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Eat greens for better health like Mom said

by Doris Penner

Most adults have a dim recollection of Mom telling them to eat their green vegetables—and remember as well, perhaps, their resistance to ingesting the mound of spinach, beans, broccoli or kale on their plate. As a rule, healthy diets recommend a daily intake of five servings of vegetables, usually specifying that a portion should be green. This should not be taken lightly. Green vegetables have their own unique contribution to make to human health. This is partly due to chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that harnesses the sun’s energy through photosynthesis to enable the plant to grow. What role does chlorophyll play in keeping the body healthy?

One of the main nutritional benefits of eating green vegetables is the intake of the mineral magnesium which is critical to health. If you would examine the chemical configuration of chlorophyll under a microscope, you would see that the magnesium ion lies at the centre. This tells us that green vegetables are a good source of magnesium which is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate a variety of biochemical reactions in the body. Some of these are protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, control of blood glucose and regulation of blood pressure.

Magnesium found in bone

Magnesium also contributes to the structural development of bone (approximately 60 percent of magnesium in the body is found in the bone, with the remainder mostly in muscle and soft body tissue), is required for the synthesis of DNA and plays a role in muscle contraction and normal heart rhythm.

It should be noted that a deficiency of magnesium is not common if one eats a wide variety of healthy foods on a daily basis. The mineral is found in many foods including nuts, legumes and cereal grains with dark green vegetables being one of the best sources. However, almonds, peanuts and cashews, for example are also rich sources.

It is interesting that hemoglobin—the substance in human blood cells that carries oxygen to tissues—has a similar structure as chlorophyll. The main difference is that hemoglobin has iron at its centre while chlorophyll has magnesium as has been noted. Thus it appears that when we ingest chlorophyll (either from plant foods or from supplements) we help increase the oxygen in the blood. This explains why chlorophyll seems to mitigate headaches, shortness of breath and nausea which some people experience at high altitudes where oxygen is thinner.

Role as an antioxidant

Several other health benefits of chlorophyll under study are its roles as an antioxidant in reducing oxidative damage created by radiation and chemical carcinogens, and as an anti-inflammatory as well as its function in removal of toxins from the liver and as a natural deodorizer to help reduce body odours.
   
While it is important to eat a diet high in dark greens in order to get health benefits chlorophyll offers, it should be noted that the substance is easily destroyed by heat. Thus, greens should merely be blanched (cooked briefly) in order to preserve as much chlorophyll as possible. You have likely noticed that blanching results in the green of vegetables actually brightening which is what you want instead of the gray and lifeless look that comes from overcooking. Of course, many green vegetables such as spinach, romaine, turnip and beet leaves and broccoli can be eaten raw in salads which is a healthy alternative to cooking.

You might be interested to know that chlorophyll is available as a supplement both in liquid (may be added to a drink) and capsule forms which might be something to consider if your intake of green vegetables is at a minimum.

Chlorophyll is a naturally potent green dye, and one should be aware that taking it in a concentrated form will result in green stools.