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Dr. Mao’s Secrets of Longevity:: Leafy Greens for a Long Life

Looking for another way to go green? Start with your salad — there is much more in the produce section than just iceberg lettuce. With benefits ranging from a healthy immune system to strong bones, dark leafy greens will add fantastic flavor to your salads — and years to your life.

Greens: A Great Source of Folate

There is no way to predict who will contract fatal age-related conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, but one way to lower your odds may be to raise your daily folate intake. Scientists have found that older people have a tendency to be deficient in folate, which enables vitamins B6 and B12 to aid in hormone secretion, synthesize DNA, and manufacture the protective coating around nerves.

These three tasks are considered to be major factors in our bodies’ defenses against these diseases. Folate is found in numerous foods — spinach, kale, beet greens, chard to name a few — but it is destroyed by heat, so these foods must be eaten raw or lightly cooked. This is one rare instance in which the synthetic form of folic acid is more easily absorbed by the body than the natural one. For people over the age of 50, a dose of 800 micrograms per day is recommended.

Can’t Beat Beet Greens

Beets are an all-in-one superfood! The colorful beets contain powerful nutrients that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and cancer, especially colon cancer. And studies show that beets protect liver cells from harmful chemicals with a compound called betacyanin, one of the flavonoid families of antioxidant nutrients. So while roasted and boiled beets are a tasty and nutritious addition to any salad, consider that the beet greens are more nutritious than the beets themselves!

Beet greens are delicious and are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as beta-carotene and lutein. They have almost twice the potassium of beets and contain high levels of folic acid, which can help ward off certain birth defects and lung cancer. Beet greens can be prepared like any leafy green vegetable — sautéed in olive oil, steamed on the stovetop, or thrown into soups to up the health content.

Spinach Makes Health a Cinch

Spinach — packed with iron, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and K — is an essential food for strong bones and a healthy immune system. And it is rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect the retina from age-related macular degeneration, making spinach crucial for healthy vision.

Before using, swish the spinach in a bowl of cold water until all grit is gone. Curly spinach will require cooking but the more readily available flat-leaf spinach is sweeter and works well in salads. Baby spinach is tender and mild, making it great to use raw in salads. To get healthy benefits for your eyesight, sauté your spinach in a little olive oil, since fat can increase lutein absorption. Keep in mind that fresh spinach decreases dramatically in volume when cooked.One pound will cook down to 1 cup — but you will be getting a hearty helping of nutrients in this small portion!

Fine and Dandelion

Disdained by gardeners as a pesky weed, this leafy green has been revered by traditional Chinese medicine as a powerful liver tonic. Dandelion is said to enhance the flow of bile in your body, improving the function of your liver, and remedying liver conditions such as hepatitis, gallstones, and jaundice. A daily cup of dandelion tea is recommended for anyone who feels run-down, sluggish, and over-stressed.

Aside from its herbal merits, dandelion greens are also an incredibly healthy food — chock full of vitamin C, higher in beta-carotene than carrots and richer in iron and calcium content than spinach. Toss a few raw dandelion leaves in your salad to add a hearty flavor. For the bigger, bitter-tasting leaves, blanch in boiling water for 45 seconds to soften the bitterness. Or sauté them for about 15 minutes with onions and garlic in olive oil.

I hope you find the life-giving properties of greens! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

Dr. Maoshing Ni (Dr. Mao) is a bestselling author, professor, and Doctor of Chinese Medicine. He directs a wellness center with a team of associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica. For more information, go to or email at

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