Collard greens have earned a long-held reputation as a diet staple of the American South. In fact, this leafy, nutritious food from the broccoli and cabbage family is the official state vegetable of South Carolina. Considered a superfood, there are records of people eating collard greens dating back to the time of the Greeks and Romans. However, enslaved Africans in America are credited with creating cooking methods and African-inspired dishes that have lasted over generations. In addition to being tasty, there are many health benefits of collard greens.

Detoxify the Body

People often don't consider how their environments and daily habits can damage their bodies over time. Symptoms don’t always show outside the body. However, processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and pollutants constantly wreak havoc on the body. Collard greens help counter some of this damage by reversing the effects on your internal systems. They contain natural sulfur compounds called glucosinolates, which clean the liver, eliminating toxins from the cells and eventually from the body. Additionally, collard greens protect your DNA from harmful chemicals and free radicals. They activate detoxifying enzymes already present in the body. In addition to being less expensive than most other cruciferous vegetables, including kale, collards have proven to be one of the most effective antioxidant foods. In a study on vegetable intake in the southeastern United States, collard greens ranked fourth behind sweet potatoes, mustard greens, and kale.

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Provide Nutrients

Most people would be surprised by the nutrients available in just a single cup of collard greens. Eating these greens regularly gives you dietary fiber, protein, vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K and small amounts of other nutrients like folate, magnesium, potassium, and niacin. You can maximize the nutrients absorbed from collard greens. First, consider the source of the greens you eat. Choosing local options fresh from the soil is the best way to keep the nutrients intact. Some food experts suggest that 72 hours of harvest, plant foods have already lost between 15 and 60 percent of their nutrients. Grocery stores are not the freshest sources. Also, heat, light, and oxygen degrade nutrients, so you should consider storage options that are more preserving.

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Prevent Cancer

Because collard greens help boost immune function, they are also a useful tool for fighting cancer. Researchers discovered in the 1980s that people who eat high amounts of cruciferous vegetables, including collard greens, are at a lower risk for cancer-related illnesses such as breast, lung, prostate, esophageal, pancreatic, kidney, or colorectal cancer, as well as cancer of the upper digestive tract and melanoma. The glucosinolates in collard greens stop cells at different points in cancer development. Chlorophyll is also a significant factor in this fight, especially when eating foods that release carcinogens at high temperatures.


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Strengthen Bones

People who have a higher incidence of bone fractures tend to have a lower intake of vitamin K, which is found in collard greens. Vitamin K modifies bone matrix proteins and helps the body absorb calcium. It also prevents you from losing calcium when you urinate. A single cup of boiled collard greens gives you 770 micrograms of vitamin K, well above the recommended daily allowance. This essential nutrient can also help fight diseases like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


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Support Digestion

A healthy digestive system allows you to have regular elimination after eating. If your digestive system is not healthy, you may experience signs such as bad breath, food intolerances, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, rashes and skin irritations, and unusual weight fluctuations. Collard greens, high in both water and fiber, can help curb some of these issues if eaten regularly. One cup of collards gives you about 8 grams of fiber; fiber helps prevent constipation, another indication your body is struggling with waste elimination. Many people choose over-the-counter laxatives, but collard greens could be an effective and natural alternative.


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Prevent Anemia

People with anemia do not have enough healthy red blood cells to deliver enough oxygen to the tissues in the body. They often feel tired and weak, and anemia may be temporary or long-term. People with anemia also experience symptoms such as cold hands and feet, dizziness, pale or yellowish skin, and headaches. Iron-rich foods like collard greens can minimize some of these symptoms. A diet low in iron can negatively affect how well the body uses energy, and the folate in dark, leafy vegetables is a good option for fending off anemia.

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Lower Cholesterol

Some people increase their intake of collard greens to lower the presence of LDL or bad cholesterol. When bile acids bind together with fiber-like compounds like those found in collard greens, they are more easily excreted from the body. After the bile acids are gone, cells in the body break apart some cholesterol into its component bile acids to replace the acids that are gone. This is beneficial for lowering cholesterol. In a recent study that tested this process, researchers measured the effectiveness of collards against mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green bell peppers, spinach, and cabbage. Collard greens, both raw and steamed, carried out this beneficial role better than all other vegetables in the study.

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Support Hair Growth

For those seeking brighter and healthier skin and hair, collard greens are a beneficial food source. Vitamin A content stimulates the production of sebum, which drives hair and skin growth. Vitamin C also plays an important role in helping the body produce collagen, which gives hair and skin its structure. One cup of boiled collard greens will give you more than 50 percent of the recommended daily amount of iron, a nutrient vital to preventing hair loss.


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Slow Down Aging

No matter how much you may love the taste of food cooked on an outdoor grill, you must be careful about how much you eat. Foods that are cooked at such high temperatures can increase free radicals in your body that can lead to diseases and accelerate aging. Collard greens are rich in antioxidants and help block free radicals. They reduce wrinkles and age-related sunspots and curb the degeneration of muscles and cells. Nothing stops aging altogether, but collard greens can help slow down the process.


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Improve Mood

Choline is a compound in collard greens that helps with sleep, memory, muscle movement and learning. Folate helps with depression, stopping excess development of homocysteine. Too much of this amino acid can stop blood and other nutrients from reaching your brain. It also can limit the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that regulate mood and other functions like appetite and sleep.


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