Eat Your Greens

EatYourGreens285Your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you to “eat your greens”: these colorful leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and should ideally make frequent appearances on your menu.

Nutritional Breakdown

Greens are rich in chlorophyll, which transports magnesium and carbon dioxide and enables energy metabolism. Their nutrient roster boasts phyto (plant) nutrients, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron, as well as trace elements (those minerals we need in small amounts, including zinc, iron, copper, and manganese). Leafy greens can also provide vitamin A (in its pro-vitamin form of beta carotene), B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Small quantities of vitamin E are also present, though mainly in the seeds of such plants rather than in the leaves. In addition, most greens provide at least 2 percent of the daily recommendation for dietary fiber.

The Raw and the Cooked

Greens eaten raw are usually called salad greens. Salad greens include all the various lettuce varieties, including Bibb, Boston, ruby (red leaf), iceberg, and romaine. The variety groupings—each distinguished by different leaf texture and crunchiness—are crisphead, butterhead, looseleaf, and cos (romaine). Any of these varieties can be used to form the base of a salad, add nutrients to a sandwich, or—in the case of the larger-leafed varieties—be used in place of a tortilla as a wrap. When making a salad, you may wish to also include other greens for more color and flavor; watercress, arugula, mesclun, and radicchio all make great additions.

Try the following recipes and notice the flavor punch—and the nutritional boost—that these greens deliver.

Color-coded for Your Benefit

When choosing greens, reach for those that have darker leaves. These varieties generally have more antioxidants or phytonutrients, boosting the greens’ capacity to protect your cells from damaging free radicals.

While salad greens are easy to chew, the leaves of some other greens are best when softened by cooking. These are usually the more hardy plants with thicker stems and curly leaves, like cabbage and collard greens, which thrive in colder temperatures. These vegetables, part of the Brassic

a or Crucifer family, tend to have a more bitter taste—a result of compounds calledisothiocyanates. The leaves of greens from the Brassica family promote cancer-fighting action by stimulating detoxification enzymes in the liver and the kidneys. While some people who are genetically prone to certain cancers might particularly benefit from the nutritional value of greens in the cruciferous family of vegetables, all of us can reap the rewards of their rich nutrients.

Go Green!

Whether as part of a colorful salad, layered on your favorite sandwich, or cooked to perfection as a side dish or an entrée, greens will deliver valuable nutrients and delicious flavor to your meals.


 

Get  Started on Your Green Streak

Here are just some of the many varieties of greens to try. Check with your grocer or local farmers’ market to see which greens are in season, and experiment to see which flavors you like best.

Arugula
Beet greens
Cabbage
Chicory
Bok choy
Collard greens
Swiss chard
Dandelion greens
Escarole
Kale
Lettuce
Mustard greens
Purslane
Spinach
Taro leaves
Turnip greens
Watercress
Vegetable and Salad Greens


 

Go Green: Recipes

Try the following recipes and notice the flavor punch—and the nutritional boost—that these greens deliver.

Collard Greens with Pine Nuts
Pine nuts (pignolias) are an excellent source of healthy oils and boost the calorie count of this flavorful dish.

1 large bunch collard greens (about 1½ pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon pine nuts
soy sauce (optional)

Rinse greens well in a large bowl of cold water. Drain and cut off tough stems. Cut leaves into ¼-inch strips. Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy deep skillet (avoid overheating). Add the garlic and brown gently. Add pine nuts and continue to cook until lightly toasted. Add the collard greens and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, tossing with a fork. Cover and continue to cook until wilted and tender (about 15 minutes). Top with a little soy sauce if desired.

Makes 4 servings

Nutritional information per serving: calories 114, protein 5 g, carbohydrate 5 g, fat 6 g (ALA 0.02 g)

Watercress and Endive Salad
Walnuts are an excellent source of an omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and add to the healthy properties of this delicious appetizer or side dish.

3 sprigs fresh watercress
1 Belgian endive
1 tablespoon extravirgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon honey mustard
Salt and black pepper
½ clove garlic crushed (optional)
4 walnut halves
1 thin slice goat or sheep cheese

Wash and spin-dry greens. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss with the greens. Serve with cheese and top with walnut halves.

Makes 1 serving

Nutritional information per serving: calories 210; protein 5 grams (g); carbohydrate 7 g; fat 19 g (ALA 0.4 g)

Creamed Spinach
A dash of lemon juice or your favorite hot sauce adds to the flavor of this delicious dish. You may also wish to include mushrooms, as they are full of immune-supporting nutrients including beta glucans and vitamin D.

2 pounds spinach
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
½ cup Greek-style plain nonfat yogurt

Wash and drain the spinach, then add the water and salt. Cook in a heavy deep skillet, covered, and shake frequently or lift leaves with a fork. Cook 7 to 12 minutes until tender; drain. Add pepper and warmed yogurt and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings

Nutritional information per serving: calories 68, protein 8 g, carbohydrate 11 g, fat <1 g (ALA 0.8 g)