The Health Benefits of Eating Greens
Aminah Coleman, Naturalist from Appalachian Mountains
Growing up in the hills of southern West Virginia, one of the many foods that I remember on the dinner table is some variety of greens. Mustard, kale or collards would more than likely be the greens of choice. But there were also varieties of wild greens such as dandelion, poke and shawney greens. Poke and shawney greens are not the scientific names, but when traveling the hills of Appalachia, especially among the mountain people, poke and shawney are well known. One could easily spend the biggest part of the day hiking through the hills looking for these lovely greens to prepare for the dinner table. No matter if grown in the family garden, growing wild in the hills or purchased at the local grocery, greens had their place at the dinner table.
Mainly cooked until tender, drained, cut, seasoned and sautéed in some form of oil, this was the simplest and most common form of preparation. With little knowledge of the health benefits of eating the variety of greens that my mother would prepare for the dinner table, I just knew that I liked greens almost as much as I liked hiking in the hills with my mother while she picked them. Over the years, the knowledge of the health benefits of greens such as collard, kale and mustard into my diet has only intensified the desire to include them as my chosen superfood.
Each of the leafy greens is rich in its own nutrients and vitamins and can add many of the much needed missing nutrients and vitamins from our daily diet. They are low in calories and fat and can be used as a dish in itself or added to a wide variety of recipes.
The brassica oleracea L, otherwise known as the Collard, is rich in invaluable sources of phyto-nutrients with potent anti-cancer properties, such as di-indolyl-methane(DIM) and sulforaphane that have proven benefits against prostate, breast, cervical, colon and ovarian cancers by virtue of their cancer-cell growth inhibition and cytotoxic effects on cancer cells. The leaves are also an excellent source of folates, providing about 166μg or 41.5% of RDA. Folates are important in DNA synthesis. Collard greens are also an excellent source of Vitamin A and carotenoid anti-oxidants such as lutein, carotenes, zea-xanthin, crypto-xanthin, etc. These compounds are scientifically found to have antioxidant properties.
This leafy vegetable contains amazingly high levels of vitamin K, providing a staggering 426% of recommended daily levels per 100 leaves. Vitamin K has a potential role in the increase of bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in bones. It also has the beneficial effect in Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brains.
Collards are rich in many vital B-complex groups of minerals such as niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and riboflavin, with the leaves and stems providing good minerals like iron, calcium, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc.
Collards have a relatively long shelf-life; they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days and they blend very nicely with either salads, cooked meat or fish dishes.
Borecole or kale is ranked right up there with broccoli as one of the nutrition stand-outs among vegetables. Kale is high in fiber and an excellent source of nutrients, especially vitamin A and calcium.
Kale is one of the best sources of betacarotene which is one of the antioxidants that is believed by many experts to play a major role in the battle against cancer, heart disease, and certain age related chronic diseases. Lutein and zeazathin are other important carotenoids in kale that are beneficial to the health of the eyes. These carotenoids help keep UV rays from damaging the eyes and causing cataracts.
According to recent research, kale is an incredible source of well-absorbed calcium, which is one of the major factors of preventing osteoporosis. Kale also provides a source vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium.
Kale is an extremely perishable leafy vegetable, so should be used quickly. If to be stored inside the refrigerator set its temperature below 35 degree F and high humidity level to maintain vitality.
Kale can be used in raw salads, cooked or sautéed, used in soups, stews, pizza and pasta.
Brassica juncea is the scientific name for mustard. Known mainly for its spicy, crunchy mustard greens, it is also known as leaf mustard, one of the most nutritious green-leafy vegetables. These wonder greens have actually more vitamin A, carotenes, vitamin K, and flavonoid anti-oxidants than some of the commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.
Like spinach, mustard greens are the storehouse for many phyto-nutrients and disease prevention properties. Mustard is low in calories and fats. Mustard greens are also a good source of adequate fiber and aids in smooth bowel movement, thereby offering protection from hemorrhoids, constipation as well as colon cancer.
Like collard greens, mustard provides 500% of the daily requirement of vitamin K1 in 100 g of fresh leaves. Fresh mustard leaves are also a good source of folic acid along with vitamin A and several essential minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, and manganese.
Mustard can be stored for up to three days in the cold storage, fresh mustard greens should be used as soon as possible to get maximum nutrition. Fresh tender mustard greens are eaten raw either as salad or as juice.
Mustard can be stew fried or steam cooked and mixed with other greens such as spinach, fenugreek, etc. Its pungent, peppery flavor is somewhat tamed by adding butter, tomato, and garlic to the recipes.
Adding greens to your diet will give you the added supply of vitamins that your body needs to promote good health with the added benefits of helping in preventing some forms of diseases. With so many different ways available to prepare them and include them in your meals, greens can be the super food your body needs to help you to stay healthy for many years to come.