Greens represent a convenient, essentially non-caloric, nutrient-dense source of otherwise hard to obtain minerals, like magnesium, calcium, potassium, and manganese. Heh, so what have those minerals done for me lately, you might be wondering. Well…
Of all the minerals we Primal folks talk up, magnesium may very well be the most widely supplemented. It’s certainly one of the most important; over 300 physiological processes in the human body require magnesium to function optimally, foremost among them the production of ATP for energy. Your mitochondria use magnesium to produce ATP, the body’s energy currency. So if it’s so important, why must we all supplement? How did people get enough magnesium before Natural Calm? There are a few factors, including the disappearance of magnesium from our drinking water and top soil, but the fact remains that most of us aren’t even trying to get enough magnesium through our food. That should change. Eating greens like spinach and chard will go a long way toward adding dietary magnesium.
Of all the minerals we discuss, calcium may be the least-supplemented or most-ignored. That’s a mistake. We still need calcium. We still need that raw building block. And if you’re not eating dairy, leafy greens are probably your best source.
Potassium is another nutrient a lot of people miss out on, especially if they’re overcooking their meat (the juices contain the potassium), avoiding tubers and fruits (both are high in potassium), and shying away from avocados because of the linoleic acid (don’t stress out over a little whole-food omega-6, folks, especially when it comes in such a creamy, green package). So if you’re not eating the aforementioned potassium-rich items (and even if you are), be sure to eat your greens.
Your mitochondria use manganese to manufacture manganese superoxide dismutase, a potent mitochondrial antioxidant. With inadequate superoxide dismutase, you increase your chances of ischemic brain injury (think stroke). Simply put, manganese keeps your mitochondria running cleanly.
Unless you’re eating bones, drinking blood/meat juice, and eating hoof, fur, and tail, you will be missing out on magnesium, potassium, and calcium by excluding leafy greens.
I like greens for their vitamin content, specifically B-vitamins like folate. I tend to agree, and I’ll highlight a couple key nutrients that greens provide.
Though it’s widely touted as particularly crucial for expectant mothers and the development of the babies they bear, folate is also important for anyone’s general health. Inadequate dietary folate intake can lead to elevated homocysteine levels.Modern processed grain-based foods are usually fortified with folic acid, but you’re not eating that stuff. And unless you’re also eating plenty of liver, if you shun greens you are most likely lacking this vital nutrient.
Betaine is another important but oft-ignored nutrient that many people, even Primal eaters, lack. Like folate, it regulates proper homocysteine levels. Betaine also helps maintain liver health. Spinach is perhaps the greatest vegetable source of betaine (other than maybe wheat germ, but who wants that?).
Besides the micronutrient content, there are other benefits of eating leafy things, especially in concert with the other foods on your plate. For those interested in eating less or losing weight, eating a salad with your meal spontaneously reduces overall caloric intake.
But the real beauty of leafy greens? They are prepackaged whole food “supplements” with safe and well-balanced vitamin and mineral levels. You eat a few cups of spinach, a romaine lettuce salad, maybe some kale chips and you’ll be getting a nice healthy range of nutrients. Your overall caloric intake won’t really be impacted and you’ll be safe. No, you won’t have a nutritional profile from the manufacturer telling you exactly how many milligrams of magnesium your bowl of sauteed kale contained, or the amount of betaine in that head of spinach you chopped up and turned into a salad. The nutrient range will vary from head to head and leaf to leaf. And that’s okay.
That’s why it’s food, without a label: it doesn’t need to be exact. So if you ever find yourself paused in front of the grocery store display, agonizing over the respective folate content of two particularly large heads of romaine lettuce and frozen – totally unable to act – hang it up. Start back at square one. Realize that this is food that’s meant to be eaten, not over-analyzed.
If it’s green, leafy, crisp, and free of chemicals, it’s safe, healthy, and good to eat. Adding such a food to your diet – in sauteed, steamed, boiled, dehydrated, baked, or raw form – will most likely help, so eat it! I’m not saying you have to eat three heaping platefuls of vegetation, I’m suggesting that adding leafy greens to a diet lacking in them will almost certainly improve the nutritional content of that diet.