Which green leafy vegetables are healthiest and can make you sick?

After a long night, no matter what the night means to you, nothing beats a bowl of greens.

Kale, spinach, mesclun, romaine, buttery bibbleafy mixed with veggies and protein are the culinary equivalent of sleeping in fresh sheets.

When I eat a big bowl of green vegetables, I just feel stay healthy knowing that vitamins, fiber and other nutrients have been sent to perform cellular maintenance. But is there really something more sinister lurking amidst all that microscopic goodness?

Green leafy vegetables are frequently recalled because of contamination. They are the vegetables most likely to make you sick, according to a 20-year study of contaminated produce in California. One of the most famous outbreaks occurred in 2006 when spinach contaminated with E. Coli bacteria hospitalized 200 people and caused 18 deaths. Just this past June, an outbreak of listeria bacteria in green leafy vegetables sent 18 people to the hospital.

These instances give me pause as I reach for my weekly bag of kale, and I’m not alone. A Consumer Reports survey of thousands of shoppers found that half had the same concerns.

How do we weigh these risks and is the risk of getting the disease that high? Here’s a breakdown of which types of lettuce are healthiest, exactly why they might be susceptible to contamination, and why pre-washed bags of greens might not be as safe as you think.

And if you have more questions about navigating science in your daily life, tag me on X (formerly known as Twitter) or email me here.

Which green vegetables are the healthiest?

Our body needs different nutrients and vitamins to function properly. By eating just one cup of kale, the average adult woman like me can get half the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, nearly a third of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, and almost all of the vitamin C. Recommended K (a vitamin that helps build a healthy body). bone tissue).

And while I still need a well-rounded diet to get my daily dose of fiber, protein, and minerals like potassium and magnesium, that cup of kale can help me get there.

(Learn more about how magnesium affects your sleep and anxiety.)

[Leafy greens] These are literally powerhouses of nutrients,” says Debbie Fetter, a nutritionist at the University of California, Davis.

What exactly are green vegetables, you ask? This big green describes the literal vegetables we eat: lettuce, including romaine and iceberg, as well as other greens like kale, arugula, and spinach. All of these green vegetables are healthy, but they differ in the amount of vitamins and minerals they absorb. A cup of romaine lettuce will outperform that cup of kale when it comes to vitamin A, but it is much lower in vitamins C and K.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Harvard Medical School created this helpful chart showing which green vegetables provide which benefits.

Personally, I like curly kale chopped finely and rubbed with oil, which means I’m lucky in that a good rule of thumb for choosing the most nutritious greens is to choose the darkest greens, according to the Academy of Nutrition. and Diet.

But Fetter says the guiding principles aren’t a perfect science, and consuming a variety of greens means you’ll also get a variety of benefits.

Ultimately, the greens that are best for you are probably the ones you will eat most often.

I always advise people to choose foods they like because life is too short to force yourself to eat something just because you hear it’s healthy, she said. There are so many options out there that it’s imperative that you find one that suits your preferences.

Is eating green vegetables dangerous?

Despite their countless benefits, the fact that lettuce can make me sick is enough to make me wary. Because although rare, the risk is still very real.

From 2014 to 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded more than 2,000 illnesses and 18 deaths attributed to green vegetables. And in the two decades from 1996 to 2016, leafy greens dominated the list of vegetables that are likely sources of food-related illnesses, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Lettuce accounted for nearly 40% of those incidents, and spinach was a close second, accounting for 26% of those incidents.

If you look at the way romaine lettuce grows, it creates a funnel. The leaves are irregular and wavy. Some of these bacteria can attach and stick to leaves, says Michele Jay-Russell, a microbiologist at the University of California, Davis, who studies leafy green food safety.

She said her beloved spinach poses some particular risks because it is grown so close to the ground.

Although recent research in California showed that other greens like radicchio, radishes, kale and cabbage were only experiencing single-digit outbreaks, they still beat all the rest of the vegetables studied. .

Determining exactly where the bacteria are contaminating these green vegetables is complicated.

We don’t have fields, but the cattle keep pooping in the fields. It’s much more subtle. And there’s little indication that it’s coming from farm workers, Jay-Russell said.

Anything from birds swooping and defecating in irrigation canals to floodwaters washing dirty water out into fields can cause disease.

But another reason leafy greens are frequently recalled may simply be because we eat them raw instead of cooking them like other vegetables.

That eliminates what Jay-Russell calls the kill step, a surefire way to completely eliminate any viruses or bacteria in the same way that pasteurizing milk makes it safer to drink.

Jay-Russell said green leafy vegetables can also be a common cause of foodborne illnesses because of their popularity, meaning more people buy them and are potentially at greater risk than other produce. other products. According to the International Fresh Produce Association, lettuce was the fourth most purchased vegetable in 2022, and other leafy greens followed closely behind.

So what can you do to avoid foodborne illnesses?

The most obvious precaution to take with greens is to throw away any greens in your kitchen that have been recalled for known contamination.

And if you’re tempted to find those plastic containers of triple-washed lettuce the next time you go to the grocery store, you might want to think again. Pre-rinse and triple-rinse labels are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and even these products have been recalled because of contamination risks.

It makes a difference, but it’s not a guarantee, Jay-Russell said.

(And who wants to buy all that plastic?)

However, she says, if you buy pre-washed, ready-to-eat or triple-washed greens, you can also eat them as is instead of washing them further in the sink because the regular kitchen sink is known to become a place full of germs. (I wrote more about that in 2018.)

In that case, if you buy fresh vegetables from the market, kudos to you for washing them. The CDC recommends rinsing them with water. Undiluted bleach. Not a vinegar solution. Just need water.

With just a little vigilance, we can also have green vegetables and eat them.

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Image Source : www.nationalgeographic.com

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