5 Signs You Aren't Eating Enough Leafy Greens, Nutritionists Say
Here's how much of the superfood you should be eating.
Your diet is one of the key building blocks of your health, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables should be heavily featured on the menu, experts say. In particular, dark leafy greens are considered one of the most nutritious foods you can eat, chock full of important vitamins and minerals that support your body's essential functions.
However, if kale, arugula, and spinach don't rank highly on your list of favorite foods, there's a good chance you may be missing out on some of the benefits of this superfood group. You may even notice certain signs or symptoms that suggest your nutrition is flagging without them on your plate.
"It's important to note that these symptoms alone may not necessarily indicate a lack of leafy greens in the diet, as they can be caused by other factors as well," says Mary Sabat, MS, RDN, LD, a nutritionist, health coach, and personal trainer. However, she notes that if you notice multiple signs and suspect inadequate leafy green consumption as their cause, incorporating more of these vegetables into your diet can be greatly beneficial.
Read on to learn which five signs may signal that you aren't eating enough leafy greens in your diet—and how much is considered enough.
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The first sign you may notice that you aren't eating enough leafy green vegetables is constipation.
"Leafy greens are rich in fiber, which helps promote healthy digestion and prevent constipation," says Taylor Osbaldeston, RHN, a registered holistic nutritionist at Durand Health. "If someone is experiencing infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools, it could indicate a lack of dietary fiber from leafy greens," she says, noting that the recommended daily intake of fiber for adults is around 25 to 30 grams.
However, constipation can also have a range of other causes, according to the U.K.'s National Health Services (NHS). These can include lack of exercise, not staying adequately hydrated, being underweight or overweight, having anxiety or depression, and more.
If integrating more leafy greens and other high-fiber fruits and vegetables doesn't help remedy the symptom, speak with your doctor to determine whether there is another underlying cause.
You're showing signs of vitamin deficiencies.
Not eating enough leafy greens can also result in certain vitamin deficiencies, experts say.
"Leafy greens are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and iron," explains Johannes Uys, MD, a general practitioner at Broadgate General Practice. "Skipping out on these greens in your diet may cause nutrient deficiencies, potentially leading to symptoms such as fatigue, weakened immune function, poor wound healing, and impaired bone health."
If you present with these symptoms, your doctor may wish to perform blood tests to determine whether a vitamin deficiency could be an underlying cause. They will also need to rule out any other underlying conditions which could be responsible.
You have chronically low energy.
Iron and magnesium both play a crucial role in your body's ability to maintain optimal energy levels, and in many people's diets, dark leafy greens are a major source of both.
"Inadequate intake of these nutrients can lead to fatigue, weakness, and decreased energy. The recommended daily intake of iron for adults is around eight to 18 milligrams, and for magnesium, it is around 310 to 420 milligrams," explains Osbaldeston.
That's why, if you hit a midday slump, adding some kale, collard greens, spinach, or Swiss chard to your lunch may help your energy levels rebound. Osbaldeston notes that it is generally recommended that you eat two cups of leafy greens in your daily diet, and suggests incorporating them into salads, smoothies, and stir-fries, or eating them as a side dish.
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You're noticing more skin problems.
Another potential sign that you aren't eating enough leafy greens is that you develop skin problems. According to Sabat, that's because "leafy greens contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that promote healthy skin. Inadequate consumption of these vegetables may contribute to skin issues like dryness, dull complexion, or increased susceptibility to damage from environmental factors."
This also means that if you do notice skin symptoms, changing up your diet could be your first line of defense. Eat a wide range of plant-based foods rich in vitamins and minerals—including but not limited to dark leafy greens.
You're having trouble maintaining a healthy weight.
Leafy greens are low in calories and high in fiber, meaning they can fill you up and curb excess hunger. This makes them and other high-fiber vegetables a useful tool for sustainable weight management.
"Without eating enough leafy greens in your diet, you may find it harder to maintain a healthy weight or experience difficulties with portion control," says Uys.
Of course, no one food can make or break your diet—and the best nutrition plan is the one you'll stick to. Aim for well-rounded meals that include lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins for optimal nutrition.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.