Although green is one of the major colors of the Christmas season, leafy greens are something we should include in our diet year round.
These lush edible plants are a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and disease-preventing phytonutrients. Plus, they are low in calories, fat- and cholesterol-free, and free of added sugars. What’s more, forget the image of cooked greens like spinach as a pile of slimy mush on your plate. There are many ways to fix these foods that highlight and enhance their natural textures and flavors.
Eating any and all edible leafy greens is a wonderful way to add nutrients to your diet. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consumption of at least 2.5 cups of vegetables daily, and of these, at least 1.5 cups of dark green leafy vegetables weekly. More specifically, research published earlier this year by Jennifer Di Noia, associate professor and chairwoman of the sociology department at William Paterson University in New Jersey, defined a list of top “powerhouse fruits and vegetables” or those most nutrient dense and therefore most strongly associated with reducing chronic disease risk.
Of these, the top 16 are leafy greens. In order of most highly rated first, they are: watercress, Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, romaine lettuce, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, endive, chives, kale and dandelion greens.
Here’s a look at the top three, plus a new leafy green that has just gone into national distribution in the U.S. this fall and may soon be considered a powerhouse vegetable thanks to its parents.
Watercress. This peppery-tasting green is a member of the cabbage family, with kale, turnip greens and mustard greens as its siblings. One cup provides 4 calories, plus excellent sources of vitamins A, C and K and rich sources of B vitamins. Watercress contains a group of phytonutrients called glucosinolates. One of these, called gluconasturtiin, which is found in the stems and leaves, can help to prevent colon and prostate cancers.
This phytonutrient is best absorbed from raw vegetables, which is a plus with watercress since this is rarely cooked. Good ways to add watercress to your diet are in salads and sandwiches or blended into a smoothie with other greens, fruits and vegetables.
Chinese or Napa Cabbage. These light green crunchy, sweet, celery-flavored leaves are favorites in Asian staples such as egg rolls, stir-fries and slaws. One cup of shredded Napa cabbage provides 20 calories, plus a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin K.
Vitamin K, which is found in all leafy greens, is most known for helping the blood to clot. Newer research shows that this vitamin can also make bones stronger and thus delay osteoporosis as well as help to prevent the brain damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.
Add raw to salads and sandwiches, use to make coleslaw, steam and mix into brown rice, or stir into a hearty vegetable soup.
Swiss Chard. The green hues of the leaves contrast with the bright red color of the stems, stalks and leaf veins to make this one attractive veggie. One cup supplies only 7 calories, plus lots of dietary fiber.
Like other greens, Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. It’s also a fine source of minerals such as potassium, iron, phosphorus and calcium that can help to prevent iron-deficiency anemia, cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
Swiss chard, like spinach, does contain oxalates that can bind calcium and prevent its absorption into the body. Cooking can reduce this effect, so add to a soup, stir-fry, casserole or quiche. You can also toss raw in salads.
New kid on the block. The new leafy green is called Kalettes. This traditionally non-GMO bred cross between kale and Brussel sprouts originated from a seed developed by Tozer Seeds in the UK, where this vegetable is called flower sprouts.
The flavor of Kalettes is sweet and nutty, combining the flavor traits of both of its parents. Kalettes can be sautéed, roasted, grilled or eaten raw. According to Tozer Seeds, Kalettes or flower sprouts will soon be available in northwest Europe including the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. For more information and recipes, visit www.kalettes.com
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at email@example.com.