The Diversity Diet: Why it’s Crucial to Rotate Your Greens
“Variety is the spice of life.” It’s a saying that holds true for a lot of things, including in your diet. You may naturally mix up which vegetables and fruits you’re consuming (eating the rainbow!) for variety and keeping things fresh… did you know that it’s important to alternate which leafy greens you’re using, too?
I sometimes eat multiple salads at different meals in a single day. Not always as the whole meal, but for part of a meal. On top of that, you probably know by now that I advocate drinking a Glowing Green Smoothie every day as part of our core morning ritual. So if you’ve been following the Beauty Detox diet, you’re obviously ingesting a whole lot of greens, which is a very awesome thing! So first of all, congrats!
We’re often creatures of habit, so it’s easy to get stuck in a routine of tossing the same kind of greens in your grocery cart, on your plate or into your blender over and over again. Thus falling into that habit isn’t just boring for your taste buds, it could also be depriving you of certain nutrients.
There have long been debates about whether kale or spinach is superior from a health standpoint, and the truth is, neither is really “better” than the other, as each has its own unique benefits. And let’s not leave out arugula, romaine, or collards, either — all of them have different perks to offer.
So, ready to rotate your greens? This guide should help get you started.
Know your families
Greens that come from the same family have similar advantages. So here are the different families you need to know about:
As previously mentioned, by incorporating a wide variety of leafy greens into your diet, you’re more likely to ensure you’re covering all your bases in terms of vitamins and minerals. So let’s squash the idea that one type of greens is “better” than another!
Kale, for example, has double the bone-strengthening calcium that spinach has. And yet, did you know that dandelion greens boast an even higher content of this element?
Along with other greens within the Cruciferae family, kale stands out for its high concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory nutrients. Kale is high in two kinds of antioxidants: flavonoids (with 45 different kinds!) and carotenoids, both of which help ward off oxidative stress and health issues related to it, such as cataracts.
Kale really shines, though, by being a key source of phytochemicals, such as glucosinolates. These compounds are broken down into smaller ones (called isothiocyanates), which can trigger the body’s cancer-prevention activity as well as its detoxification system.
One cup of cooked kale also has a whopping 1327% of your RDI (recommended daily intake) of vitamin K (the highest concentration of leafy greens), which is crucial for bone health as well as blood clotting. It also has an impressive 354% of your RDI of immune-boosting vitamin A, which plays a major role in skin and eye health. Plus, it has 89% of your RDI of vitamin C, which helps protect against heart disease, decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and repair and regenerate tissues.
Spinach, on the other hand, is higher than kale in iron (which, it’s worth noting, is critical for women who are pregnant or plan to be, according to recent research). Moreover, it’s higher in the B vitamin folate, an essential component of prenatal vitamins as it can prevent a number of problems in developing fetuses, such as neural tube defects .
Like other B vitamins, folate is involved in homocysteine metabolism — by lowering homocysteine levels, it can reduce cardiovascular disease risk .
Moreover, studies have shown that it can reduce the risk of lung, pancreatic, esophageal, stomach, cervical, ovarian, breast, and other cancers. Seeking better quality Zs? Spinach boasts six times more magnesium than kale, and magnesium is key for muscle relaxation (thereby also warding off pesky cramping) and overall restful sleep .
Let’s not forget that spinach has its fair share of carotenoids as well. Its epoxyxanthophylls are known to protect against specific types of cancer (such as prostate cancer), as well as reduce inflammation. Its varied carotenoids, which also include lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, can also prevent cardiovascular and bone problems.
And before we get off the subject of Popeye’s favorite veggie, let’s note that it’s an excellent source of glycoglycerolipids, fat-related molecules that can help protect the digestive tract lining from damage caused by inflammation.
If you thought romaine lettuce was lagging in the nutritional department, think again. The Asteraceae plant family comes with a number of other benefits.
Romaine lettuce gets a bad rap for being inferior as far as leafy greens go — so let’s clear that up stat. It is NOT to be confused with iceberg lettuce, first of all! And with 164% of your vitamin A RDI in just two cups, this lettuce can fight off free radicals that lead to a range of diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.
Romaine is also a stellar source of potassium, which can reduce blood pressure (a major risk factor for heart disease), while also helping to maintain muscle strength. By the way, if you thought you had to fill up on nuts and fish to get your omega-3s, consider that one head of romaine contains 44% of your RDI of these essential fatty acids.
Romaine is rich in a number of key minerals, including copper and potassium (with 33% of your RDI for both), as well as manganese (with 42%of your RDI). Plus, it’s a great choice if you have suffered any issues with calcium oxalate kidney stones, as it’s very low in the anti-nutrient oxalic acid.
Avoid any OD’ing
Speaking of anti-nutrients…
Rotating your leafy greens is also a good idea as each plant has very small concentrations of toxins. Of course, in reasonable amounts (such as the amount used in my Glowing Green Smoothie®), none of these will cause serious health issues. This is mostly a concern for people who have pre-existing health conditions.
For example, if you’re already dealing with a compromised thyroid, you should be aware that cruciferous veggies (such as kale) contain higher amounts of goitrogens, which can mess with thyroid hormone function. So, Beauties, by rotating your greens, you can avoid aggravating any health problems by overloading your body with certain anti-nutrients.
Tips for success
When it comes to rotating, refer back to our list of plant families. Switching to greens within the same family won’t do you any good (as their nutritional profiles are similar), so be sure to rotate with greens from all different families.
You don’t necessarily need to rotate every single day, either. If you stocked up on romaine lettuce at the market, you can make that your staple green for a week and then switch to kale or chard the next week once you’ve finished it off.
While you’re rotating your greens, make sure to rotate how you’re preparing and using them as well. There are nutritional advantages to cooking certain veggies — in fact, the levels of certain antioxidant phytonutrients, such as carotenoids, can get a boost when leafy greens are cooked.
Cooking and raw preparation is important. Raw preparation, like having the GGS or the Dharma’s Kale Salad preserves the enzymes in cruciferous vegetables that converts glucosinolates . As such, cooking them compromises the conversion to cancer-fighting isothiocyanates — so it’s a good idea to include these raw veggies in your life.
On the other hand, cooking them helps to break down the fiber, too, making these leafy greens a tad easier on your digestive tract while making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
When you’re whipping up your daily GGS, continually experiment with your greens. Of course, 70% of your smoothie consists of greens, and you have so many options to choose from, so why use the same kind every time? You can incorporate romaine, kale, spinach, Swiss chard and even herbs, such as cilantro and parsley. Try to stick with whatever is in season and available, but more importantly, have fun with it! Play around with different combinations of fruits and greens, and you’ll never get tired of sipping on this beautifying beverage.