5 Heart Healthy Reasons to Eat Spinach and other Leafy Greens Daily

Health & Wellness, Heart Health, Mental Health, Nutrition

Popeye was right….see below…

  1. Enrichment in Vitamin K. Vitamin K is an essential vitamin that helps to regulate bone health and blood clotting.  The minimum recommended daily intake is 90 micrograms (mcg) for women and 120 mcg for men. Vitamin K deficiency is most commonly the result of reduced dietary intake, digestive problems (such as malabsorption) and liver disorders.  In addition to increased risk of bone fractures and bleeding recent studies also suggest that low levels of Vitamin K may be linked to cognitive decline and higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, leafy greens come to the rescue because of their high content of Vitamin K in relatively small quantities. For example, eating just 5-10 kale chips will provide a day’s worth of your Vitamin K needs.  Other leafy greens that are rich sources of Vitamin K include spinach, collards and beet greens.  A word of caution is urged for those prescribed blood thinners such as coumadin (warfarin) that interfere with Vitamin K.  Make sure to speak to your health care provider- we recommend that you consume the same amount of leafy greens each day to avoid significant fluctuations in “INR”.
  2. Enrichment in Natural Nitrates. Dietary nitrates (not to be confused with cancer promoting artificial nitrates used in processed foods), are mostly (~80%) derived from vegetables.  When chemically converted to nitric oxide the result is blood vessel dilation, reduced blood pressure and improved vascular health.  Foods highest in nitrates include the leafy greens, arugula, chard, kale and spinach.  In addition to vascular health, an Australian study found that eating at least 1 cup of green leafy vegetables per day enriched in cabbage, kale, lettuce and spinach was associated with stronger muscle function that was independent of physical activity.  The mechanism is believed to be due to nitric oxide mediated  improvement in muscle contractility as previously demonstrated with heart failure.
  3. Enrichment in Folate. One serving of spinach contains 2/3rds of the daily requirement of folate (Vitamin B9). Folate is key for both heart and emotional health.  By helping to regulate levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, high intake of folate may be associated with reduced risk.  In addition to spinach, other dark leafy greens high in folate are Turnip greens; one serving will provide ~40% of your daily requirement.  Because low folate levels are also associated with depression, a daily serving of spinach can also be mood uplifting (see also Magnesium below)!
  1. Enrichment in Potassium. Leafy greens from arugula to turnip greens are important sources of potassium, a pivotal mineral for regulating blood pressure. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is among the most effective for reducing blood pressure. Leafy greens are an important component of a potassium-rich diet, designed to help dispose of excess sodium.  The daily potassium goal from foods ranges between 3,500–4,700 mg and just a single cup of the following leafy greens will provide a good chunk of change as you aim for your daily goal; they are Beet greens (1300 mg), Swiss chard (960 mg), spinach (840 mg) and Bok choy (630 mg).
  1. Enriched in Magnesium: It has been estimated that nearly 3 of 4 Americans do not fulfill their dietary intake of magnesium (men: 400-420 mg; women: 310-320 mg).  If you are deficient in magnesium, you may experience muscle cramps, fatigue and/or an abnormal heart rhythm.  Low magnesium levels are also linked to depression, anxiety and panic attacks.  Fortunately, cooked spinach is an excellent source of magnesium with 1-cup providing 50% of the recommended daily amount for Olive Oyl (and other women).  With that said, can you think of a better ambassador for this post than the sailor man himself?                                                                                                                                                      Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland  and author of Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” published by Penguin Random House.

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