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What are the health benefits of leafy greens?

Reviewed by our expert panel
Woman in green holding a bunch of spinach

We all know we should ‘eat our greens’, and there’s specific science-backed reasons behind this advice. The Healthy Food Guide team discovers the many health benefits of eating leafy greens.

Find out exactly why greens are good for you! Broccoli, kale and spinach are packed with nutrients and help protect us against memory loss as well as breast and prostate cancers.

Eyesight guardians

Many of the antioxidants typically found in leafy greens – vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin – help to slow the progression of eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. In one study, women who ate more than one serving of kale (or collard greens) a week were 57 per cent less likely to have glaucoma than those who ate them no more than once a month.

Memory prolongers

One study of adults with an average age of 81 found those who ate one to two daily servings of green leafy vegetables had the cognitive function of a person 11 years younger, compared with those who avoided them. This was probably due to the folate, beta-carotene, and vitamin K that leafy greens contain.

Heart protectors

Leafy greens contribute to a healthy heart in a number of ways. They contain potassium, which lowers high blood pressure; fibre, which keeps cholesterol in check; and folate, which protects against heart disease and stroke. Their extensive range of antioxidants can also protect against free-radical damage, a key contributor to atherosclerosis.

Cancer busters

Studies confirm that higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables are linked to a lower risk of many cancers, including those of the bladder, breast, bowel, stomach, lungs, ovaries, pancreas, prostate and kidneys. These green vegetables are rich in unique compounds called glucosinolates, which break down to form cancer-busting compounds, and they are packed with cancer-fighting flavonoids and carotenoids.

Help your whole body

Cruciferous vegetables or brassicas (such as broccoli or brussels sprouts) and kale and leaves (such as spinach, swiss chard and lettuce) are brimming with health-protecting nutrients.

Lung health – Brussels sprouts are packed with vitamin C, which helps keep lungs healthy throughout life.

Nerve health – Baby spinach is rich in folate for healthy nerves.

Eye health – Mature spinach is particularly high in eye-friendly lutein and zeaxanthin.

Bone health – Kale is rich in vitamin K, needed for bone strength and helping to protect against osteoporosis.

Immune health – Broccoli is one of the best vegetable providers of vitamin E, which supports cells fighting germs.

Skin health – Chard is rich in beta-carotene, which converts into vitamin A – a vital nutrient for healthy skin.

Meet the superstars…

Most leafy greens punch above their weight, but these commonly eaten varieties have a truly impressive spectrum of nutrients that make them stand out. Aim to eat three to four 70g servings of these wonderfoods per week.

Broccoli is a great all-rounder, providing vitamins C and E along with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. For recipes using broccoli, click here.

Spinach is rich in potassium, which can help lower blood pressure. For ten ways with spinach, click here.

Kale helps strengthen bones and teeth as it’s high in calcium and vitamin K. For a roasted mushroom, pumpkin and kale salad recipe, click here.

Brussels sprouts are particularly high in glucosinolates, which help fight cancer. For a Brussels sprouts, pumpkin and blue cheese pasta recipe, click here.

Swiss chard or silver beet is one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin for good eye health. See our recipe for silver beet risotto.

Want more? Discover the benefits of coffee, onions and nuts.

First published: Aug 2020

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