Are greens the new black? Studies show that upping your intake of these micronutrient-rich jewels offers a host of healthful benefits. Green-and-leafies keep cancer at bay, support weight loss, keep you regular, help hydrate your body, and more. Read on to find out why your Nana was right when she preached “Eat your greens!”
If the idea of leafy greens brings back childhood memories of gagging down piles of limp, watery spinach from a can, you’re not alone. Just ask influential Irish book reviewer and weight-loss success story, Margaret Bonass Madden.
“As kids, we were told to ‘eat your greens,’ in the same tone of voice as ‘cut your toenails’ or ‘tidy your room.’ — and I blame cabbage!” Madden explained her early fear of greens stemmed from how it was prepared — often boiled to a pulp and served with ‘hairy bacon’ (literally a joint of pork with the pig’s hairs still sticking through the skin). She says it was “One of the most unappealing, stinky greens on the planet that has traumatized many an Irish child.”
But today, Madden is an avid greens supporter, and she credits them with helping her reach her 26-pound weight-loss goal. And with the upsurge in CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), farmer’s markets, and high-end supermarkets like Whole Foods, you no longer have to live on a farm to experience the bountiful variety of greens.
To get the skinny on green superfoods, we spoke to Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietician, weekly food and travel columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and author of The Slim Down South Cookbook. “Greens,” O’Neil explained, “are a good source of the minerals magnesium, calcium, iron, and potassium. But that’s not all. They’re also high in fiber and fresh greens are a good source of vitamin C.”
“You can enjoy a variety of greens prepared in a variety of ways, from fresh in salads, to braised in stews or soups, to sautéed as a side dish,” she told us. “And the greener they are, the better.” Still, O’Neil thinks there’s room on the plate for all greens. “Don’t ignore iceberg. It’s full of water and can help with hydration. So feel good about iceberg in a wedge salad.” The extra water also fills the stomach, making you feel fuller and eat less, which can help you lose weight.
Madden too recounted the advice of her weight-loss leader at, Slimming World, that “greens speed up weight loss and that it’s key is to fill your plate with one third speed.” Speed is right: After cleaning up her diet, and adding a daily dose of greens, she was down three dress sizes and 26 pounds in just over three months.
If you think the kids in your life won’t eat them, think again. As a mom with a houseful of kids, Madden confides that she was “initially worried about scaring her children with a switch to a diet including ‘all things green,’” but she had a plan, and it worked. Madden “holds the cabbage and tries not to cook [any vegetable] that stinks out the house.” She’s gotten little pushback and a lot of satisfaction knowing she’s feeding her children right while keeping herself healthy and slim.
Did You Know? The Fat in Greens Can Fatten Up Your Brain (In a Good Way)
When we think fat, we usually think of unhealthy fare like fried chicken or mayonnaise-laden salads. It turns out that greens are a great source of the healthful kind of fat. Kale, for example, is actually a great source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid that’s essential for brain health, according to Dr. Drew Ramsey, TEDx health speaker, and the author of The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood and Lean, Energized Body. Ramsey blogs that “plant-based ALA is linked to numerous health benefits like lowering the risk of depression and diabetes. Both diabetes and obesity wreak havoc on the brain and kale is a great first step to fighting both.”
Kale tops the charts for brain health, but don’t overlook bok choy, collard greens, or Swiss chard. All of these greens have small amounts of healthy fats.
Did You Know? Greens Are Great for Dem Lady Bones
Sure, we’ve been told to consume dairy to keep our bones strong, but the calcium and vitamin k in greens can do the job with fewer calories and more fiber. A study at Tufts University in Boston found that low dietary intake of vitamin K in women was associated with low bone mineral density in women. So ladies, if you want to avoid osteoporosis and hip fractures in your twilight years, start gulping those greens now.
Did You Know? Eating Your Greens Helps You Shed Pounds, and Keep Them Off
At only around 100 calories per pound, leafy greens bring a lot to the table without weighing you down. According to the books and blog of healthy food guru, Dr. Joel Furhman, author of Eat to Live and The Nutritarian Handbook, leafy green vegetables are the most nutrient-dense of all foods, and should be eaten in unlimited quantities for optimal health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, urging citizens to munch leafy greens liberally not only to fill up on fiber, but to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, vision impairment, and gastrointestinal maladies.
Convinced you need to add more greens to your plate? Add watercress to that vegetable and hummus pita pocket, add escarole to round out vegetable soups, or toss a tangle of curly endive atop your dinner salad.
Did You Know? Bitter Is Better
The slightly bitter taste of many leafy greens indicates high levels of calcium. Dandelion greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and kale deliver high doses, and if the bitterness bothers you, there are ways you can mute it. Cooked greens are less bitter than raw, and you can add salt to cooked greens to take the edge off. Alternatively, you can capitalize on the strong taste by seasoning your greens with complementary flavors such as caramelized onions, sautéed garlic, fish roe, or soy sauce.
However you choose to eat your greens, you’ll be doing your body a world of good just by adding in a few servings each day.
Related: 5 Vegan Myths Debunked