Do you really need to banish leafy greens from your plate?

Can you imagine getting nutritional advice to steer clear of any dark leafy green vegetables? Well, it happens on a regular basis for those who are prescribed the blood-thinning medication, Coumadin, a.k.a. warfarin. The very people who may benefit the most from all the advantages these foods provide  won’t touch them due to medical directives. If you take this medication or know someone who does, there may be a way for you to reap their benefits.

First a little about Coumadin: It’s used to lessen the odds of developing a blood clot which can lead to a heart attack or stroke  in those who may be at risk.   If you have atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, a previous history of blood clots, heart valve disease or had a heart valve replaced  or you’ve had a previous heart attack or stroke, chances are you’ll be prescribed this blood thinner.

While it is a very effective medication, finding the right dosage is key. Too high a dose can lead to excessive bleeding and possibly hemorrhaging. Too low and blood clots can still form. As a result, if you take Coumadin, regular blood tests are needed to check the levels.

Added to the difficulty in determining dosages is the fact that the medication interacts with food.  For example, dark leafy greens, as they contain vitamin K, counter the effects of the blood thinner. So a simple directive is to cut these foods from the menu.

“Don’t eat any spinach, kale, broccoli, beet greens, asparagus, lettuce, green onions  or even soy products.” is a common advisory given together with a prescription for Coumadin.

It’s one I hear over and over. Yet these veggies along with others with a potential for interactions such as garlic, ginger and flax are chock full of disease-fighting weaponry. The colourful pigments or carotenoids in the greens protect again macular degeneration and cataracts, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. They’re also packed with fibre and an assortment of vitamins and minerals such as folate and potassium.

It’s time for a change in thinking and an end to the banishing of these nutritious eats.  Instead of eliminating them from the menu, they should be eaten on a regular basis in consistent amounts.

But – and this is a big but – it must be done under a physician’s supervision. Before any changes are made, a physician must be consulted in order to ensure that careful monitoring of blood levels can be carried out.  Do not initiate these changes on your own.

Being consistent doesn’t mean eating broccoli every day of your life. It does, however mean, that while you can vary your choices, you cannot eat a whole pile of kale chips one day and then no greens for the next few days.
While you may be scared off by the thought of being consistent in your diet, it will also give the freedom to enjoy a variety of foods and boost your nutrient intake at the same time. So go ahead and call your physician to make an appointment to discuss making a change.


Do you or do you know anyone taking this medication who has an extremely restrictive diet? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Tips and Tricks

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

Get Enlightened Eater in your inbox

Subscribe to get the latest nutrition news, fresh recipes and more!

2 Comments on “Do you really need to banish leafy greens from your plate?”

  1. December 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    It’s hard for physicians to properly explain to people that they should avoid extremes. It seems reasonable to people that “if you eat spinach, you’ll get a blood clot”, but of course there’s no logic in that at all. People need to be shown that they can maintain a normal, healthy diet, and that their Coumadin dosage will be tailored to hit their target, regardless of whether they eat spinach every day or once a year.

    Sadly – apart from a few exceptions – there is a wealth of anecdotal misinformation on the internet.

    Nobody’s takin’ my spinach away from me!

    • December 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Thanks for your comments, Bob! I do agree with you that it can be hard for physicians to explain about Coumadin and unfortunately, many don’t at all. They simply tell their patients not to ever eat these foods. I see them in my nutrition counseling practice all the time. But I do think that physicians will be more likely to suggest these foods if they do see a consistent intake and fewer wild swings in their blood tests.

      Keep up your spinach eating!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: