Superfoods, green juice, raw…how should we be eating our greens? Kate Bermingham interviewed registered dietician Sioned Quirke from the British Dietetic Association to find out the truth about greens.
Green leafy vegetables are generally thought to be the most nutritious food around… is this the case? Why are they so healthy?
Different foods provide us with different nutrients and green leafy veg are up there with the nutritious champions. They are healthy for so many reasons. They provide us with fibre, which is important for a healthy heart, good digestion and weight management. Their vitamin and mineral profile is impressive: they contain vitamin A, which helps us fight off infections, vitamin C which helps protect our cells, and vitamin K which helps us build strong bones.
Green leafy veg are also high in calcium, which helps to build strong bones and teeth, folate, which we need to produce red blood cells, and potassium which helps our heart work well. They’re also versatile, tasty and can be added to a range of healthy recipes.
Green leafy veg contain both vitamins and minerals: what’s the difference between these two types of micronutrient?
A bit of science involved here! Vitamins and minerals differ in basic ways. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure. This basically means that minerals in soil and water can easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you consume. But it’s tougher to get vitamins from food and other sources into your body because cooking, storage, and simple exposure to air can inactivate these more fragile compounds.
Green leafy veg contain water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins: given that fat-soluble vitamins are stored in body tissue, and too much of them can cause problems, should we eat green leafy veg every day?
Yes. It’s not a problem at all – you’d have to eat an incredible amount for it to have a harmful effect!
How much green veg should we eat?
We recommend five portions of fruit and veg a day. In terms of weight, a portion of green leafy veg would be 80g or around 3-4 tablespoons. It’s best to get a variety of fruit and veg, so green leafy veg can count towards one of your five a day, but don’t forget to include other types of fruit and veg in your diet!
What’s the best way to maximise the nutritional benefit of green leafy veg: eat them raw, stir-fry, roast?
Eating anything raw preserves the nutrients the most, but often people find it more palatable to cook them. My top tip is steaming.
Is drinking green juice as effective as eating green leafy veg?
No. This is a common misconception. When you juice anything, be it green leafy veg or fruit, you lose one of the essential components – fibre. The juicing or blending process breaks down the majority of the fibre so you don’t get the benefits.
What’s so special about kale?
Some say that kale is the king of the green leafy veg due to its impressive nutritional profile. In terms of green leafy veg, it does ticks all the nutrition boxes!
Does iceberg lettuce count as a ‘green leafy vegetable’?
It does, lettuce is a good all year round source of vitamins A and C and other nutrients. However, all green leafy veg were not created equally. As a general rule the darker the green leafy veg the better the nutritional content.
It appears that greens are essential for a good diet – pack anything that’s a vegetable and green into your daily intake, remembering that you can’t live on greens alone – don’t neglect the other vegetables out there too! And whilst your favourite green juice is perfect for mornings, it shouldn’t be a replacement for the fibre you get in whole, unadulterated greens.