Your diet is one of the key elements of your health, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables should be on the menu, experts say. In particular, dark green leafy vegetables are considered one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, jam-packed with important vitamins and minerals that support your body’s essential functions.
However, if kale, arugula and spinach aren’t at the top of your list of favorite foods, there’s a good chance you could be missing out on some of the benefits of this superfood group. You may also notice some signs or symptoms that suggest your nutrition is fading without them on your plate.
“It’s important to note that these symptoms alone may not necessarily indicate a lack of leafy greens in the diet, as they can be caused by other factors as well,” she says. Maria Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, nutritionist, health coach and personal trainer. However, she notes that if you notice multiple signs and suspect inappropriate consumption of leafy green vegetables as the cause, incorporating more of these greens into your diet can be of great benefit.
Read on to find out what five signs you may not be getting enough leafy greens in your diet, and how much is considered sufficient.
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The first sign you may notice that you aren’t eating enough leafy greens is constipation.
“Leafy greens are high in fiber, which helps promote healthy digestion and prevent constipation,” she says Taylor Osbaldeston, RHN, a registered holistic nutritionist with Durand Health. “If someone is experiencing infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stool, it could indicate a lack of dietary fiber from leafy greens,” she says, noting that the recommended daily fiber intake for adults is about 25 to 30 grams. .
However, constipation can also have a number of other causes, according to the UK’s National Health Services (NHS). These can include lack of exercise, not staying properly hydrated, being underweight or overweight, having anxiety or depression, and more.
If supplementing with more leafy greens and other high-fiber fruits and vegetables doesn’t help remedy the symptom, talk to your doctor to determine if there is another underlying cause.
Not eating enough leafy greens can also result in some vitamin deficiencies, experts say.
“Leafy greens are full of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and iron,” she explains. Johannes Uys, MD, a general practitioner at Broadgate General Practice. “Skipping these vegetables in your diet can cause nutrient deficiencies, potentially leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakened immune function, poor wound healing and compromised bone health.”
If you have these symptoms, your doctor may want to do blood tests to determine if a vitamin deficiency could be an underlying cause. They will also need to rule out any other underlying conditions that may be responsible.
Iron and magnesium both play crucial roles in the body’s ability to maintain optimal energy levels, and in many people’s diets, leafy greens are a major source of both.
“Inadequate intake of these nutrients can lead to tiredness, weakness and decreased energy. The recommended daily intake for iron for adults is approximately 8-18 milligrams and for magnesium it is approximately 310-420 milligrams,” explains Osbaldeston.
That’s why, if you hit a midday crunch, adding some kale, kale, spinach, or Swiss chard to your lunch can help your energy levels rebound. Osbaldeston notes that it’s typically recommended to eat two cups of leafy greens in your daily diet and suggests incorporating them into salads, smoothies and stir-fries or eating them as a side dish.
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Another potential sign that you aren’t eating enough leafy greens is that you develop skin problems. According to Sabat, this is because “leafy green vegetables contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that promote healthy skin. Inappropriate consumption of these vegetables can contribute to skin problems such as dryness, dull complexion or increased susceptibility to damage caused from environmental factors”.
This also means that if you notice skin symptoms, changing your diet may be your first line of defense. Eat a range of plant-based foods rich in vitamins and minerals, including but not limited to dark green leafy vegetables.
Leafy greens are low in calories and high in fiber, which means they can fill you up and curb excess hunger. This makes them, along with other fiber-rich vegetables, a useful tool for sustainable weight management.
“Without getting enough leafy greens in your diet, you may find it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight or struggle with portion control,” says Uys.
Of course, no food can make or break your diet, and the best nutrition plan is one you stick to. Aim for complete meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins for optimal nutrition.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research and healthcare agencies, but our content is not intended to replace career guidance. When it comes to the medication you are taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your doctor directly.
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