We’ve all been told to eat our greens, and for a good reason!
The health benefits of green leafy vegetables are numerous. Green vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and many other phytonutrients beneficial to human health.
Eating green vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and cognitive decline. There isn’t any part of our health that cannot benefit from eating more green vegetables, and our skin health is no exception.
In this article, we take a closer look at green vegetables and what makes them amongst the best foods for acne-prone skin and other skin health benefits, such as healthy ageing. Here we’ll pick out some top choices in green vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, kale and cavolo nero and look closely at their excellent nutritional benefits for diet and skin health.
Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family and one of the nations most popular green vegetables, especially amongst younger adults. According to a recent YouGov poll, millennials voted broccoli as their number two favourite vegetable after potatoes.
Packed full of nutrients, broccoli is an excellent skin-clearing vegetable. Broccoli contains vitamins A, B complex, C, E, and K, and minerals like magnesium and calcium. Broccoli’s rich vitamin C content has notable benefits due to its anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the redness and swelling of acne. Vitamin C also helps with acne scars by increasing collagen synthesis, a protein responsible for your skin’s structure and vital for accelerating the healing of acne wounds.
Research also shows that a higher intake of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables is significantly associated with lower circulating levels of inflammatory markers . Reducing inflammation is vital in tackling acne break-outs.
Broccoli is rich in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and lutein, that help fight free radical damage. They can protect skin from sun damage and may help improve skin tone and slow the visible signs of ageing.
Broccoli includes phytonutrients that can support hormonal balance, helpful for hormonal acne. When chewed, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables release plant enzymes. When exposed to stomach acid, these enzymes help produce a compound called indole-3 carbinol (I3C) which, in turn, yields diindolylmethane (DIM). These phytonutrients help to block excess estrogens, rebalance your hormones, and decrease sebum production, which can significantly reduce acne flare-ups. The high fibre content of broccoli also helps with excreting excess estrogens.
Aim for at least 1-2 cups of cruciferous vegetables a day to make the most of their nutritional benefits. Lightly steam or eat raw to retain as much of the phytonutrients as possible.
According to YouGov, while not as popular as broccoli, spinach is a well known green leafy vegetable and is liked by 63% of young adults. Spinach is a hardy leafy annual of the amaranth (Amaranthaceae) family, and the young leaves are commonly sold as baby spinach.
Spinach contains a high content of vitamins A, C, and K and is rich in iron. However, it also contains oxalates which can bind to the uptake of minerals. Therefore, don’t eat all your spinach raw but cook it first to reduce the oxalate content.
Green foods like spinach are rich in chlorophyll which helps cleanse bacteria and toxins from the digestive tract and bloodstream. Toxins and bacteria that aren’t released get stored as wastes, which eventually may contribute to acne break-outs.
Spinach is rich in Vitamin A, which naturally acts as an anti-acne agent by reducing inflammation, cell damage, and redness. It helps enhance the appearance of the skin, healing from scars or sun damage and fortifies the skins natural barrier.
Make the most of spinach’s versatility by adding it to dishes such as soups, stews, curries and chillis. It’s surprising how small a big bunch of spinach looks after you’ve cooked it!
Green leafy vegetables such as kale are great for your skin health, and kale is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet. Alongside broccoli, kale is also a member of the brassica (Brassica oleracea) family.
You’ve probably wondered how it has suddenly become so popular!
It started to gain more popularity in the 1990s and 2000s. However, in 2011, Gwyneth Paltrow baked kale chips on Ellen, a famous American TV chat show, and there was no going back!
Kale contains vitamins A, K, C, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), and minerals like manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, iron and magnesium. In fact, one cup of kale contains over 200% of the daily recommended about of vitamin A (from beta-carotene).
Kale provides even more of the carotenoid lutein than broccoli, making its potential antioxidant properties pack a punch. Carotenoids have a long history of being studied for their skin health benefits, but in more recent years, the benefits of lutein have become more widely known. Just as lutein collects in the macular to protect the eyes, it performs a similar role in the skin as it protects against the effects of UV sun damage.
Research also shows that carotenoid-rich kale can help prevent age-related collagen degradation in the dermis, a connective tissue layer sandwiched between the epidermis and subcutaneous tissue, and improve skin elasticity . This is great news for healthy skin-ageing as it’s easy to incorporate lots of kale and other green leafy vegetables into your daily diet.
Kale also offers the same versatility as spinach as you can add it to soups, stews, curries, etc. At the same time, kale chips are as popular as ever and easy to make baked in the oven, drizzled with a bit of olive oil. Kale is also a popular addition to smoothies to give a nutritious hit. Whatever way you choose to include kale in your diet for the skin, be sure to aim for around 2-3 servings per week.
Cavolo nero, or Black Tuscan kale, is a green leafy vegetable also from the brassica (Brassica oleracea) family and is similar to kale but with a lighter, sweeter flavour.
Cavolo nero is gaining huge popularity outside of Tuscany, Italy, where it originates and is commonly used as a tasty and healthy ingredient in salads, gratins and soups. It is a non-hearting green leafy vegetable with long strap-like leaves similar to the texture of savoy cabbage.
It is packed with antioxidant vitamins K, A and C, and rich B vitamins. It is also a source of fibre and calcium and contains manganese, copper, iron, and many other elements.
Like kale, cavolo nero provides plenty of carotenoids, particularly lutein and beta-carotene. Carotenoids have various roles in human health, but their best-known health benefits relate to their eye health-protecting qualities. However, carotenoids also act as antioxidants, protecting the skin from UV light exposure and free radical damage, as we have just seen.
Cavolo nero is incredibly versatile and can be boiled, stir-fried, steamed or coated in dressing and eaten raw. The best way to prepare it is to remove the central stem and shred the leaves. You can save the stems and blitz them in soups so as not to waste any. Cavolo nero makes a great addition to main meals served as an accompaniment, partnered with meat, fish or tofu, or you can even use it to make crisps and cocktails!
We’ve seen here how broccoli, spinach, kale and cavolo nero are some of the more popular green vegetables available today amongst younger adults. Still, there are many more to choose from, so you are bound to find your favourites! Green vegetables offer both affordability and versatility when it comes to incorporating them into your diet.
Whatever way you choose to incorporate green vegetables into your diet, you can be sure they are among the healthiest foods out there for skin health. Their rich nutritional profile makes them ideal for including in your diet for reducing acne. There is also good evidence that green vegetables are an essential part of your diet for healthy skin ageing with their high antioxidant content.
To read more on essential foods for skin health, see my previous article, Acne-Prone Skin - 10 Foods to Include in Your Diet To Reduce Breakouts.
If you would like to explore improving your diet for your skin health or skin condition, please get in touch here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.