Eat Your Greens!

Kale, kohlrabi, arugula, romaine…even dandelion.

These health superstars may seem intimidating, but it’s easy to make them palate-pleasing everyday additions to your routine! Leafy greens are surprisingly versatile and often surprisingly delicious.

Swiss Chard

Image By Raffi Kojian (http://Gardenology.org) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why greens matter:

The word “superfood” is thrown around a lot, but for leafy greens, it’s pretty true. Leafy greens are low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. And even if you’re not someone that loves veggies, with a few “kitchen hacks” they’re incredibly easy to add to almost any diet.

Green Powerhouses: Vitamin and mineral content

A cup of cooked collards has as much calcium as a cup of milk…plus more iron, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and vitamin B-6.

A cup of raw spinach has more vitamin C than a cup of apple slices…plus more vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

A cup of shredded romaine lettuce has only EIGHT calories…yet contains 82% of your daily Vitamin A needs, 19% of your Vitamin C requirement, and 60% of your daily dose of Vitamin K.

Plus, leafy greens contain more than just vitamins and minerals. “Phytochemicals” are compounds found in vegetables that can keep us healthy. For example, sulfur-containing compounds found in cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts and related vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Leafy greens are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, which have been associated with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Finally, eating your vegetables is just plain good for you. Your mom was right: Eat your veggies. Multiple studies have shown that people that eat lots of fruits and vegetables live longer, healthier lives.

Here’s a quick list of some of these leafy nutrition stars with their stand-out contribution to your diet:

  • Vitamin A: Cooked kale or mustard greens
  • Vitamin C: Kale, brussels sprouts
  • Folate: Spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens
  • Calcium: Watercress, turnip greens, or Chinese cabbage (bok choi)
  • Magnesium: Swiss chard, purslane, spinach

If you prefer visuals, I recommend this great chart from Greatist.com!

Okay, you’ve convinced me. Leafy greens are a great addition to my diet. Now, how do I actually eat them?

This is the fun part!!! Because there are so many kinds of leafy greens, and so many ways to prepare them, there are limitless ways of getting them into your diet. Here are some ideas:

  • Throw raw spinach, frozen sliced banana, and two tablespoons each of peanut butter and cocoa powder into a blender with enough ice to make a peanut butter cup smoothie.
  • Saute four cups of chopped or shredded Swiss chard with chopped onion and a little bacon for quick homestyle greens.
  • Boost your favorite coleslaw recipe by using shredded brussels sprouts or substituting up to 1/3 of the cabbage with chopped kale for a colorful new variation
  • Love salads? Spice things up by using darker salad greens like arugularadicchio, or chicory.
  • Blend into easy-to-make hummus recipes or use your favorite green for a power-packed pesto. (Bonus: Both of these techniques are great for freezing leftovers or make-ahead plans!)
  • Don’t be afraid of bold flavors! Leafy greens stand up to citrusgarlic, and even coconut curry

green-smoothie-2611409_960_720Leafy greens should be an everyday star in your nutrition plans! Challenge yourself with new recipes and preparation ideas as well as savoring old favorites–remember, that new recipe may make it into the everyday favorites list before you know it!

All nutrient information sourced from USDA Food Composition Databases, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/
Studies about vegetable consumption, lifespan, and health can be found here:
Fruit and vegetable intake among older adults: A scoping review
Effects of the Mediterranean diet on longevity and age-related morbid conditions
Fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke: meta-analysis of cohort studies
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