09 Jun Bringing in the Greens
My favorite color and one worth repeating—Green! It is nature’s sign of being alive, and vitality at the very essence of life. Greens are one of the best food you can eat regularly to help improve your health. Dark leafy green vegetables supply minerals such as calcium and iron, vitamin A, C and E, and folic acid making them antioxidant rich and powerful cancer fighters. Greens are a rich source of carotenoids and phytonutrients. They are rich in chlorophyll, which alkalizes the blood, and fiber that keeps the colon healthy. Greens can be added to your diet in many ways and are most nutritious when eaten raw or lightly sautéed or steamed depending on which green you are preparing. Let’s look at a few leafy greens individually and see how they can help us stay healthy.
Kale: Often placed on the top 10 healthiest foods, it is bountiful with calcium and a strong cruciferous green that is in the cabbage family. One cup chopped raw kale, about 34 calories, delivers great dietary fiber, 206% of the RDA of vitamin A from beta carotene, 134% of the RDA of vitamin C (greater than in an orange), and 684% of the RDA of vitamin K, among other nutrients. So when you see the “Eat More Kale” slogan, you can understand the health reasons behind the statement. Kale can be eaten raw, sautéed, boiled or steamed. Boiling will rob the kale of some of its vitamin C and mineral content but if you save the water for drinking or use as a broth you can regain what was lost. Kale makes great salads and bottom base layers for entrees or simply solo on its own. Kale can also be turned into a crunchy snack when dried and made into seasoned Kale Chips.
Collards: Traditionally a southern green, collards are making their way north to other kitchen repertoires. This robust healthy green is a nutritional goldmine. Another cruciferous, cancer-fighting leafy green that is low in calories, high in beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium and B vitamins. Collard greens are a little tough and grassy tasting when raw, but if cut into thin strips and added to salads they enhance the quality. Cooking them first softens the texture and they be precooked in a small amount of boiling water for 8 – 10 minutes, and then finished off by sautéing with a little oil and other vegetables. For a little chewier green go right to the sauté in oil. I like adding them to my stir fries. These are one green where steaming is not recommended for they are less palatable when prepared this way .
Turnip Greens: One of the most bitter of the dark leafy greens is light green in color, with curled edges and a light green stem. Turnip greens are in the mustard family with an assertive mustard taste and a peppery kick. Adding these greens to your dishes will boost your fiber, Vitamin A and E, iron and potassium intake, as well as give you a calcium boost. Turnip Greens are best blanched first to get rid of some of the bitterness and can be added to your favorite grain or vegetable combinations.
Chard: The most common type is referred to as Swiss chard, while a lesser known variety is red or rhubarb chard. A versatile, tall leafy green vegetable with a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in white, red or yellow with wide fan-like green leaves or bubble ripple leaves depending on the variety. Chard belongs to the same family as spinach and beets and shares a similar taste repertoire with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly earthy. Chard is at the top of its class with its remarkably impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. It has a great supply of calcium and an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and manganese along with vitamins K, C, E, and A and then top that off with many phytonutrients. Unlike the other greens mentioned so far, it is recommended by some to boil the chard to free up acids, allowing them to leach into the boiling water; this brings out a sweeter taste from the chard. Discard the high acid boiling water after cooking. You may want to do this for soups. I have had bitterness issues when using too many leaf stocks in my soup. Chard can also be sautéed with other vegetables in healthy oil.
Spinach: Popeye’s favorite food and for a good reason! It is one of the highest non heme iron yielding green but not as high as once was thought. The iron content of spinach was miscalculated by a German chemist when he misplaced a decimal point and reported iron level to be 10 times richer than it actually was. But spinach also has higher oxalic acid levels than other greens which when released in cooking, binds with calcium and iron creating an environment less favorable for their absorption. This versatile and mild-tasting green can easily fulfill your daily requirement of folic acid (B9) which is very important for pregnant mothers, as well as, supply you with vitamin A, C and E, the antioxidant vitamins publicized to be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer. There are 2 popular varieties; the flat-leaf that grows quickly, is easy to wash and works well in salads and raw dishes and the savory curly, crinkled leaf that has a little more substance and works better in cooked dishes. Fresh spinach can be added to almost anything you cook but it can wilts down to barely negligible if you don’t add enough. So feel free to pile it on.
Beet Greens: Another dark leafy green whose top has more nutritional value than the beetroot and far too often discarded, overlooking the rich nutrient source that it holds. Beet greens are wonderful source of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin-A inside the body. They also contain the flavonoids lutein and zea-xanthin (good for the eyes) which have strong anti-oxidant and anti-cancer activities. These bountiful leaves will also supply you with a grand amount of vitamin K for bone and brain health, vitamin C for resistance to infectious agents and damaging oxygen-free radicals. This leafy vegetable is particularly wealthy in many essential B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, folate, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamine, pantothenic acid, etc. A rich source of minerals can also be found in these leaves; offering magnesium, copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Simple to cook in just a little boiling water and served with a sprinkle of vinegar. Or enhance them with seasonings like dill, lemon, balsamic vinegar and orange juice. These also can be sauteed in a little oil.
Mustard Greens: A cruciferous vegetable with cholesterol-lowering ability that doesn’t rank high on the popularity scale. Steamed mustard greens have the ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract making it is easier to be excreted from the body which aids in lowering of the body’s cholesterol level. Steamed greens have a much greater bile acid binding ability than raw mustard greens. Mustard greens are also high in glucosinolates which are phytonutrients that can be converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs) that have anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive properties. Mustard greens eaten alone can be somewhat overpowering and do better when mixed with other mellower greens such as spinach or kale to tame the intense flavor.
Arugula: This distinctively tasting green has been on the rise due to its flavor which varies from spicy, tender and mustardy, nutty and warm pungent, to peppery with a sweet tang. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable in the mustard family and native to the Mediterranean area. It looks like a cross between an oak leaf and a dandelion green. As one of the most nutritious salad greens, arugula tops kale and collard for its calcium content. Arugula can also be used as a fresh herb which combines well with pastas, soups, vegetables and grain dishes.
Chinese Bok Choy or Pak Choi: This leafy green with its succulent white stalk and large green leaf is a quick cooking Asian kitchen staple. It is another cruciferous vegetable and a member of the cabbage family that is loaded with vitamins A and C and is also a good source of manganese and zinc. Recently, studies have identified over 70 antioxidant phenolic substances in bok choy. Because of its high water content this mild green cooks up quickly in a small amount of oil or vegetable broth, sautéed in a skillet. Bok Choy can be added to stir-fries, soups or finely cut and for another dimension to your salads.
So, if you’re looking to step your diet up a notch, pick a green most any leafy green and add it to your plate.When consuming leafy greens that contain oxalates which bind to calcium and iron, it is good to pair them with foods that are high in vitamin C. This will help increase the non-heme iron absorption found in the leafy green vegetables. Topping them with some fresh squeezed lemon juice will help achieve the desired retained nutrient value. Eating foods such as brussel sprouts, tomatoes, tomato juice, potatoes and green and red peppers will improve absorption of iron from spinach, swiss chard, and other greens containing oxalic acid.
Lemon-Orange Beet Greens
1 lb beet greens
1 medium sweet onion, sliced into quarter rings
1 tbsp olive or avocado oil
1 c peeled and grated beets
1 orange, peel and pith removed and cut into small sections
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp prepared brown mustard
1 tbsp olive or avocado oil
Pinch of sea salt
Cut off beets and discard top portion of beet/bottom of stems and slice the rest into ½ inch sections.
Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onions until soft and translucent; add peeled and grated beets and sauté for a couple more minutes.
Mix together the lemon juice, mustard, oil and sea salt. Sprinkle over cooked green mixture prior to serving and top with oranges. Serve hot and enjoy!