Harvesting the Benefits of Green, Leafy Vegetables

By: Kendra Miller, MPH, RDN

Thanks to warm months and loads of sunlight during the summer months, ambitious gardeners are able to capitalize on the potential to harvest vegetables.  As consumers we too can reap the benefits of the harvest no matter where we are located.  Not only do local grocery stores occasionally stock local produce but there are also farmers markets who share their goods for purchase. 


Some of the most sought after foods are green, leafy vegetables such as varieties of lettuce, kale, chard and spinach. We’ve heard throughout our lives these are excellent “superfoods” but what exactly is it about them that make these vegetables to super?


To begin with, green leafy vegetables are packed full of fiber.  Fiber in its definition includes the non-digestible parts of plants.  Fiber adds bulk to the stool, assisting with digestion, and slows the absorption of carbohydrates to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.   Ensuring you eat enough fiber can help you maintain a healthy, well-functioning gut.


Green leafy vegetables supply a variety of vitamins but are extremely high in Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Folate.  Vitamin A is often associated with carrots for helping to protect eyesight but we also find vegetables such as spinach and chard to contain large amounts of the vitamin important for such tasks.  Vitamin K is important for blood coagulation and bone metabolism; without it, individuals can be at risk for impaired blood clotting and decreased bone health.  Folate, also known as folic acid in some cases, is associated with protein metabolism and required for DNA creation; this is an extremely important vitamin during pregnancy as it can help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus.  


Important dietary minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron also come from green leafy vegetables.  As we know, calcium is an important component of bone but it also helps with nerve transmission and muscle contraction.  Like calcium, magnesium is also a major component of bone and aids in muscle contraction.  Iron is important for the development of hemoglobin, a part of healthy blood cells, and also helps many other bodily systems function properly.    


Though it is best to get our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat rather than a supplement, we must understand that our bodies may not absorb most of the vitamins and minerals available in the plant.  The chemical form of the nutrient can affect the amount of nutrient absorbed.  Also, other foods we eat in conjunction with the green leafy vegetables may affect the amount of the vitamin or mineral we absorb.  The best way to combat this and gain the most from what we eat is to enjoy a variety of healthy foods.  In doing so our bodies can then reap the benefit of the harvest in a plethora of ways.