By PAUL ROGERS
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, Chinese vegetables, kale and many others are part of the evolutionary heritage of primates — and humans are no exception. Eating carefully selected green leafy plants for millions of years must have made human biochemistry beautifully adapted to these foods. Too bad many of us don’t eat enough.
They contain valuable vitamins and minerals and antioxidants including iron, lutein for the eyes and other carotenoids, magnesium for heart and muscle, folate for the heart and pregnancy, vitamin K for bones — and one nutrient that regularly gets overlooked: the plant form of omega 3 called alpha linolenic acid or ALA, which is not to be confused with the other polyunsaturated fat called linoleic acid. ALA is a shorter chain length omega 3 that the body can covert to the longer chain EPA and DHA, commonly called the ‘fish oil’ omega 3s. ALA is also found in walnuts and canola oil. It is the ‘other’ omega 3.
ALA also seems to protect us from heart disease like it’s longer-chain relations EPA and DHA. In fact, that’s how grazing animals and primates get EPA and DHA — from eating green grass and leaves and converting ALA.
What to eat, and how to prepare
I make a real effort to eat leafy greens regularly. I’ve settled on ones that I like and I try to grow them at home as well as buy from the supermarket. I eat mainly spinach, cos lettuce, Italian parsley (not the curly leaf one), Chinese greens like bok choy, and silverbeet, called chard in some regions. I live in a sub-tropical climatic zone, so the spinach tends to be seasonal, requiring colder weather. The cos and silverbeet will grow in all except the hottest times of year, with the silverbeet being long lasting and able to be harvested by individual leaf.
For cos lettuce, you can pick the outer dark-green leaves when you need them and they just keep coming after a touch of organic fertiliser. Unfortunately, the hares also found them. Such is life.
Spinach can be eaten in salads or cooked lightly with a little olive oil, garlic, pepper and lemon juice. Like some southern Europeans, I like a large bowl, steaming hot. The silverbeet is a little stronger and works better in bakes and stir-fries for me. Parsley is more useful with the tough stems cut off, but then you can use in stir fries, salads, bowl noodles and soups or just nibble.
Fresh, dark cos with lemon juice, pepper to taste and a small amount of olive or soy oil (more ALA in soy), makes a great companion for main courses.
How greens help
Find some greens that you can eat on a regular basis and make them a regular part of your diet. If you exercise a lot you need a potent brew of natural antioxidants to assist recovery from exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight with a low-calorie diet, nutrient-rich foods are important to ensure you get your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals for good health. I prefer not to juice — and supplements are a last resort. So go greens!