When I was a child I never thought in a million years that I would love green vegetables as much as I do now. Like many of you I didn't grow up on an organic farm and I didn't have access to the beautiful gifts nature had to offer. I grew up in a generally unhealthy home. We weren't impoverished and we had access to finer things. Despite that we simply didn't know any better and having good nutrition simply meant we were able to eat more.
When I was younger I didn't understand that cells need nutrients to grow and work. I didn't know that lack of vitamins, minerals, adequate calories and proper protein can weaken our immune systems and make it less able to find and destroy germs. With all that unknown I generally ate whatever I wanted. Additionally I was athletic so most of what I ate I burned. To this very day almost two decades forward, one child later, I remain within five of what my weight was as a teenager. I move a lot and due to this my weight stays consistent. Nonetheless being well built doesn't make you disease free. Just look at athletes like Major League Baseball first baseman Andres Galarraga and Cyclist Lance Armstrong. Both were able to overcome their bouts with cancer, but they were not able to avoid the war against cancer with being fit alone. They still fell victim.
Research evidence suggests that some components of food may play a role in decreasing the risk of developing cancer including: phytochemicals, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple) may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. The action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food. They may act as antioxidants, nutrient protectors or prevent carcinogens (cancer causing agents) from forming. Phytochemicals cannot be found in supplements and are only present in food. Foods high in phytochemicals include the following:
- Green Tea
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok Choy
- Red Wine
Today I want to focus on two of my favorite green vegetables: Kale and Spinach. I just love these too green guys! They are my go to my salads and sandwich garnishes. I also enjoy eating the both of them cooked. Listed below are some nutritional facts about the two.
Spinach: Among the world's healthiest vegetables, spinach comes out at the top for nutrient richness. Rich in vitamins and minerals, it is also concentrated in health-promoting phytonutrients such as carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) and flavonoids that provide us with powerful antioxidant protection. Even though virtually all vegetables contain a wide variety of phytonutrients—including flavonoids and carotenoids, our friend spinach can claim a special place among vegetables in terms of its phytonutrient content. Researchers have identified more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. And of course from excessive inflammation typically emerges the risk factor for increased cancer risk. Thus spinach is on top of its job by helping to reduce inflammation caused by other factors. Additionally one cup of spinach a day provides us with over 200% of our daily-recommended value of Vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones. The friendly bacteria in our intestines convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, which activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. All of these vitamin K-related mechanisms point to the importance of vitamin K-rich foods for bone health and it is difficult to find vegetables that are richer in vitamin K than spinach.
Kale: While not as well researched as some of its fellow cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage, kale is a food that you can count on for some unsurpassed health benefits, if for no other reason than its exceptional nutrient richness. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, kale has been studied more extensively in relationship to cancer than any other health condition. This research focus makes perfect sense. Kale's nutrient richness stands out in three particular areas: (1) antioxidant nutrients, (2) anti-inflammatory nutrients, and (3) anti-cancer nutrients in the form of glucosinolates. Without sufficient intake of antioxidants, our oxygen metabolism can become compromised. We then can experience a metabolic problem called "oxidative stress." Without sufficient intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients, regulation of our inflammatory system can become compromised, and we can experience the problem of chronic inflammation. Oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and the combination of these two metabolic problems in conjunction with one another; are risk factors for the development of cancer. You can count on kale to provide valuable cardiovascular support in terms of its cholesterol-lowering ability. Our liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to product bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in our gall bladder, and when we eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body. When we eat kale, fiber-related nutrients in this cruciferous vegetable bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of our body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, our liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon our existing supply of cholesterol, and, as a result, our cholesterol level drops down. Kale provides us with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether it is raw or cooked. However, a recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw kale improves significantly when it is steamed. In fact, when the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed kale was compared with the cholesterol-lowering ability of the prescription drug cholestyramine (a medication that is taken for the purpose of lowering cholesterol), kale bound 42% as many bile acids (based on a standard of comparison involving total dietary fiber). Amongst all of the cruciferous vegetables, only collard greens scored higher at 46%. Collard greens are another one of my favorite greens! Collard greens & bacon are included in the picture provided with this blog, but I love collards so much that I have to write a blog post strictly about them!
- Dawn Molina