The green party

Sci­en­tists are just begin­ning to un­der­stand the ben­e­fits of green food, and what they’re learn­ing will sur­prise you. In a good way!

Glamour (South Africa) - - News -

Eat up!

afew days ago, my mom sug­gested waf­fles for break­fast, and even I was shocked at my re­sponse: “What if we had a salad?”

In the weeks since I was asked to write about leafy greens, I’ve changed. Once a kale ag­nos­tic, I’m now a de­vout kale or­tho­dox, the kind of per­son who eats spinach for break­fast and tells strangers at the salad bar: “You know, ro­maine is ac­tu­ally health­ier than rocket.” (I know, spoiler alert. Just sit tight for a minute.)

How good are they re­ally?

The more I learnt about leafy greens the more of them I ate. The more I ate, the more I wanted.

“It’s a vir­tu­ous cy­cle,” says Dr Dean Or­nish, pres­i­dent of the Pre­ven­tive Medicine Re­search In­sti­tute. “You feel so much bet­ter so quickly that it be­comes pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment.”

While I didn’t feel phys­i­cal changes im­me­di­ately, the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits were in­stan­ta­neous. Noth­ing makes you feel more su­pe­rior than pulling out a Tup­per­ware con­tainer of leafy greens in front of your col­leagues. I may have be­come a zealot, but as cults go, the cult of greens is a good one to be­long to. (Al­though, maybe ev­ery cult mem­ber feels this brand of right­eous­ness?)

It seems like ev­ery week there’s a new study telling us that a food we thought was healthy is, in fact, be­hind the de­cline of civil­i­sa­tion. Then think about the leafies. There’s a rea­son you’ve never read a dis­parag­ing word about them. Re­search shows, over and over again, that there’s prac­ti­cally no anatom­i­cal sys­tem that doesn’t ben­e­fit from more kale, more spinach, more wa­ter­cress.

They lower the stroke and heart at­tack risk; they’re linked to lower blood pres­sure; they keep the diges­tive tract healthy; they im­prove sight; they pro­tect against many types of cancer and even help to com­bat men­tal de­cline. Here’s a gross over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion: they have pretty much ev­ery nu­tri­ent our bod­ies need, ex­cept for pro­tein and fat.

But when I wanted to try an all­green diet, reg­is­tered di­eti­cian Tanya Zucker­brot set me straight: “An av­er­age woman would have to eat 50 cups of kale per day to get ad­e­quate kilo­joules.”

OK, so you shouldn’t eat only greens, but they ac­tu­ally are a good source of one kind of fat: omega-3, associated with al­le­vi­at­ing ev­ery­thing from mood dis­or­ders to eczema. Fish is usu­ally the go-to for this es­sen­tial fatty acid, but omega-3s orig­i­nally come from greens. Fish get them from eat­ing al­gae, the salad of the sea!

One place where greens are more ben­e­fi­cial than other vegeta­bles or fruits is the brain. Sci­en­tists are begin­ning to se­ri­ously ex­am­ine the ef­fects of diet on brain func­tion and it’s great news.

Brain Food?

When nu­tri­tional epi­demi­ol­o­gist Martha Clare Mor­ris tracked the eat­ing habits and brain health of al­most 1 000 adults over five years, she found those who ate one to two serv­ings of green leafy vegeta­bles per day had the men­tal abil­i­ties of some­one 11 years younger than those who didn’t eat greens. “Of all of the types ofveg­eta­bles, leafy greens ap­pear to be most re­lated to pro­tec­tion against cog­ni­tive de­cline,” she says. So what makes greens so good for you?

Think of the leaf as the en­gine of the plant: it’s where pho­to­syn­the­sis, the process of turn­ing light into fuel, oc­curs. Pho­to­syn­the­sis cre­ates re­ac­tive oxy­gen species, tur­bocharged free rad­i­cals that wreak havoc in cells.

To com­bat this molec­u­lar chaos, leaves pro­duce tons of an­tiox­i­dants. “An­tiox­i­dants put the brakes on those free rad­i­cals and keep elec­trons from bom­bard­ing ev­ery­thing in the plants’ cells,” says Dr Auriel Wil­lette, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of food sci­ence and hu­man nu­tri­tion.

An­tiox­i­dants do the ex­act same thing in our bod­ies and are linked to all kinds of health ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing pro­tec­tion against cancer and heart disease. Some of the most well stud­ied are carotenoids, which our bod­ies con­vert to vi­ta­min A. The amount of carotenoids

“Those who ate one to two serv­ings of leafy greens per day had the men­tal abil­i­ties of some­one 11 years younger.”

“The more chloro­phyll you have, the more carotenoids there are. This is why dark green veg­gies are more nu­tri­tious.” “Tempt­ing as it is, ex­perts rec­om­mend against drink­ing your greens.”

cor­re­lates to the amount of chloro­phyll. The more chloro­phyll you have, the more carotenoids there are. This is why dark green veg­gies are more nu­tri­tious; they are richer in carotenoids, which help pre­vent mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion, a cause of blind­ness.

While kale may have the best PR team in the flo­ral king­dom, stud­ies show that it’s not even close to the health­i­est green. In fact, it’s less nu­tri­ent-dense than ro­maine let­tuce. The re­searchers looked at how much of 17 nu­tri­ents, in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins B, C and K, were in a bunch of ‘pow­er­house’ foods. Then they ranked the foods in terms of nu­tri­ent den­sity. The big win­ner was wa­ter­cress, which has an av­er­age of 100% of the daily value of each nu­tri­ent per 100 grams. Spinach came in fifth with about 86%, and kale was way down on the list with 49%. Ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts, this doesn’t mean we should shun kale – the study didn’t mea­sure nu­tri­ents like carotenoids and flavonoids, in which kale is par­tic­u­larly high. But we should cover our bases by eat­ing a va­ri­ety of greens. Even ice­berg let­tuce ranked above al­most ev­ery fruit on the list.

The extreme com­plex­ity of food and how it af­fects our bod­ies is why it’s dif­fi­cult to get a sim­ple an­swer on whether greens should be eaten cooked or raw. Cook­ing at low heat can break down cell walls and make nu­tri­ents eas­ier to ab­sorb, but many nu­tri­ents, espe­cially wa­ter-sol­u­ble ones like vi­ta­min C, are lost dur­ing cook­ing. “There’s no sim­ple rule,” ad­vises Martha. “I sug­gest peo­ple try both.”

Juices or smooth­ies?

Tempt­ing as it some­times is to drink our meals, ex­perts rec­om­mend against drink­ing your greens. There are three ba­sic prob­lems with green juice.

First, many of the nu­tri­ents in leafy greens, in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins A,D, E and K, and carotenoids, are fat-sol­u­ble, mean­ing they are ab­sorbed much more ef­fi­ciently if con­sumed with fat, which green juice usu­ally doesn’t con­tain. Sec­ond, the fi­bre is fil­tered out, which means you’re go­ing to feel hun­gry again be­fore you fin­ish the bot­tle. Third, many con­tain fruit juice, which ramps up su­gar con­tent sig­nif­i­cantly. “They might con­tain 30-45 grams of car­bo­hy­drates,” says Tanya. If you must liquify your greens, doc­tors rec­om­mend smooth­ies over juices.

“Rather have the whole veg­etable blended than a fil­tered juice,” says Dr Eric Rimm, a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health. “Not only are you los­ing much of the fi­bre, but prob­a­bly also some of the mi­cronu­tri­ents and other com­pounds.”

What about green sup­ple­ments?

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is also why green sup­ple­ments are not rec­om­mended. “There have been sev­eral clin­i­cal tri­als test­ing sup­ple­ments which found that even ground wa­ter­cress and kale sup­ple­ments have lit­tle or no ef­fect,” says Dr Wil­lette. In fact, green food sup­ple­ments might be bad for you. Lutein, a type of carotenoid, has been shown to slow the thick­en­ing of ar­ter­ies, but tak­ing carotenoids in sup­ple­ment form doesn’t re­duce heart disease. In some cases it may ac­tu­ally in­crease heart-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions. The so­lu­tion: eat all kinds of greens, cooked and raw. And since you’re be­ing vir­tu­ous, make it easy. I hate to cook and I love kale, so I eat kale sal­ads. I buy my greens pre-washed and chopped. It’s more ex­pen­sive, but it’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween eat­ing them and let­ting them wilt. The most im­por­tant thing is to get greens into your body be­cause we’re only just begin­ning to un­der­stand how good they are for us. Says Dr Or­nish: “Study af­ter study shows that when peo­ple eat a plantbased diet, they feel bet­ter – fast.”

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