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Why Eat Dark, Leafy Greens?

Dear Dr. Klaper:

Why is it important for me to include dark, leafy greens in my diet?

Updated: January 28, 2017

There are many important reasons for including dark, leafy greens in our everyday diet.

Dark, leafy greens are nutrient rich, help protect our tissues against free-radical damage, help keep our nerves, brain, and spinal cord healthy, and help bone marrow make new red blood cells. Calorie for calorie, it is hard to think of another food group that provides so many nutrients so deliciously – nutrients such as calcium, folate, magnesium, vitamin K, and more.

If better health is your goal, here’s an easy (and delicious) way to help achieve it: EAT MORE DARK, LEAFY GREEN VEGETABLES!

Dark greens such as spinach, kale, chard, collards, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and romaine lettuce are arguably among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Greens help protect our tissues against free-radical damage

Think of any sunflower or soybean plant in the Kansas sun in high summer. These plants hold their dark, green leaves directly into the hot sun, from morning through the blinding-bright afternoon – sun that would burn and blast our human skin in just a few hours. Think of the stabilizing antioxidant properties those intense green and yellow pigments give to the plants’ leaves to withstand all that oxidizing radiation. We benefit by having those same stabilizing antioxidants in our tissues, as well, to prevent oxidative damage to our cells.

The green chlorophyll pigment that makes green plants green allows our cells to make the anti-oxidant molecule, CoQ-10 (Ubiquinol) which protects our tissues against free-radical damage.

“How to Regenerate Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) Naturally” by Michael Greger, M.D. “Chlorophyll in our bloodstream after eating greens may react with wavelengths of sunlight that penetrate through our skin to reactivate the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinol).”

Dark greens are among the BEST sources of calcium


Cows do NOT drink milk! So, where do they get enough calcium to produce big bones and white milk? From the green plants they eat!

Calcium is an Earth mineral in fertile soils that’s taken up by green plants as they produce leaves, stems, roots and fruits. When we eat dark, leafy greens, we derive significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, folate, vitamin K and more.

You are what you absorb! When eating vegetables, it is important to chew thoroughly in order to break down the plants’ cell walls and, in so doing, liberate the plants’ nutrients so they can be absorbed. 

A one and one-half (1.5) cup serving of kale contains 150 mg of calcium. That’s 25% of your daily calcium requirement in a single serving of greens! Serve with a spray of balsamic vinegar or a drizzle of lemon juice (to aid absorption) – and, yum! 

Many experience an almost a meaty texture as they chew the calcium-rich kale or chard and find that mouth-feel to be satisfying.

In addition to providing a high source of calcium, dark, leafy greens also provide:

  • magnesium needed for your muscles and brain to function

  • carotenes that guard your tissues against oxidation

  • precursors of vitamin K to help you clot your blood

Green plants make folate

We need folate to keep our nerves healthy and to help our bone marrow make new red blood cells.

Jack Norris, R.D. (Registered Dietician) lists the following plant sources for folate in his excellent website,

µg (mcg)   Folate Plant Source
179             1/2 cup cooked Lentils
128             1/2 cup cooked Black beans
114              1  1/2 cup Romaine lettuce
109             1 cup Orange juice
106             1/2 cup Refried beans
103             1/2 cup cooked Spinach

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for folate is 400 µg for people over age 13.
References: Wardlaw GM. Perspectives in Nutrition, 4th Ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill; 1999.

Calorie for calorie, it is hard to think of a food group, other than dark, leafy greens, that provides so many nutrients so deliciously.

That’s why every evening, as you review your day, you ought to be able to look back and say, “Yes, I had a large helping of broccoli at lunch,” or, “Yes, I had a large helping of kale at dinner.” Eat dark greens every day!

When I go to the local farmers market, I put on my “emerald green filter” and look for vegetables with that dark, rich color. Whether it’s kale, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, asparagus, spinach, or chard, if it’s bright green, preferably organic and grown locally, I buy, bring home, wash, steam, and enjoy.

Add freshly squeezed lemon juice (to aid absorption) or a delicious, nutritious (no-oil) salad dressing to make “eating your greens” a most pleasant and nourishing experience.

To your good health and happiness,

Dr. Michael Klaper

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