Nutrition : your leafy greens

Tuesday 08 May 2018

This week I want to focus on the power of dark green leafy vegetables. This is because whenever I see individuals about eating healthily or do cookery demonstrations, green leafy vegetables always come into the discussion in one way or the other.

Immediately I think of spring cabbage and savoy cabbage but of course when I talk about leafy green vegetables it encompasses quite a variety including kale, Swiss chard, beet tops, spinach, watercress, rocket, brussels sprouts, and mustard and cress and I would also include broccoli although I know that it is not a true leafy green vegetable. I am sure that there must be more.

It struck me how versatile this group of foods is and how many fabulous health benefits they have. Apart from being easily available all year around and are not expensive to buy, I want to highlight why I encourage their use so much. If you are looking for a super food look no further. Let’s see why…….

Health benefits of leafy greens
Rich in the anti- oxidants vitamin C vitamin K. For more on the benefits of antioxidants you could see my blog on antioxidants.

I do want to focus little more on vitamin C and vitamin K. Vitamin C has many benefits particularly in helping to support the immune system. It was first highlighted as beneficial by Dr. Linus Pauling in 1976 who with his colleague Cameron discovered that individuals with cancer who took huge doses of vitamin C doubled their survival time of prognosis. His claims made big headlines at the time and they have since been questioned. However there are many who are still great advocates of the vitamin not only for its benefits on the immune system but as an aid to healing tissues and in wound healing. It is a water soluble vitamin which means that we do not store it in our bodies so any vitamin C that we do not need we excrete via the kidneys. That is why it is important to have food that contains vitamin C regularly in the diet and of course leafy green vegetables are excellent sources as well as many other fresh fruits and vegetables particularly peppers, oranges, fresh tomatoes and kiwi fruits.

Vitamin K comes as vitamin K1 and K2. Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin K1, where as vitamin K 2 can be found in animal and fermented products like Natto. It’s importance in cancer is new found with lots of exciting research going on. It is basically essential for good blood clotting and also for preventing osteoporosis. It is one of the co-factors necessary to support calcium in its role of hardening bones and keeping them strong.

HOWEVER. It is important to note that if you are any blood thinning medication that you should not take any form of supplement that may contain vitamin K and if you do not normally eat large quantities of green vegetables then do not suddenly start. Once you are on blood thinning medication you will have your blood clotting factor regularly checked. If you are already eating plenty of green leafy vegetables at the onset of the medication then it is fine to continue as your blood will have been assessed and your dose regulated accordingly. Hope that makes sense.

Leafy greens also contain important Phytochemicals, including the Glucosinolate group in particular the indole 3 carbinol compound and sulphoraphanes. Sulphoraphanes stimulate the body’s own powerful detoxification enzymes and also exert anti- oxidant benefits. This will of course support the liver in its role at getting rid of toxins and chemicals from the body. The insole 3 carbinol was also covered in detail in a blog on hormone driven cancers. It has been shown to be hugely beneficial at converting the strong oestrogen that can drive cancer into its weaker form and it also supports the liver in its detoxification of excess hormones. There has been a great deal of research into this and its benefits are now well established.

The calcium/magnesium ratio of leafy green vegetables is a perfect balance for good bone health, like nuts and seeds. We are always told that calcium is essential for good bone health which is absolutely true but it is important to remember that calcium is only one of the components and calcium is only absorbed into the bone in the presence of magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin D and boron. Boron is found abundantly in leafy green vegetables. For more information have a look at my blog on bone health.

Source of iron Dark green leafy vegetables are also a very good source of iron which helps to combat anaemia. Anaemia with its symptoms of lethargy and tiredness can quite often develop as a result of treatment and so these vegetables will help to protect you against this. The iron in vegetables comes in a different form to that found in meat. For us to absorb the iron from vegetables we need a good supply of vitamin C and of course nature never lets us down because as we know these vegetables are also rich in vitamin C.

A very good source of fibre which helps to keep us regular and prevent constipation. Bowel regularity can be affected by treatment and using pain killers can cause constipation, so by increasing this group of foods and drinking plenty of water this should help to alleviate the problem. Just out of interest cabbage water has been shown to be extremely effective in soothing the digestive system, this is because it contains the amino acid glutamine which is critical for the healing of the cells of the digestive tract. Worth noting if you have had a lot of antibiotics. As I have mentioned before chemotherapy is designed to destroy rapidly dividing cells i.e the cancer cells, but the cells that line our digestive tract are also rapidly dividing so they too will be affected by the treatment and the presence of glutamine will help them to regenerate and heal.

So with all this going for them this humble group of foods with their many benefits should be a large part of the diet on a day to day basis.

Warm Kale and Quinoa salad (Serves 4).
I have used it as part of one of my cookery demonstrations and it was very popular.Note that because the kale is only very lightly cooked it will retain its maximum food value.
300g of quinoa
1 ½ pts of boiling water
1 lb shredded kale with any coarse stalks removed

3 tbsp of pine nuts

3 tbsp of raisins or dried cranberries

2 tbsp of lemon juice

2 tbsp of olive oil


1.Put the quinoa into a very large pan and add 1 tbsp of oil and stir to coat the seed in the oil, add the boiling water, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer and put the lid on. Leave to simmer for about 20 min till all of the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is soft and fluffy.

2. Add the kale to the pan sitting on top of the quinoa and heat with the lid on for a few minutes so that the kale softens with the steam form the quinoa.

3. Add the nuts, fruit, lemon juice and 1 tblsp of olive oil, season and mix through

4. Serve hot or cold.

See also antioxidants blog

Blog originally written by Caroline Sept 2013

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up