkie Mills is a freelance writer who's passionate about health, fitness, organic cooking and eating, and yoga. When not writing she loves traveling, hiking, and cooking. Find more from Mikkie on Google+.

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