By Marissa Donovan, R.D.
Dark, leafy greens — like kale, spinach and collards — are packed with fiber and vitamins A, C and K, and are also delicious raw, in a stir-fry, sauteed or added to dishes like casseroles, omelets or soups. You may already know that these greens are vitamin and nutrient powerhouses, but they also provide some other, surprising benefits.
Here are five more reasons to help convince you to eat more dark, leafy greens.
Shed pounds with dark, leafy greens
Adding dark, leafy greens, or any other veggie for that matter, to a meal results in eating fewer calories without increasing hunger, according to a study published in Nutrition Reviews. Their fiber and water content help greens fill you up and keep you feeling full longer — which can help you lose weight and keep it off. Try chopping up greens with larger leaves and adding them to soups. You can even chop the stalks of most dark, leafy greens and add them to the pot along with the leaves.
Slash your risk for diabetes
Dark, leafy greens are high in beta carotene and alpha carotene, antioxidants in the carotenoids family. In a 2015 study, researchers tracked the diets of men and women for 10 years and found that those who had diets high in alpha and beta carotene had reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. Make a salad with tender baby greens from spinach, mustard greens, kale or chard to help get more greens in your diet for very few calories.
Help keep your brain young
People who ate one to two servings of dark, leafy greens a day had mental abilities of those over a decade younger, says research presented at the American Society for Nutrition conference. Researchers think vitamin K plays a main role by helping create sphingolipids — special fats that are critical to brain function. The lutein, folate and beta carotene in the greens may also help. Because dark, leafy greens cook down quickly, try steaming or sauteeing greens and serving as a vitamin K-rich side dish.
Build better bones
The dairy aisle isn’t the only place to find calcium-rich foods; dark, leafy greens are also a good source. Calcium is needed to build bones and teeth, as well as keep your muscles and nerves functioning. Pair dark, leafy greens and dairy for the biggest impact on your calcium levels. An omelet packed with dark, leafy greens and a little bit of cheese can help you meet your daily calcium needs.
Fend off cancer
Studies show that carotenoids, pigments in dark, leafy greens, may lower your risk of head, neck, breast, stomach, skin and lung cancers. Researchers think carotenoids act as antioxidants in the body, helping fend off harmful free radicals. These greens are also rich in vitamin C, which is linked with reduced risk of head and neck cancers. Chopped spinach, bok choy or chard can add extra vitamins and nutrients to a stir-fry.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)