Leafy greens and their nutritional benefits, and introduction of the GYG Challenge
Getting greens into your diet is an integral part of your health journey. However, it's not always easy to do!
These days we are inundated with meals that are filled with meat, and cheese, and bread, and meat and more cheese, there is sometimes little room for greens at all! After gorging yourself on these delicious, fat-laden and satisfying dishes, you may realize that you did not eat a single vegetable.
Don't worry, we've ALL that those days! I've gone to many a brunch or BBQ hangout, where we have meat, buns, cheese, some form of potatoes, a dessert, but no greens, save for some watery iceberg lettuce and red onion as optional add-ons for the design-your-own hamburger.
Eating like this in many countries is not unusual. Pizza in all its many forms don't always have greens on it. Pasta dishes do not contain greens, neither do cakes or cookies. Adding these in to some of these dishes may not seem possible, much less disgusting, as why would you add greens to a cake? Or a cookie?
A bigger question would be, why would you want to do this, and what's the advantage? Well, let's talk about greens for a second and address this.
Leafy green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods on the planet. You know that clear skin your friend has, or the vivid color in your mom's eyes? That's greens at work. Greens work from the inside out, cleaning your organs and allowing your body to work at all times, in between that late night pizza run or pint of ice-cream you just polished off while watching your favorite Netflix show.
The benefits of greens are countless, and each green has their own specific vitamin or mineral that they are king in. Let's take a look at some of the top leafy greens and what they provide:
Each vegetable has their day in the spotlight, then it goes. Kale was the king superfood several years back, then it was microgreens, and now celery and celery juice is all the rage. One vegetable that reigns supreme and is always in the top regardless of media hype, is spinach.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of raw spinach provides:
- 181% of vitamin K
- 56% of the DV for vitamin A
- 24 mg magnesium
- 0.86 grams (g) of protein
- 30 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.81 g of iron
- 167 mg of potassium
- 58 micrograms of folate
Like spinach, kale is always going to be towards the top of the list. The issue with kale, however, is controversy on how to properly consume it. Many health professionals advise against eating raw kale, or to eat it cooked with fat for maximum nutrient absorption. Additionally, eating too much kale can limit your intake of iodine.
1 cup of kale provides you with, according to the USDA:
- .61 grams protein
- 53 mg calcium
- .43 mg iron
- 73 mg potassium
- 206% iU Vitamin A
- 684% DV Vitamin K
- 134% DV Vitamin C
- 26% DV Manganese
Funny anecdote about collard greens: Growing up in Brazil, collard greens was a staple in our diet. However, we called it "couve" there. When I moved to the USA at 19, I had no idea what it was called in English. Back then Google wasn't readily available either. So I went for years assuming the USA didn't have couve, and that it was something I had to give up in Brazil. Well, turns out 9 years into living in the US, I stumbled across couve at Whole Foods, and noticed that it was called "collard greens". I've heard collard greens mentioned before as side options in restaurants, but I never thought to ask what it was. Needless to say, I felt rather ashamed for my decade-long assumption, as not only was couve available to me the whole time, but it's main staple in the southern US!
According to the USDA, one cup of collard greens contain:
- 858% vitamin K
- 80% vitamin A
- 46% vitamin C
- 42% manganese
- 27% fiber
- 27% calcium
- 17% choline
- 15% vitamin B2
- 14% vitamin B6
Microgreens are any baby greens from vegetables and herbs. They're known a nutrient powerhouse because they can contain 5 times greater levels of nutrients than the adult counterparts. If you've ever been to the store and noticed a tiny box of miniature greens growing and it costs $5, well, that's why. And, you don't need to eat a lot to reap the benefits!
According to the USDA, the benefits of microgreens are:
- vitamin C ranged from 20 to 147 milligrams (mg) per 100 grams of fresh weight
- beta-carotene, lutein and violaxanthin ranged from about 0.6 mg to 12.1 mg per 100 grams of fresh weight.
- red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish have the highest concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E
Cabbage is part of the cruciferous family, along with broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale. Cabbage in particular, has a cleansing effect on the body. It literally scrubs your insides and takes with it all the sludge and leftover crap food you ate previously.
Some of the best ways to eat cabbage is raw as a salad, or fermented as sauerkraut. For a delicious cabbage salad recipe, see my candida fighting salad and my Ukrainian purple cabbage recipes on my website!
According to the USDA, the benefits of 1 cup of cabbage are:
- 79% vitamin K
- 69% vitamin C
- 20% vitamin B6
- 14% manganese
- 14% fiber
- 9% copper
- 19% vitamin B1
- 9% folate
No list of power-packed greens is complete without broccoli. This cruciferous gem is loaded with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Along with spinach, asparagus, brussel and alfalfa sprouts, broccoli contains one of the highest amounts of protein in vegetables.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of broccoli contains:
- 245% vitamin K
- 135% vitamin C
- 53% chromium
- 42% folate
- 18% fiber
- 18% vitamin B6
- 15% vitamin E
- 15% vitamin B2
- 13% vitamin A
- 7% protein
Similar to collard greens, swiss chard is one of the top leafy greens for nutrient density. Smoother than collard greens with a more earthy flavor, you can enjoy swiss chard either raw or cooked. Swiss chard also comes in various colors, with green, orange, yellow and purple varieties.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of swiss chard provides:
- 716% vitamin K
- 214% vitamin A
- 53% vitamin C
- 38% magnesium
- 27% potassium
- 22% iron
- 17% vitamin K
- 10% calcium
- 3.7 grams fiber
- 3.3 grams protein
Brussel sprouts is an interesting vegetable, and people always seem to have opinions about it. Never once have I met someone that was "ehhh" about brussel sprouts. You either love them or you hate them. I'm on the uber-loving end of the spectrum, and I eat brussel sprouts pretty much every week. Thanks to the high protein content, this is another vegetable that your body will thank you for regularly consuming.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of brussel sprouts contains:
- 243% vitamin K
- 129% vitamin C
- 23% folate
- 16% vitamin B6
- 15% fiber
- 15% copper
- 14% vitamin B1
- 12% phosphorous
- 8% protein
Don't let arugula's pungent taste deter you. This leafy green contains cleansing properties to counteract heavy metals in our system, as well as contains properties that have a protective effect against lung, colorectal and other cancers. Add arugula to your salad, but leave out of your smoothies. You will not enjoy the bitter taste.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of arugula contains:
- 47% vitamin A
- 25% vitamin C
- 16% calcium
- 8% iron
- 97 mcg folate
- And, it works as an aphrodisiac if eaten regularly
There are countless leafy greens that are good for you, I could go on and on for 20 pages! But these are just a few mentions, and most of these greens are easily accessible in stores.
So why the rundown on leafy greens? First of all, you want to know what each contains and all the benefits, next, these greens are all great options that you can add into various dishes, whether it be savory meals, fresh salads or fruit smoothies. We should aim to get at least 1.5 cups of leafy greens in our diet daily, but of course, more is better for you.
The GYG Challenge
That's where my Get Your Greens Challenge comes in. For 7 days, I want you to try adding greens to every meal or snack you have. And each day, I want you to focus on adding greens to a specific meal. For example, on day 1, try adding greens to your breakfast. If you have a morning smoothie, that's great! Add in a handful of spinach, kale, cucumber or celery. If you have a fruit salad or fruit, try mixing mint with it. If you have an omelette, add in some spinach!
In the next post I will lay out the details of the GYG Challenge, along with tips on how to incorporate greens with each of your snack and meals, so stay tuned!