Leafy Green Vegetables Benefits-Part 2

Leafy Green Vegetables Benefits
Leafy Green Vegetables Benefits

Yesterday, I discussed replacing my inconsistent green veggies intake with a new habit: greens as my first meal of the day. Just as they were on January 30, 2021, when I was about to compete in five sunup-to-sundown, 5k trail races!

I knew my body needed the right food to help it meet the challenge.  And I had faith in what I’d learned about leafy green vegetables benefits.

So I began by eating an entire bin full of spinach and mixed greens.

gingerbeardman CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When my brother (and running partner) picked me up to head for the race, he offered me some coffee. I pointed at the bin on my lap and responded, “My greens are my caffeine!

Maybe it came from growing up watching Popeye the Sailor Man down his greens before a free-for-all with Bluto. More likely, however, it’s based on significant research putting muscular strength among the benefits of eating leafy greens.

Take the headline I read this morning.

New Research Finds Green Leafy Vegetables Essential for Muscle Strength 

The Journal of Nutrition study from Australia’s Edith Cowan University Institute for Nutrition Research makes the remarkable claim that leafy greens can increase muscle strength completely “independent of any physical activity.” 

The researchers reviewed the dietary intake and used knee-extension exercises to quantify the muscle function of 3759 participants. Those who were consuming more nitrates exhibited 11 percent more muscle strength and a 4 percent faster response time. 

The press release noted that the nitrates came primarily from leafy greens. 

Other Leafy Green Vegetables Benefits

But leafy green vegetables benefits do even more. They:

  • protect against heart disease
  • reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
  • prevent macular degeneration

And they accomplish all these while dramatically reducing the three health threats I mentioned yesterday:

  • cognitive decline 
  • cancer 
  • depression 

Leafy Green Vegetables Benefits and Nitrate Content

Which vegetables have the most nitrates? The answer varies because the nitrate content of every vegetable differs depending on several factors, including its age and growing, shipping, and storage conditions.  

This research from Michigan State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition tested the nitrate content in spinach from three different Indian markets. Surprisingly, nitrate ranged between 71 and 429 mg per 100 grams – over 6 times the difference for the same leafy green. 

Another review included “results of surveys on the nitrate content of vegetables in Italy and other European countries.University of Bari Aldo Moro associate professor Pietro Santamaria listed:

One person’s rabbit food is another’s power breakfast!
  • cress
  • lettuce
  • chervil
  • red beetroot
  • celery
  • rocket (rucola)

and spinach in the “very high”  nitrate-content group, with more than 250 mg per 100 grams. 

And in this Nutrition Facts video, Dr. Michael Greger points out that of the top 10 ingredients on this Harvard School of Public health high-nitrate list, eight are green leafy vegetables

  • arugula (480 mg/100g)
  • rhubarb (281mg/100g
  • cilantro (247 mg/100g)
  • butter leaf lettuce (200 mg/100g)
  • spring greens (188 mg/100g)
  • basil (183mg/100g)
  • beet greens (177mg/100g)
  • oak leaf lettuce (155 mg/100g)
  • Swiss chard (151mg/100g)
  • beets (100 mg/100g) 

How Many Greens?

In yesterday’s post on the benefits of eating leafy greens every day, I didn’t mention how many we should eat. But the recommended amount depends on who’s giving the recommendation.

Dr. Greger, for example, included two daily servings in his “Daily Dozen” foods that we need each day. The Edith Cowan University study suggests that one daily cup of greens is sufficient for muscle growth.

Those two recommendations raise the question of how many “servings” are in one cup. According to the American Heart Association, we should be getting five servings of fresh, frozen, canned or dried veggies per day.

Examples:

  • One cup raw leafy greens
  • One-half cup cut-up vegetables
  • One-half cup cooked beans or peas

The AHA also advises getting four daily servings of fruit per day.

However, I don’t spend one-minute measuring how many greens I eat in the morning or on race day. Like Popeye, I simply enjoy them to my heart’s content! 

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