Leafy greens are such powerful foods, and we had such a great class featuring them on Wednesday, that I decided it was the perfect topic for this week’s blog post. Most people know that they should be eating their greens, and yet they don’t, or they don’t eat enough…why? Well, it can be challenging to meet the 2-serving-a-day recommendation (which means 2 cups of fresh greens, or 1 cup of cooked greens). But here are several reasons to inspire you to put forward a renewed effort:
- Dark leafy greens offer the most nutrition of any food per calorie, making them nutrient dense
- They are protective against major chronic diseases, and reduce the risk for heart attacks and stroke
- They are an important anti-inflammatory foods
- They are a good source of calcium, and the calcium in most leafy greens is better absorbed by the body than the calcium found in cow’s milk. (Spinach, beet greens and chard are the exception because they contain oxalic acid which binds calcium. However, they are rich in other nutrients so it’s still great to include them in your diet)
- They help prevent cancer, and are especially associated with lowered levels of colon cancer
- They are protective against cataracts and macular degeneration and reduce facial wrinkling
- They improve immune function
Are you convinced? Are you on the edge of your seat, thinking about that green smoothie you’re about to make? 🙂
Like with other vegetables, some nutrients in greens are destroyed by cooking, but other nutrients become more readily absorbed, so it’s always best to eat a varied mix of cooked and raw greens.
It’s also important to note that many nutrients that greens are famous for – like beta-carotene, lutein and vitamin K – are fat-soluble. This means that if you eat greens alongside a small amount of fat you maximize the nutrients that you absorb. Pair greens with a small amount of unsalted/raw nuts, seeds, nut/seed butter/avocado – eg. a tahini dressing for your salad; a walnut-kale pesto, toasted sesame seeds on sautéed kale/nut blend for kale chips. This makes a big difference!
*A Word of Caution: If you are on blood thinners (warfarin, Coumadin) advise your doctor before drastically increasing your intake of greens. Greens are high in vitamin K (which is involved in blood clotting) and if you increase the amount of greens you are eating your medication dosage may need to be altered.
What Are Greens?
Well, most of us already know about kale and spinach, but there are a wide variety of greens you can include in your diet in a number of ways. For example: arugula, turnip greens, beet greens, collards, mesclun mix, mustard greens, chard (many varieties) and dandelion greens. Note that parsley, cilantro, basil, mint and other green herbs also count as greens, and they are VERY good for you. Rather than thinking of them as a garnish, use these delicious herbs liberally to add flavour and an amazing nutrient boost to your meals and snacks.
Easy ways to get more greens in your diet:
There are lots of ways to get more greens into your day – they can in fact fit fairly easily into a lot of the meals you make routinely. Here are some ideas for ways you can add greens to things you are likely already eating:
- Smoothies (of course!): add a handful of greens like spinach, kale, chard, beet greens etc to your morning smoothie. If this is new for you, start with spinach, which is mild-tasting. Combine it with fruit to make it more palatable. A good basic green smoothie template:
- 1 cup water/plant milk/pure orange juice
- 1 cup fresh fruit
- 1 frozen fruit
- 1 cup greens
*mint and parsley are great greens to add to smoothies along with kale/spinach or whatever other greens you are using – I often include 2-4 stalks or more in ours.
- Add it in beds: when you’re eating pasta, stirfrys, Buddha bowls or other similar dishes, add a cup of chopped fresh greens to the bottom of your plate and place the rest of the food on top. You’ll barely notice the greens are there as they’ll take the flavour of the rest of the dish on. This is one of my favourites!
- Use them in sauces: if you are making a tomato sauce for pasta, chop up a few handfuls of greens and toss them in – they shrink down to nothing and you’ll barely know they’re there (especially the milder-tasting spinach, lacinato kale, chard or beet greens). Pesto-type sauces are also great for including greens – not only the herbs that are common in them, like basil or cilantro.
- Add it to soup: add a handful of greens to a hot bowl of soup (this obviously depends on the kind of soup and what ingredients are already in it, but it works more often than not) – chop some greens up (don’t leave them in long strings because they can get stringy, which some people don’t like).
- Add herbs to grains: I love adding large quantities of herbs as a reheat to brown rice, millet or quinoa if I’m using them as a base for stirfries or another meal, especially parsley or cilantro.
What is YOUR favourite tip for getting more greens into your day, and what inspires you to do so?
Interested in learning more about plant-based cooking classes in Powell River? Check out what’s coming up here.