The health benefits of green leafy vegetables are many, and as such they should be an important part of a healthy diet.

Greens are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that prevent cancer and other diseases. According to the food pyramid guidelines, an average adult needs 3 cups of leafy greens per week.

The variety of green leafy vegetables available makes it easy and interesting to include them in our meals. Some of the more popular greens are spinach, bok choy, fenugreek, amaranth, collards, mustard greens, and kale. These provide a great way for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores to get their nutrients.

Greens that are commonly used in Indian recipes include spinach (palak), fenugreek leaves (methi), mustard greens (sarson ka saag), amaranth (thotakoora), gogu (gongura), bachchali (a kind of spinach), and chukkakura (a tangy leaf).

Dark leafy greens are a rich source of vitamin C, K, E, and B, as well as iron, calcium, and fiber, which are essential for good health. Recent studies have shown that Vitamin K plays an important role in preventing osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. Vitamin E has been shown to prevent skin cancer.

Greens contain beta carotene (vitamin A), lutein, and zeaxanthin which are powerful antioxidants that destroy free radicals (that damage and weaken our body cells), and help protect our bodies from cancer. Beta carotene strenghtens the immune system, while lutein and zeaxanthin prevent degenerative eye diseases like cataract.

They are also known to slow down general age-related cellular degeneration, and are great for our skin, hair, and nails. Our bodies convert the beta carotene in leafy greens like spinach to vitamin A which regulates the production and turnover of cells so skin’s surface is smooth.

Vitamin A has also been shown to reduce skin sensitivity to sun. For excellent skin health, include three 1-cup servings of foods rich in beta-carotene such as spinach and other greens.

Greens also contain folate, which plays an important role in the repair of damaged cells. Folate is known to reduce the risk of colon, lung, cervix, and breast cancer.

The phytochemicals or antioxidants in greens like bok choy and kale are enzymes that help fight cancer. These enzymes also help with digestion and keep our digestive tract healthy.

Greens are a rich source of potassium and magnesium. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and magnesium regulates blood sugar. A new study conducted at University of Leicester, UK, has shown that eating one and a half cup of extra servings of green leafy vegetables a day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent. Greens such as spinach may also help reduce type 2 diabetes risk due to their high magnesium content.

It’s a good idea to incorporate green leafy vegetables in your diet. Dark greens like spinach, kale, collard, and mustard make for a nutrient-packed salad as they contain more vitamin A and C and potassium than other greens like lettuce. But be sure to opt for low-calorie dressings,particularly if you’re watching your weight.

Greens are low in calories, have no cholesterol, and are fat-free, and as such a must for any weight-loss plan. A diet rich in green leafy vegetables coupled with physical exercise, whether yoga or something else, is great for your health.

Cooking Tips

  • Wash greens well to remove dirt. Rinsing multiple times is a good idea. Or you could fill a large bowl with water and let the greens rest in the water for a few minutes. When the dirt settles at the bottom of the bowl, remove the leaves and repeat.
  • Remove the thicker part of the stems and cut or tear the leaves. For most greens, such as spinach, bok choy, and amaranth, the tender part of the stems work quite well in recipes.
  • Saute the leaves with a little oil, or blanch the greens. Some greens cook faster than others and all greens release a lot of water, so whether or not you add water to the greens when cooking, depends on the recipe and dish you’re trying to make. For instance, if you’re making a dry curry with the greens, you don’t need to add water, but if you’re making a soup or dal, you do. Also when making Indian recipes that call for tamarind, the greens take a little longer to cook, as tamarind tends to slow down the cooking.
  • Do not overcook greens as overcooking would destroy the nutrients.
  • To preserve their green color, cook the greens uncovered for the first 5 minutes. Radish: Besides increasing heat in the body, radish is also a weight loss food. So, thoroughly wash the radish and consume it with the peel as it is rich  in antioxidants. Radish also contains vitamin C, B and folate.