12 Jan 2018

Plants As Foods

A Neglected Goldmine Of Nutrients

Ma was right all along. Grandma also told you they were good for you. So why do we eat green leafy plants only about once or twice a week?  

Leafy plants are ideal for weight management and are useful in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease since they are low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and rich in potassium and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. One study showed that an increment of one daily serving of green leafy plants, lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 percent. In the Adventist health study, the frequent consumption of green plants by African-Americans was associated with a substantially lower risk of mortality.

Because of their high magnesium content and low glycemic index, green leafy plants are also valuable for persons with type 2 diabetes. An increase of 1 serving/day of green leafy plants was associated with a 9 percent lower risk of diabetes. The risk of hip fracture in middle-aged women was decreased 45% for one or more servings/day of green, leafy plants compared to fewer servings.

Lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in dark-green leafy plants, are concentrated in the eye lens and macular region of the retina, and play a protective role in the eye. They protect against both cataract and age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of blindness in the elderly. Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin helps to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast and lung cancer, and contributes to the prevention of heart disease and stroke.

Green plants also contain a variety of carotenoids, flavonoids and other powerful antioxidants that have cancer-protective properties. In a Swedish study, it was reported that eating 3 or more servings a week of green leafy plants significantly reduced the risk of stomach cancer, the fourth most frequent cancer in the world. A higher consumption of green leafy vegetables has been shown to significantly decrease the risk of breast cancer and skin cancer.

Studies have identified a gene, connexin 43, whose expression is upregulated by chemopreventive carotenoids and which allows direct intercellular gap junctional communication. In many human tumors gap junctional communication is deficient and its upregulation is associated with decreased proliferation. Hence, the cancer-preventive properties of carotenoids are partly explained by their impact on gene regulation.

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid found in leafy green plants. Quercetin has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and displays unique anticancer properties. Quercetin is a natural compound that blocks substances involved in allergies and acts as an inhibitor of mast cell secretion, and causes a decrease in the release of interleukin-6.

Green, leafy plants provide a great variety of colours from the bluish-green of kale to the bright kelly green of turnip greens. Leafy greens run the whole gamut of flavours, from sweet to bitter, from peppery to earthy. Young plants generally have small, tender leaves and a mild flavor. Many mature plants have tougher leaves and stronger flavors.  One should always choose crisp leaves with a fresh vibrant green color. Yellowing is a sign of age and indicates that the greens may have an off flavour. Salad greens provide a whole range of important nutrients and phytochemicals to keep us healthy.

Some recommended leafy plants are kale, amaranth, cactus leaf, lettuce (except iceberg), turnip greens, poke salad, watercress, dandelion greens, and purslane. 

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