Children and adults need to eat dark green leafy vegetables to keep healthy and strong. Some people think eating leaves is only for animals, or for times when no other food is available. Others think they should only eat leaves when they are ill. But green leaves are good, healthy, and necessary food every day.
Dark green leafy vegetables provide vitamin A. Vitamin A is sometimes called the “eyesight vitamin,” because children who get enough of it have clear, healthy eyes. Children who do not get enough Vitamin A can lose their eyesight. The first sign that a child is not eating enough foods that provide the “eyesight vitamin” is that the child has trouble seeing in the dim light of early morning and evening. Children who cannot see well in the early morning and evening have nightblindness. They may eventually become completely blind. A child who frequently eats green, leafy vegetables–every day if possible–will have healthy eyes.
Vitamin A is not only an “eyesight vitamin.” It plays a general role in keeping children well. Children who have enough Vitamin A in their diets seem to get sick less often and to recover faster when they do get sick.
A mother who is breastfeeding gives Vitamin A to her baby in her milk. But if the mother does not get enough Vitamin A herself, her milk will not have enough Vitamin A in it either. Then her baby will not have enough Vitamin A. That is why a breastfeeding mother should be very careful to get plenty of Vitamin A.
Dark green leafy vegetables are one good source of this vitamin, but you can get Vitamin A from eating other foods, too. For example, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes and other yellow fruits and vegetables will give you Vitamin A. Milk, eggs and liver contain a lot of Vitamin A, so they are also important foods to eat.
Vitamin A is one good thing you will get from eating dark green leafy vegetables. Iron is another. If you do not have enough iron in your diet, you will feel tired and weak. Vegetables cannot replace important sources of iron like meat, peas and beans. But the iron in spinach, cassava leaves, pumpkin leaves, and other dark green leaves will help to give you energy and strength.
Folic acid comes from dark green leafy vegetables. The body uses folic acid to make blood. If your body does not get enough folic acid, your blood becomes thin and pale. You will become weak and unhealthy. Old people and pregnant women especially need folic acid in their diets.
Dark green leafy vegetables also contain protein. Everyone needs protein. Children need it to help them grow. Meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese all contain protein, but the kind of protein found in vegetables is also necessary. Dark green leafy vegetables are not a replacement for other sources of protein. But if you and your family do not have much meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or milk in your diet, then eating leafy vegetables whenever you can is particularly important.
You might be able to grow green leafy vegetables such as spinach, endive, swiss chard, or leeks in your garden. Many plants grown for another purpose also have leaves you can eat. Okra, cassava, papaya, hot peppers, beets, taro, and sweet potatoes, for instance, all have edible leaves. If you take the leaves of these plants, though, be careful not to gather too many from one plant. If you do, the other part of the plant may not grow.
You can also eat many leaves that grow wild on trees, bushes, and small leafy plants. Not all green leaves can be eaten. Some are too bitter, and some are poisonous and can make you sick. Cassava leaves, for example, will make you sick if they are not prepared in a special way before you eat them. But the leaves of many plants are good to eat. If you do not know which ones to eat, maybe your neighbours know. Many older people know which wild plants have leaves that are good to eat. Or you could ask at a health centre.
Green leaves become less nutritious the longer they are cooked, because vitamins and minerals escape into the water and steam during cooking. So it is best to cook green leaves for as short a time as necessary. Cook them in a pot with a lid on it, and the vegetables will not lose as many vitamins and minerals. You can save the cooking water from most green leaves to use in soups, stews or any other cooking that requires water. But do not save the cooking water from leaves that are poisonous before they are cooked, like cassava leaves.
Very young children find green leafy vegetables difficult to chew. But children who are just beginning to eat solid food need these nutritious vegetables. You should begin feeding them green leafy vegetables as soon as they stop breastfeeding. If you mash, grind, sieve or puree the leaves, young children will be able to eat them.
Dark green leafy vegetables are good to eat for many reasons. They provide iron, protein and folic acid that we all need to keep healthy. They provide the “eyesight vitamin” that gives children clear eyes and good vision. Remember: children who do not get enough of the “eyesight vitamin” can become blind. Children, pregnant women, and mothers who are breastfeeding should be especially careful about getting enough green, leafy vegetables in their diets. Make sure your whole family eats green, leafy vegetables.
- “Eating Green Leafy Plants” in World Neighbors in Action, Vol. 11, No. 4E (8 pages), published by World Neighbors, International Headquarters, 5116 North Portland Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73112, U.S.A.
- South Pacific Commission Community Training Centre Leaflet 6 (1983, 6 pages), published by South Pacific Commission, Community Education Training Centre, Box 5082, Raiwaqa Post Office, Suva, Fiji.
- The Vitamin A+ Sieve Issue 92-1 (1992, 12 pages), published by Prevention Magazine and the Rodale Institute, c/o Janet Glassman, Rodale Press Information Services, 33 E. Minor Street, Emmaus, PA, 18098, U.S.A.