Don’t forget your Leafy Greens!
Nutrition powerhouses, these are one group of vegetables you don't want to miss out on! Sadly, they are also the ones that most North Americans either avoid or just forget about more often than not! The reasons are multiple, including:
Not knowing what they really are (and don't feel bad if you're like most people and have been unaware that leafy greens are actually distinct from other vegetables like tomatoes, radishes or celery)
Being unsure what to do with them (they can be used in many ways, a few of which I'll detail below)
Thinking that you don't like them, just because you've tried them once (there are so many kinds - you need to give more a try!).
It’s extremely unfortunate that people don't take more advantage of them, given their immense health benefits, not to mention the delicious variety of uses and flavours! Leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of nutrition – and they’re very low in calories and carbohydrates, meaning you can enjoy unlimited quantities at your leisure! Read on for information on their health benefits, some different kinds of leafy green vegetables, and some suggestions on how best to prepare them! Then get ready to expand your culinary repertoire!
What are the health benefits of dark green leafy vegetables?
Dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of many vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy, such as vitamins A, C, and K, beta carotene, folate, iron and calcium, among other nutrients.
These nutrients can help keep your immune system strong, helping it fight infections and stave off cold & flu!
Folate (a B vitamin) is especially important to women of childbearing age (being essential for the prevention of fetal neural tube defects).
Vitamin K is an important nutrient to help regulate blood clotting.
Calcium and Vitamin K are also essential for maintaining healthy bones, thus assisting in the prevention of fractures and osteoporosis.
Consuming iron helps prevent Iron Deficiency anemia, which can in fatigue, low energy and weakness.
Leafy greens contain Antioxidants in the forms of Lutein, Zeaxanthin
These can help protect cells from oxidative damage as well as helping protect eyes from age-related diseases (macular degeneration, cataracts, etc)
They are also great sources of fiber.
This means they digest slowly, making you feel full longer.
High fiber foods also improve digestive function, helping with constipation.
Dark green vegetables are also high in fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, K, D, and E.
These vitamins require a little bit of dietary fat in order for the body to absorb them. Therefore when you eat dark green vegetables, make sure to add a teaspoon or so of dietary fat, such as olive or canola oil to make sure your body absorbs all of the vitamins you eat.
Research suggests that the nutrients found in dark green vegetables (particularly the cruciferous ones like kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts) may help prevent diabetes, certain types of cancers and promote heart health.
Examples of dark green leafy vegetables:
Arugula: haspeppery taste and is rich in vitamins A, C, and calcium.
Great raw in salads, stir-fried, added to soups or sauces, etc.
Broccoli: composed of both soft florets and crunchy stalks, and is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate and fiber.
Eat raw, steamed, sautéed, cooked...
Collard Greens: mild in flavor and are rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate, fiber, and calcium.
Best boiled briefly and then added to soup or stir-fry, or eaten steamed as a side dish (just add your favorite seasoning and enjoy!
Dandelion Greens: impart a bitter, tangy flavor and are rich in vitamin A and calcium.
Best steamed or eaten raw in salad.
Kale: has a slightly bitter, cabbage-like flavor and is rich in vitamins A, C and K.
Very good added to soups, stir-fries, and sauces.
Mustard Greens: add a nice peppery or spicy flavor to dishes and are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and calcium.
Eat them raw in salads or added to stir-frys and soups.
Romaine Lettuce: is a nutrient rich variety of lettuce that is high is vitamins A, C, and K, and folate.
Frequently eaten raw in salads, sandwiches or wraps.
Spinach: has a delicious sweet flavor and is rich in vitamins A and K, folate, and iron.
Spinach tastes great eaten raw in smoothies or salads or lightly steamed. Also great on pizza or with pasta!
Swiss Chard: tastes similar to spinach and is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, potassium and iron.
Best stir-fried, but can be eaten raw in salads.
Quick and Easy Recipe Ideas:
Leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula taste great when mixed in a salad with different kinds of veggies, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce.
Dandelion greens are great for adding a bitter taste, while mustard greens and a nice spicy note!
Make a wrap with tuna, chicken, or turkey and add romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other veggies for some extra flavor.
Try adding leafy greens such as bok choy, collard greens, kale or mustard greens into your favorite soup. Make sure you add them just before removing the soup from the heat to prevent overcooking them!
Add chopped leafy greens (like bok choy, mustard greens, chard or collard greens) or broccoli to a chicken or tofu and stir-fry with coconut or canola oil!
Steamed: Best for bok choy, collard greens, kale, or spinach.
Add water to a pot and place a steamer with the vegetables into it. Next, bring the water to a simmer, cover with a lid, and wait a few minutes until your vegetables are slightly soft. Yum!!
*Note that when buying your green vegetables, make sure you look for vibrant green colour, crisp leaves and fresh aroma, these being signs of optimal freshness! Shopping at farmers markets (when available) is an excellent way to ensure your greens are fresh and free of chemicals and pesticides, not to mention supporting you local growers!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND
ps: Check out my recipe blog for a nutritious and delicious Spinach-Berry Salad recipe!