Getting The Best Out Of Your Leafy Vegetables

Efo riro with Goat meat

Nigerians love their soups containing leafy vegetables especially when consumed with pounded or cooked cereals and tubers (swallow). There are some commonly eaten vegetables in Nigeria and there are many more consumed especially in the Eastern part of the country. All in all, Nigeria has a lot of green leafy vegetables that can provide us with many vitamins, minerals as well as antioxidants and other bio-active compounds that help us to maintain our health and prevent diseases.

Some the Leafy Vegetables commonly consumed include: Amaranth, Fluted pumpkin (Ugu), Water leaf, Afang, bitter leaf, Lagos Spinach (Sokoyokoto), Bush buck, Jute mallows (Ewedu), Okro, Indian Spinach, Cocoyam leaves, garden egg leaves and Moringa leaves. There are many more; some which are underutilized and might probably become extinct if they are not cultivated.

These leafy vegetables have varying nutritional contents and it is always best to eat a variety so as to get access to the different nutrients that they are contain. It is however not a enough to eat a variety of them; the handling and processing of these vegetables for consumption also play a huge role in whether we are getting the nutrients they contain or not.

Here are some ways to get the best out of your leafy vegetables:

  1. Buy fresh leafy vegetables and process in good time

Fresh leafy vegetables that have not been ‘distressed’ by handling are best. Try to avoid wilted vegetables when purchasing. You can also keep it fresh for a few days after purchasing. Your Leafy veggies can be wrapped in a paper towel (some people use old newspapers) and keep in a plastic bag before refrigeration. You need to ensure that there are no rotten leaves among them.

  1. Wash before cutting/chopping/shredding

Many nutrients are lost in leafy vegetables when we cut them after washing. For some vegetables that we squeeze and shred by hand like the bitter leaf, many nutrients are lost in this process. It is best to wash the leaves whole first before cut them to the sizes we want.

  1. Reduce cooking time of leafy vegetables

Vitamins, which are mostly water soluble like Vitamin C and Bs are often lost when leafy vegetables are overly processed. Boiling them in particular significantly reduces most of the Vitamin C in the leafy vegetables. Like cooking, blanching causes a reduction in Vitamin C but it is not as great as boiling.  Minerals on the other hand are not destroyed by heat and incorporating veggies into your diet every day can give you a daily supply of minerals. However it should be noted that if you boil the leafy veggies, the minerals would leach into the boiling liquid and the minerals would be lost except if the liquid is used to cook part of the meal. Blanching also reduces the mineral content as well as antioxidant properties.

Steaming your leafy veggies for about 5-10 minutes helps to reduce cooking time and helps to retain the nutrients while still making your food palatable. Steaming increases the antioxidant properties of most of the common vegetables we eat although the Vitamin C content reduces just like other processes.

Depending on what type of meal you are cooking, you can also sauté your leafy veggies for a few minutes. Once the base of your soup is done, you can add your cleaned and cut veggies at the last minute, allowing a few minutes for the heat to penetrate the vegetables and make them palatable for eating while still firm.

If your style of cooking destroys most of the vitamins and minerals, be rest assured that at the least you would get some dietary fibre from these leafy vegetables which adds bulk to your meals and thus enhance your gastrointestinal functions and prevent constipation. You will get that feeling of fullness when you consume a good amount of these veggies with your meals. However, it would be of great benefit to handle your leafy veggies very carefully so that you can benefit from the great nutrients that are inherent in them.

  1. Consume your leafy veggies with other foods

The issues with nutrient unavailability are more common with plant based diets. To enhance the nutritional values of many plant based foods, combining them with foods from other sources helps to increase their availability. For example, Minerals like iron and zinc in plants are more readily available for the body to use when vitamin C and Protein are present. Also, foods from animal sources also help to improve the availability of certain nutrients in plant based foods.




  • Adefegha, S.A. and Oboh, G. 2011. Enhancement of total phenolics and antioxidant properties of some tropical green leafy vegetables by steam cooking. J. Food Process. Preserv. 35, 615–622.
  • Amusan EA, Ejoh SI and Akinyele I O, 2015. Effect of boiling and steaming methods on the ascorbic acid content of wild and cultivated indigenous green leafy vegetables found in Ibadan Oyo state. Nigerian joutnal of nutritional sciences vol 36, no 2, sept 2015 pg 59-63
  • Babalola O.O, Tugbobo O.S. and Daramola. A.S. 2010. Effect of Processing on the Vitamin C Content of Seven Nigerian Green Leafy Vegetables Advance Journal of Food Science and Technology 2(6): 303-305, 2010
  • Mensah JK, Okoli RI, Ohaju-Obodo JO and Eifediyi K. 2008. Phytochemical, nutritional and medical properties of some leafy vegetables consumed by Edo people of Nigeria African Journal of Biotechnology Vol. 7 (14), pp. 2304-2309, 18 July, 2008 .
  • Mepba HD, Eboh L, Banigo DEB. 2007. Effects of processing treatments on the nutritive composition and consumer acceptance of some Nigerian edible leafy vegetables. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development Vol 7, No 1 (2007)
  • Oboh Ganiyu. 2005. Effect of blanching on the antioxidant properties of some tropical green leafy vegetables. LWT – Food Science and Technology 38(5):513-517.
  • Uusiku, N.P., Oelofse, A, Duodu K.G., Bester M.J. & Faber, M. 2010. Nutritional value of leafy 428 vegetables of sub-Saharan Africa and their potential contribution to human health: A review. 429 Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 23; 499 – 509.


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  1. Great write up, Yeside! Thank you for making the science so simple to practice.

    To contribute to this discourse:
    Another way to have fresh vegetables is to grow a vegetable garden: also called a kitchen or backyard garden.

    • Thank you Dr. Ejoh. It is a great idea. I am trying to do set something up for myself with the little space I have. A case of practicing what we preach. Once I achieve this, I will be able to write and share my experience.

  2. Yeside,i dont agree with steaming leafy veggies for bw 5- 10 mins,dats too long.I think max 2mins for whatever kind shd be fine.Also,veg like amaranthus(tete) takes nasty and acidic when not blanched.

    • Thanks Dr. I wrote the 5-10 minutes based on a research paper I saw.I will research more on it, revise my information and do an update.

      As for the acidic taste of Amaranthus and blanching, I guess a trade off can happen. Blanch and get the nutrients lost from elsewhere or steam. Thanks again Ma. I will look for more info on the things you mentioned.

  3. […] Processing of the vegetable is very important to the micronutrient content. While the Vitamin C content is high, it diminishes greatly when heated. Cooking time for Ewedu should be very short (about 5 minutes) to maximize the nutrients in them. Here is a post on how to get the best out of your leafy vegetables. […]

  4. Thanks, for this write up. The storage of green leafy vegetables is where I have problem since there are failure of constant electricity supply in Nigeria. I got the best of the vitamins,
    when prepared and costumed immediately, to avoid loss of vitamins on storage.

    • Storage, preservation of leafy vegetables, fruits and vegetables in general, is a big challenge. One of the ways to have fresh produce everyday is to have local suppliers supply to the neighborhood but this can be expensive for consumers and unprofitable for the vendor if many in the neighborhood do not subscribe to it. If and when electricity is constant in Nigeria, access and availability of fruits and vegetables would improve. Let me look around to see how others preserve their vegetables yet are getting the best out of it and I will share this with you.


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