Canned spinach. No matter how many cartoon characters gained super strength from it, you’d be hard pressed to get me to eat it. Luckily for me, that’s not the only (nor is it the best) way to get some greens in your diet. Leafy greens are really really good for you, and there are so many different ways to eat them.
What am I referring to when I talk about leafy greens? They are exactly what it sounds like; any green leaf vegetable can fit in this category. The darker green they are the better for you they tend to be. So while iceberg may be a starting point, it doesn’t really have much nutritional value. Let’s try to move on up to kale, beet greens, collards, chard… the list goes on. In the past couple years I’ve tried and enjoyed many, but there are more left for me to experiment with. Hopefully by the time you are finished reading this article, you will be inspired to try a new variety yourself.
Leafy Greens are one of the most, if not the most, nutrient dense foods. In other words there are a lot of nutrients per calorie; we get more bang for our buck. Since they tend to be high in fiber they take up stomach real estate so you don’t feel like you need that second portion of whatever. That makes them great for those you are trying to lose weight. For those who are trying to stretch their grocery budget they are also perfect because per pound they cost less then your meat while being better for you than trying to fill up on starches. Greens contain many many vitamins and minerals, more than I could describe in this post. Below I’ll list some of them, and let you know which kind has the most of that particular nutrient. That way if you are looking to add a specific one to your diet you’ll have a starting point. If you try one and don’t like it, go ahead and try it cooked a different way, a different variety, or a totally different plant all together. For example, my favorite way to eat kale is baked as a chip, but swiss chard I prefer sauteed.
One other thing before I get started on the nutrient list. Some of the vitamins in greens are fat-soluble. In order for your body to properly absorb them you need to eat them with a healthy fat. Try an olive oil based dressing on your green salad, or use plenty of butter or an oil such as sesame or sunflower to saute them in. Go ahead and get creative with your combinations.
Although it’s needed in over 300 chemical reactions in the body, millions of people are magnesium deficient. It is used for bone density, energy production, and brain function. Low magnesium has been linked to depression, inflammation, constipation, and many other issues. Spinach is the green with the highest magnesium content but beet greens and swiss chard aren’t too far behind.
» Calcium :
The most well known benefit of calcium is strong bones and teeth. It is also used in muscle function, maintaining the heart’s rhythm, acid/alkaline balance, the release of neurotransmitters, and many other things. A single serving of collard greens contains over 26% of your daily suggested value of calcium.
» Vitamin K:
Vitamin K is another vital nutrient that most people don’t get enough of. It is important for blood clotting, preventing osteoporosis and atherosclerosis, and preventing inflammation. Greens are a great source of vitamin K. Kale has the most, with over 10 times the daily value. Spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, swiss chard and turnip greens also have a lot of this valuable nutrient.
As stated above fiber is important in helping us feel full, but it also has other uses. Fiber can lower cholesterol, level out swings in blood sugar, and helps with the excretory system. All greens are high in fiber, but turnip greens may have the most.
» Vitamin E
Vitamin E is good for your hair and skin, protects against heart disease, and may even fight against mental degeneration due to aging. Spinach and swiss chard contain 25 and 22 % of your daily value respectively.
Greens are nutritional powerhouses. Other helpful things they contain include the B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, beta-carotenes, folate, betain, lutein, and iron. They are good for your heart, brain, skin, digestion, muscles, nerves, liver, pancreas, eyes, bones, blood…. pretty much every part of your body.
Next time your in the store make a stop in the produce section and choose a new type of leafy green to try out. The internet is full of creative ways to eat them. Don’t be afraid to give them a second, third or even fourth chance. There are so many different options, don’t give up until you find one you like!