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Ask Health Coach Maria: What’s The One Most Important Healthy Habit to Adopt?

June 27, 2014

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Have a wellness question for Health Coach Maria? Ask her here

Hi Maria,

I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all the things I have to change in my diet to get healthier. If I only focus on one new healthy habit, what should it be?

Cara, Washington

Baby steps lead to big changes when it comes to switching towards a healthier lifestyle. And while we should all aim for a holistic approach to getting healthy, those starting out can focus on one thing at a time. Fortunately for those taking this approach, there is indeed one healthy habit that is the mother of them all. It’s easy to implement yet packs profound benefits: Simply eat more dark leafy greens. 

Dark leafy greens are nature’s multi-vitamin. They are packed with copious amounts of nutrients, like vitamins A, K, and C as well as calcium, magnesium, and iron. They are high in fiber, which will keep you feeling full and satisfied, and allow you to painlessly “crowd-out” other less healthy foods.

You see, your stomach can only hold so much food, and fiber-rich dark leafy greens will take up a big portion of it naturally, leaving less space to eat other foods. This is why I recommend starting any meal with a nice big bowl of salad or even to eat your side of sautéed spinach or greens first.

Greens are low in calories, so you could eat until your tummy is content and never have to worry about it adding to your waistline. In fact, thanks to their ability to crowd out other foods, adding greens to your diet should actually help you lose weight, if that’s your goal.

Interestingly, the more greens you eat, the more your palate will shift, and I bet you’ll actually start to crave them, as well as other healthy foods (another reason why this is a great first step on the journey to health). At the bare minimum, I would suggest aiming for 1-2 cups a day (go for the higher end if eating raw rather than cooked) and eventually working your way up to 3-4 cups. 

Dark leafy greens include vegetables like kale, chard, collards, arugula, watercress, mustard greens, dandelion, broccoli, and spinach. Their characteristic deep dark green hue is an indicator of their high content of chlorophyll, an antioxidant. 

It is surprisingly easy to get leafy greens into your daily diet. The typical build-your-own-salad lunch places usually start you with 2-3 cups of greens; you can sauté any of the greens mentioned above with a little garlic and olive oil for a fast and easy side dish; or, if you’re really feeling the green stuff, add a handful of spinach to your morning smoothie. Of course, there are tons of other delicious dark leafy green recipes out there. 

Adding dark leafy greens to your diet provides you with loads of wonderful health benefits, and makes it easier for you to incorporate your next healthy habit. So start green, finish great!

How many cups of dark leafy greens are you eating a day?

Maria Marlowe is a Certified Health Coach and regular Wellness Today Contributor. Get your health question answered in her next column by sending her an email at healthcoachmaria@wellnesstoday.com.