Why Should I Eat My Greens?

*Originally post for Wild Flora Dispensary*

I know you all know that you should eat your greens, but aside from following the Government advised food guidelines… Do you know what those leafy greens are good for?

A study by Lenzi, et al [1] compared the micronutrient content of baby greens, such as baby spinach, with wild greens such as dandelion, salad burnet, and wild mustard. These are not greens that would be out of place in a mixed salad bag, and there has been an increase in the variety of greens available in the past few years. Results revealed that the wild green types had nutritional levels of essential minerals, macro and microelements similar to that of baby greens. So let’s take a closer look at what these little greens are capable of.

Of course, we know that fruits and vegetables provide us with protective antioxidants and fibre due to the nutrients and chemical compounds they contain. These can help keep away chronic diseases, such as cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease [2]. Spinach, for example, has compounds that enable it to scavenge reactive oxygen species and prevent oxidative damage (antioxidant action), change our gene expression (epigenetics) for metabolism, proliferation, inflammation and antioxidant defence; and the added fibre helps to manage appetites by inducing satiety [2]. Some of the active components of spinach include glycolipids and thylakoids.

Another important active compound in green leafy vegetables (and notably berries) is resveratrol (res-vera-trol). It’s a powerfully regenerative antioxidant, with similar actions to those mentioned above, as well as inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria [3]. A healthy gut is necessary to absorb this super antioxidant. Resveratrol works together with the by-products of our gut microbes, short chain fatty acids (SCFA), to fight disease. Stokes, et al [3] look closely at these two compounds to treat cancer. Resveratrol, according to Stokes, helps mediate and facilitate SCFA products, and moderates the incoming pathogenic microbes (both very good things). “Current research confirms the importance of the microbiome in the life of the host. There is now a link between what one consumes and the manifestation of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In industrialized societies, these endemic health problems are prominent because of a low-nutrition diet containing primarily processed food.” [3]. Leafy greens are one of the easiest and have extremely minimal processing, so should be included daily, if not more than once daily. I will note that if you can buy organic, do so. Please wash your greens well before eating to remove dirt and any contaminants.

There are actually so many varieties of greens that it will blow your mind. A lot of the ones commercially available are done so because they are easy to grow, or have mild flavours that a lot of people enjoy. Greens such as radicchio, rocket and beetroot leaves have more peppery flavours which can add a lot to a salad, though some less accustomed palates may not enjoy these flavours at first. If you scroll down a little, there’s a handy display of many different kinds of leafy greens. How many of these do you eat regularly? How many have you ever eaten? Maybe a new mini-goal of 2022 will be to try new greens whenever you see them. Expand your food variety, and in turn, your microbiome and body will thank you.