Leafy greens are one of the most nutritious foods on this planet. All ruminant mammals subsist on a diet comprised almost entirely of green leaves and develop strong, muscular bodies. Interestingly, our closest primate relative, the chimpanzee, also consumes a diet high in green leaves. In fact, green leaves make up 50% of the chimpanzee diet in the wild. Chimps are incredibly agile and powerful creatures, possessing abilities of strength that far exceed that of most humans.
An examination of the nutritional profile of leafy greens helps to explain why the animals who consume them in high quantities develop such outstanding physical structures.
First, leafy greens contain all of the minerals necessary to build strong bones and teeth. They are high in the macro minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, and they also contain a broad spectrum of the essential microminerals like copper, zinc, manganese, and sodium. The trace minerals selenium, chromium, boron, etc. will also be present in them if the soil the leaves are grown on contain these nutrients. Finally, leafy greens are one the best sources of natural, organic iron which is so important for growing children and women of child-bearing age.
Second, leafy greens contain plentiful amounts of all the B vitamins, except for B-12. Most notably, they have large amounts of folate which is becoming increasing recognized for the important role it plays in preventing the occurance of Spinabifida in developing fetuses. Green leaves also contain significant quantities of vitamin A in the form of carotenes, which are especially important for maintaining healthy eyes and good vision. They are an equally good source of vitamin K which is involved in proper clotting activity of the blood. Additionally, leafy greens provide significant quantities of vitamin E, important for its role in heart health as well as for its comprehensive anti-oxidant properties. Finally, many green leaves contain enough vitamin C to satisfy the daily requirements if consumed in sufficent quantities.
Third, leafy greens are an excellent source of the somewhat elusive essential fatty acid Omega 3. The most common source of Omega 3 in the diet is fish (which obtains it from the algae in their diet or other fish that eat algae). However, there are a few other foods that naturally contain this all-important nutrient. The most well-known vegetarian sources of Omega 3 are flax seed, chia seed, and walnuts, but the common garden weed pursulane is also a surprisingly rich source. Most people, though, are completely unaware that green leaves also contain significant amounts of Omega 3. Interestingly, the leafy green with the highest concentration of Omega 3 is Romaine lettuce, and this is the primary reason that I chose it to be a foundational component of my green juice reboot.
Fourth, an perhaps most significantly, green leaves are exceptionally high in protein. The celery and lettuce I am using for my green juice derive 17% of their calories from protein. The wheatgrass juice is an astounding 50% protein! For comparison, dairy, eggs, and meat are between 30-40 % protein, beans are between 15-22% protein! grains are between 7-14% protein, nuts and seeds are between 4-12% protein, avocados are a mere 4% protein, and most fruits are less than 5% protein. Many raw foodists rely on either high sugar fruits or high fat nuts and avocados to meet their caloric requirements! but this may not provide them with a suffient amount of protein for optimal health. Very few raw food enthusiasts make leafy greens the center of their diet, and this may well be why many are unable to maintain an all-raw regime for more than a few months at a time.
The protein present in leafy greens is unique. The proteins contained in animal products like cheese or beef, or in plant foods like beans and rice, are highly complex in nature and must first be dissasembled before they can be absorbed and utilized by the body. But the proteins in green leaves are present as free-form amino acids that do not have to undergo any breakdown process in order to become available to the body. They only need to be liberated from the cellular structure that contains them in order to be put to good use. The importance of this difference should not, in my opinion, be underestimated.
Another aspect of leafy greens that is worth discussing is their highly alkaline nature. All foods high in protein, whether from animals or plants, are acid-forming in the body. It is now well-known that an acid environment in the body is a major contributor to all dis-ease. Green leaves are in a class by themselves, being both high in protein and very alkaline at the same time. The importance of keeping the body alkaline has been explored in great depth by Dr. Robert Young in his ground-breaking book The pH Miracle.
The quantity of leafy greens that one would need to consume to meet their protein requirements is substantial. Ruminants are able to consume massive quantities of greens and extract all of their nutrition from them because they have special stomachs designed for just this purpose. The chimpanzee digestive system is much closer, though not identical, to ours and is a better comparative measure of what might be possible for humans. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that many humans would be able to comfortably consume the amount of green leaves that our primate brethern enjoy.
Victoria Boutenko, The long-time rawfoodist and author of the excellent book Green for Life, looked at all this information and was inspired with a brilliant idea that has proven itself to be of enormous value to many people. Working off an similar concept originally developed by Ann Wigmore, Victoria decided to try blending leafy greens in her Vita-Mix. Several decades earlier, Ann invented what was known as Energy Soup made from sprouts, apple, and avocado. The problem with Ann's creation is that 1) it tasted absolutely terrible and 2) the blender she used was not powerful enough to completely grind the greens and liberate all of the nutrients contained within them.
So, between Victoria's informed inspiration and the new technology of a high-powered blender like the Vita-Mix, a breakthrough occured in Victoria's mind, and the Green Smoothie was born. Victoria started experimenting with different combinations of leafy greens and fruit, and discovered a new, easy, and delicious way to include leafy greens in our diet. The fruit was simply used as a medium to make the greens palatable enough to drink. A Vita-Mix, or similar machine, is necessary to this process because it has the ability to break open the tough cellulose structure of the green leaves and liberate the nutrients contained within the individual cells. This makes the amino acids readily accessible and easy to absorb without having to spend half the day munching on leaves, something that most humans are neither able nor willing to do.
Juicing accomplishes the same thing as the Vita-Mix process, but it also removes the fiber from the end result. People have asked me if they can benefit as much from smoothies as they can from juice, and my answer is that they are both valuable in different ways. Pure juice is much easier for the body to absorb than whole foods even after they have been blended to smitherines. But smoothies do provide an awesome avenue for increasing one's fiber in their normal diet, while also making the nutrients in the leafy greens easier to absorb. So, it really depends on what you are trying to achieve when deciding which route to go. Personally, I like having both options.
Dr. Max Gerson of Germany prescribed 13 freshly pressed juices each day, in addition to a plant-based diet, for his cancer patients because he felt that the juice allowed his patients to consume many more nutrients than would be possble if they were only eating whole foods. There is simply no way that I could possibly eat the amount of lettuce and celery as whole foods, even in a blended-form, that I am consuming each day as juice; it would overwhelm the capacity of my digestive system. An ideal diet would, in my opinion, include both green juice and green smoothies for the uniques benefits that each one offers.
In summary, a diet based on leafy greens can provide virtally all of the essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids required for optimal human health. Modern technology in the form of juicers and blenders makes it much more possible than ever before to get the necessary calories from these nutrient rich foods as well. A combination of green juices and green smoothies may prove to be a diet that is not only healing, but ultimately supportive of long-term overall health. I encourage you to experiment and see leafy greens will assist you in realizing the well-being that is naturally yours.
Love & Joy, Esmée