Eating plenty of vegetables can help reduce your risk for many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. For example, one 2010 study found that eating just one extra serving of leafy greens a day reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14 percent.
Fresh vegetables are a nutritional cornerstone, as most are very low in calories and net carbs while being high in beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals. Vegetables also contain a wide variety of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds.
Phytochemicals found in plants have potent anti-inflammatory capacity and some even help in the elimination of carcinogens. Other plant chemicals regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce, remove old cells and maintain DNA.
Leafy greens, thanks to their high fiber content, also activate a gene called T-bet, which is essential for producing vital immune cells in the lining of your digestive tract.
These immune cells, called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), help maintain balance between immunity and inflammation in your body and produce interleukin-22 (IL-22), a hormone that helps protect your body from pathogenic bacteria.
ILCs even help resolve cancerous lesions and prevent the development of bowel cancers and other inflammatory diseases.
For Better Health, Eat More Veggies
Studies have repeatedly shown that people with higher vegetable intake have:
- Lower risks of high blood pressure and stroke
- Lower risks of certain types of cancer
- Reduced risk of kidney stones and bone loss
- Higher scores on cognitive tests
- Higher antioxidant levels
- Lower biomarkers for oxidative stress
- Lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease
- Lower risk for eye diseases
- Fewer digestive problems
That said, some veggies are more beneficial than others. Kale, for example, has gained vegetable VIP status, in large part thanks to its 3-to-1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. This is an exceptionally high amount of protein for any vegetable, resulting in kale being viewed as “vegetarian beef.”
Like meat, kale contains all nine essential amino acids needed to form the proteins within the human body, plus nine other non-essential ones for a total of 18.
Unlike meat it does not have these amino acids in a high concentration. This makes it far more difficult to consume excess protein, which we know can activate mTOR and accelerate aging and chronic degenerative diseases. It also contains more omega-3 than omega-6, which is almost unheard of in nature.
Mustard — The New ‘King of Greens’?
More recently, mustard greens (of which there are several popular varieties) have been gaining in favor. Mustard is a relative of cabbage, broccoli and radishes.
Like kale and collard greens, steamed mustard greens have potent cholesterol-lowering ability, courtesy of its ability to bind bile acids. Bile acids are composed of cholesterol, so this binding activity helps reduce your cholesterol level by boosting excretion.
Mustard Greens’ Claim to Fame: Cancer Protection
Mustard greens are also high in glucosinolate, a plant chemical that your body converts into isothiocyanates (ITCs), which have anti-cancer properties. In fact, studies suggest cancer protection is a primary benefit of mustard greens. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods:
“All cruciferous vegetables have long been known to contain glucosinolates, but it’s recent research that’s made us realize how valuable mustard greens are in this regard. The cancer protection we get from mustard greens may be largely related to two special glucosinolates found in this cruciferous vegetable: sinigrin and gluconasturtiian. Sinigrin can be converted into allyl-isothiocyanate (AITC) and gluconasturtiin can be converted into phenethyl-isothiocyanate (PEITC). Both AITC and PEITC have well-documented cancer-preventive and anti-inflammatory properties.”
In addition to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, mustard greens also help protect against cancer by supporting your body’s detoxification systems. Some of the nutrients in mustard help boost phase 1 detoxification while sulfur-containing compounds aid phase 2 detoxification.
Steamed mustard greens also have an impressive nutritional profile, providing a whopping 922 percent of your RDI for vitamin K, 96 percent of your vitamin A, and 47 percent of your vitamin C per cup (140 grams). Mustard also contain a number of valuable antioxidant compounds, such as:
- Hydroxycinnamic acid, shown to inhibit human lung adenocarcinoma cells and effectively combating multiple-drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It also has antimalarial activity and much more
- Quercetin, an important free radical fighter
- Isorhamnetin, shown to induce apoptosis (cell death) in certain cancer cells. It may also have particular benefits for inflammatory skin conditions
- Kaempferol, which has hypoglycemic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cardioprotective and neuroprotective effects, and more.
Ideally, you’ll want to incorporate 1.5 cups of mustard greens into your meals at least two to three times per week. An even better goal would be 2 cups, four to five times a week, although you could mix it up by including other cruciferous veggies as well.
Mustard Seeds Have Medicinal Qualities Too
Every part of the mustard plant can be used, including the roots, seeds and leaves. The seeds in particular have a long history of use in Chinese medicine.
Abscesses, bronchitis, asthma, colds, rheumatism, toothaches, aches and pains, bladder inflammation, ulcers and various gastrointestinal ailments are among the many historical uses of mustard seed, often in the form of a mustard plaster or poultice, which is applied topically.
Historically, mustard was also used in baths to alleviate inflammation, as it helps increase blood flow.
Mustard seeds — which are commonly used to make the condiment you recognize as “mustard” — are a good source of phosphorous, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and manganese.
Gwen Stewart, author of “The Healing Garden,” provides a couple of recipes for making your own mustard condiment in this referenced article. I’ve also provided a recipe below.
The seeds can also be sprouted. For instructions, check out SproutPeople.org’s growing instructions for mustard seeds. Tips for growing mustard plants are provided by Mother Earth Living.
A note of caution: Some states view mustard as an invasive weed and have imposed restrictions on where and how you’re allowed to grow it, so be sure to check with your county extension agent to find out if any restrictions apply before you plant them in your garden.
How to Make Your Own Mustard From Scratch
Here’s a basic mustard recipe by Paleo Leap, which can be tweaked based on your own taste preferences by adding other seasonings and herbs to it.
Basic Mustard Recipe
1/2 cup mustard powder
1/2 cup water
Sea salt to taste
Optional: fresh parsley, chopped
Optional: fresh basil, chopped
Optional: lemon or lime zest
Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons of your choice of vinegar
In a bowl, combine mustard powder and water and mix until smooth. Add parsley, basil, lemon or lime zest and/or vinegar, if using. Let the mustard rest for 15 minutes before using.
You can also find a whole-grain mustard recipe on the Paleo Leap website, which uses yellow and brown whole mustard seeds instead of mustard powder. It’s a bit more involved, as the whole seeds need to be soaked overnight before you can use them. You also need a food processor to turn it into a paste.
Boost Nutritional Value Through Fermentation
Inflammation from bacterial endotoxins may be a factor helping to drive the obesity epidemic. Sugar and processed foods can quickly make the “friendly” microbe community in your gut unfriendly — even downright hostile. When dysbiosis occurs, bacteria release noxious byproducts called endotoxins. Endotoxins increase the permeability of your gut wall (leaky gut syndrome) and make their way into your bloodstream, triggering system wide inflammation.
To counter or prevent this chain of events you need to avoid sugary foods and regularly reseed your gut with healthy bacteria, and one of the best ways to do that is to eat fermented vegetables. In addition to helping break down and eliminate heavy metals and other toxins from your body, beneficial gut bacteria perform a number of other important functions as well, including:
- Mineral absorption, and producing nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K2 (vitamin K2 and vitamin D are necessary for integrating calcium into your bones and keeping it out of your arteries, thereby reducing your risk for coronary artery disease and stroke)
- Preventing obesity and diabetes, and regulating dietary fat absorption
- Lowering your risk for cancer
- Improving your mood and mental health
Like most other vegetables, you can easily ferment or pickle mustard greens at home. CảiChua is Vietnamese pickled mustard greens. Its sour and spicy flavor works well with a variety of dishes. The following recipe is from GardenBetty.com. For step-by-step instructions, please see the original article:
Vietnamese Pickled Mustard Greens
2 1/2 pounds of mustard greens
4 stalks green onions
1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt
4 Thai bird’s eye chiles (or 2 serrano peppers)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon pickling salt
Have You Tried Mustard Greens Yet?
Mustard greens and sprouted mustard seeds can be eaten in a number of ways. Simply toss them into your salad, or add as a steamed or sautéed side dish, for example. Most of the mustard used for greens are the brown-seeded variety, which is spicier and zestier than some of the others.
Sautéing, braising or steaming the leaves will cut some of the bitterness. The sprouts can also be mixed into smoothies. For a slow-cooked Indian-style Sarson ka Saag (pureed greens) dish, see MyHeartBeets.com. Many other recipes can be found online as well.