Spring into health with these 4 leafy greens

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leafy-greens(NaturalHealth365)  With the arrival of spring, shades of emerald, and lime green are finally beginning to creep back into our winter-browned landscapes.  This welcome renewal of color can remind us that spring is a great time to access the healing power of green – or, more specifically, the healing power of leafy greens.

After all, dark green leafy vegetables have been shown to provide a wealth of health benefits, including promoting efficient circulation, enhancing detoxification, and supporting a healthy body weight.  Plus, research has even highlighted the potential of compounds in leafy greens to target cancer cells.  Let’s take a closer look at the many gifts to health offered by four different “super greens.”

Isothiocyanates in leafy greens like kale may help ward off disease

Formerly used mostly as a garnish, kale has gained popularity in the last decade as a healthy side dish in its own right.  Rich in the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K, kale also provides folate – which is believed to protect against strokes – and manganese, a mineral important for proper immune system function.

As a member of the super-healthy family of cruciferous vegetables, kale is loaded with glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that protect plants from extreme temperatures, drought, insects, and disease.  The big news is that these glucosinolates – which break down into compounds called isothiocyanates – may confer protective benefits to humans as well.  According to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, isothiocyanates have shown both anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects in studies.

Kale is fairly easy to prepare.  After removing the tough center rib, you can saute the greens in olive oil with a little garlic and sea salt.  Or, sprinkle with chili powder and roast into flavorful chips.  Important: Because kale is high in vitamin K, people who take blood-thinning medications should discuss their dietary intake with their integrative physician (a caveat that holds true for all vitamin K- rich leafy greens).

Leafy greens like tangy arugula can protect the heart

Arugula, which is also called rucola and “rocket” lettuce, is a vitamin and mineral powerhouse featuring healthy amounts of potassium, calcium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  Like kale, arugula is also rich in vitamin K, which ferries calcium out of the bloodstream and into the bones – where it belongs.  With this nifty “trick,” vitamin K helps to maintain bone health while slowing the deposit of calcium-laden, artery-clogging plaque – thereby helping to protect against two diseases, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis, at once.

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In addition, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that eating healthy amounts of cruciferous vegetables can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Researchers report that an arugula compound may have anticancer effects.  A 2014 study published in PLoS One showed that erucin, the primary isothiocyanate in arugula, impaired the growth of breast cancer cells.  Arugula’s lemony taste and crunchy texture make it a great addition to mixed salads.  You can also use it atop pizzas and to enhance sandwiches and wraps.

Nutrient-packed watercress is no “fragile flower”

For many, the word “watercress” brings to mind a delicate, pretty garnish for the type of dainty sandwiches served at a high tea.  But, when it comes to delivering health benefits, this peppery-tasting green is something of a dynamo.

At only 4 calories a cup, watercress contains an array of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6.  Watercress is also rich in dietary nitrates – which help to promote the production of beneficial nitric oxide – and alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant that can regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

But its health-sustaining “ace in the hole” is likely its high content of anti-inflammatory isothiocyanate.  In fact, a 2019 review showed that one of them – a compound known as 3,3’- diindolylmethane (DIM) – has anticancer effects.  The National Cancer Institute agrees, adding that isothiocyanates have been shown to neutralize carcinogens and protect cell DNA in laboratory studies.

You can use watercress in sandwiches, salads, omelets, salsa, and hummus.  Or, add a handful to your favorite green smoothie.  Remember, though, watercress and watercress juice must be refrigerated to avoid the buildup of potentially harmful bacteria.

Dandelion greens provide a “spring cleaning” for the liver

Unlike kale, arugula, and watercress, dandelions aren’t members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  But they have amazing attributes all their own.  Nutritionists describe dandelion leaves as the most nutritionally dense greens on the planet, surpassing even kale and spinach.

Not only do they deliver the usual “goodies” inherent to dark leafy greens – such as folate, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, and potassium – but they contain taxasterol, an anti-inflammatory plant compound.  Thanks to their unique combination of oils and bitters, dandelion leaves also have powerful detoxifying properties and have been advised for centuries in the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese healing systems to cleanse the liver and stimulate digestion.

To minimize the bitter taste, soak dandelion greens in cold salted water for ten minutes, then cook for another five minutes.  You can also saute them in olive oil, garlic and sea salt.  For a refreshing mixed salad, use only the young, tender leaves and pair them with milder flavors such as Bibb lettuce, cucumbers, and avocado slices.

You can harvest your own dandelion greens in the spring, but only if you’re sure the area is free of pesticides and animal waste.  If not, you can find dandelion greens in select organic farmers markets or health food stores.

Whether it’s giving a gentle “nudge” to a sluggish liver, stimulating efficient digestion, or supporting a healthy heart, leafy greens are waiting to impart their benefits.  What better time than spring to enjoy them?

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