Leafy Green Vegetables: Vital for the Urban Athlete

By David Katcef

Leafy green vegetables provide us with a host of benefits. And being athletic in an urban environment is just one more reason to eat them.

One of the best parts about living in Orange County, Calif. is the perfect climate. Year round we have blue skies, brilliant sunshine and clean air. The climate affords an excuse to be active. Before the sun rises til well after it has set, many adventurous Californians are out and about, improving their health and wellness. In the O.C. cycling along the road means sharing the road with millions of cars, mingling with traffic, and the business end of an exhaust pipe.

The other day, I was stopped at Dover and PCH, and witnessed something familiar. A pack of four cyclists were waiting patiently at a traffic light. They stood straddling their bikes, covered in sweat, drinking water, and appreciating a little break. As the light turned green and nearby cars sped by, the cyclists met a cloud of exhaust which covered and invaded their bodies.

In that moment, I was reminded of how beneficial it can be for exercise enthusiasts to consume leafy green vegetables to stave off the damaging effects of exhaust emissions. A study conducted by M.I.T in 2013 showed that in America alone, more than 53,000 people die from exhaust emissions each year. Despite living beneath clear skies, we should be aware of how frequently we are in close proximity to vehicle emissions. Keep in mind, 99% of all emissions are invisible!

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According to Environmental Protection Agency, what follows are some of the toxins emitted by vehicles and absorbed by our bodies: 1

Benzene is the most abundant hydrocarbon in automobile exhaust. A powerful carcinogen, it can cause lymphoma and leukemia as well as inhibit the production of red and white blood cells and preventing immature cells from maturing into their full form and function. It can shred apart DNA and chromosomes. The damage that benzene causes to your blood will have a huge effect on your performance and recovery.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are a set of compounds found both in deep space and anywhere fuels are being burnt. PAH vary in carcinogenic effect when inhaled. They are fat-soluble and are, therefore, harder to remove once embedded. Especially abundant in diesel fumes, these carcinogens have been shown to adversely affect reproduction for both men and women, disrupt the endocrine system, and cause severe inflammation effects in the lungs.

Carbon Monoxide is an organic compound that inhibits performance and recovery because it binds more effectively to hemoglobin better than oxygen. Every year, this odorless and tasteless poison takes lives. While waiting at red lights or crawling through traffic, we are guaranteed to breathe an abundance of CO.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is the reason exhaust smells acrid and poisonous. Once it comes in contact with moisture on your body, NO2 is converted into nitric acid, which is extremely toxic to the lining of the lungs, sinuses and eyes. It will exasperate asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and it can damage the cardiovascular system in high dosages. Emissions from light duty trucks and heavier vehicles mixed with NO2 and sunlight to produce the compound Ozone. High up in the sky, ozone shields us from UV radiation; while down on the ground, ozone irritates the respiratory system, causing coughing, choking, and reduced lung capacity.

Where do we go from here?  Should we do all exercise inside? Wear a SCUBA tank as you ride outside? There’s another way—a practical solution older than as civilization itself.  Make yourself a recovery shake or meal full of dark green vegetables and undo some of the damage done from mingling with traffic. Greens alone can help our bodies rid itself of the payload of carcinogens and free radicals now in circulation.

The green pigment in plants is called chlorophyll. This unique compound has a host of capabilities that can diminish the devastation of carcinogens. The ring structure that sits at the heart of chlorophyll mimics the same middle compound found in our blood. This ring can help negate the effects of benzenes and CO on red blood cells by providing the raw material to manufacture more. The long tail of chlorophyll is fat-soluble. It can readily bind to the PAH’s embedded in tissue and in circulation and begin their removal process. 2 Cruciferous leafy green vegetables also contain compounds that can assist in the removal of these harmful reproductive agents.3,4  Chlorophyll loves the UV spectrum of light. It can easily bind free radicals caused by UV radiation, which will help protect your skin from the sun. 5

Our external immune system is composed of the gut, lungs, sinuses, eyes and skin. Maintaining proper gut health can have a profound effect on how the immune capabilities in these other areas perform  Fiber from greens will sweep the gut and promote proper bowel motility, and purging excess waste from the body ensures that these toxins aren’t just reabsorbed into our system, where they’d wreak more havoc.

Here are just a few examples of greens that can be mixed together to maximize the detoxification effect: chlorella, spirulina, broccoli, spinach, grasses (barley, kamut and wheat), cucumber, celery, parsley, green beans, cilantro, asparagus and kale to name a few.

The restorative and mitigating power of greens is nothing short of amazing. My comments so far have mostly focused on cyclists; it is easy to see how this concept of consuming greens can benefit everyone exercising near traffic anywhere in the United States.

Read more about air quality

So be safe and take care of yourselves. See you on PCH sometime! - Vitamin Dave


1. Six Common Air Pollutants | Air & Radiation | US EPA

2. Antimutagenic activities of common vegetables and their chlorophyll content, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0165121880900579 (1980).

3. Kristal AR, Lampe JW. Brassica vegetables and prostate cancer risk: a review of the epidemiological evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2002;42(1):1-9.  (PubMed)

4.  Auborn KJ, Fan S, Rosen EM, et al. Indole-3-carbinol is a negative regulator of estrogen. J Nutr. 2003;133(7 Suppl):2470S-2475S.  (PubMed)

5. Ching-Yun Hsu, Pi-Yu Chao, Shene-Pin Hu, Chi-Ming Yang, The Antioxidant and Free Radical Scavenging Activities of Chlorophylls and Pheophytins, Food and Nutrition Sciences, 2013, 4, 1-8.

image: healthyrx

By David Katcef| December 16, 2013
Categories:  Eat

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David Katcef

David Katcef

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