Heart Your Greens: Leafy Veggies Offer Health Perks Galore

Caryn M. Giacona, M.D.
Family Medicine
Riverview Medical Center

A wise and famous frog once lamented how hard it was to be green. Well, if another old saying is true — you are what you eat — he couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Leafy vegetables are as easy to prepare as they are full of essential nutrients. Study after study has confirmed the benefits of verdant vegetables, linking spinach, collards, kale, and their kin to:

Heart Health

A salad a day may keep cardiovascular disease away. “People who eat more green, leafy veggies have a steadier heart rate,” says Caryn Giacona, M.D., at Riverview Medical Center, “so doctors suspect they contain nutrients that help regulate the nerve impulses that keep your heart pumping.”

Cancer Prevention

These veggies may fight off breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and bladder cancer, among others. They might also prevent colon polyps and other precancerous growths.

Mental Health

Teens who eat greens may behave better, with less risk of being either depressed and withdrawn or aggressive. Older adults who eat fewer greens may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Bone and Tooth Health

“Calcium and other nutrients in greens build stronger skeletons and prevent bone loss over time,” Dr. Giacona says. The same compounds strengthen teeth. In one study, older adults who ate their vegetables, including greens, had fewer signs of periodontal disease.

Cell and Gene Health

Every day, your body’s smallest components are under assault from environmental hazards. Compounds in these plants seem to prevent or reverse these potentially cancer-causing changes. This association has been observed in smokers, airplane pilots, and others frequently exposed to radiation and other health hazards.