The Top 5 Leafy Greens You Should Be Eating
By KIM MCDEVITT
You probably already know that greens are good for you and you probably try eat them when you can. But I would argue that greens are the one food that you should try to incorporate into as many of your daily meals as possible for better overall health.
Greens are packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals and health-promoting plant compounds, and are very low in calories and high in fiber. Because of this, greens are a great way to get a high dose of nutrition, get protective health benefits and keep your weight in check.
The USDA recommends between 2 to 3 cups of greens daily, but you really can't overdo it. And while kale is typically the leader of the pack, there are lots of other greens that we can all benefit from eating more of:
1. Collard Greens
Collard greens, rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, A and C, are promoted most for their ability to lower cholesterol. They bind bile acids in the digestive tract and assist in easier exit of cholesterol from your body, especially when eaten steamed.
Try braising collards by adding washed and chopped greens to a pan of sautéed onion, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Once greens start to wilt, add one cup of broth (for 16 ounces of greens) and one tablespoon apple cider vinegar, cover and let simmer for up to one hour.
2. Red and Green Leaf Lettuce
While a more commonly used daily green than others, leaf lettuces are high in vitamin A, K and folate. It's worth noting that the darker the lettuce, the more nutrition, so red leaf is slightly more nutrient-dense than green. Because of its soft texture and mild taste, it's easy to incorporate leaf lettuce into your daily diet, giving your body a boost of nutrients for hardly any calories.
Try chopping lettuce and preparing containers of salad ahead of time to make it more convenient to grab and go as your week gets busier. Dress the salad lightly with lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil when you're ready to eat.
Also commonly referred to as sprouts, microgreens are the first shoots from various vegetables or herbs including broccoli, arugula and chard. Research around these mild, edible sprouts shows that they contain a considerably high level of vitamins and carotenoids (up to five times greater) than the mature plant. Microgreens are loaded with both vitamin C (over 200 percent RDI or recommended daily intake) and beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
It's best to eat microgreens as close to harvest as possible to get all the nutrients. You can grow them at home by planting vegetable seeds and growing them in organic soil. They're ready to be harvested and eaten after reaching approximately two inches in height.
4. Sea Greens
Not a green you'll find in the produce aisle of the market, sea greens, including chlorella and spirulina, are the richest source of chlorophyll out there. Both of these algaes deliver not only vitamins and minerals that oxygenate the blood and protect against health ailments, they're also considered complete foods, as they offer other nutrients including essential amino acids (protein).
You can easily incorporate sea greens into your diet in supplement form of chlorella or spirulina, or try adding up to one teaspoon into smoothies or drinks such as lemon water.
While arguably the most mainstream of these greens, don't skip over spinach. Low in calorie and high in nutrients, one cup of spinach provides 25 percent RDI of iron and packs in over 400 percent RDI of vitamin K, which plays a vital role in strengthening bone mass. This leafy green is also a great source of vitamin C (47 percent RDI in a 1/2 cup), a powerful antioxidant helping the body scavenge free radicals and fight off disease.
The mild flavor of baby spinach makes it a great addition to a morning smoothie without the “green” taste. Try this sneakily green and healthy smoothie tomorrow morning:
Sneaky Green Smoothie
* 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
* 1 cup water
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 serving Vega Protein & Greens
* 1 generous handful fresh spinach
Add all ingredients to the blender, blend until smooth and enjoy!
The next time you're at the grocery store, challenge yourself to picking out one new green and incorporating it into your weekly meals. Add greens into more meals and remember that the more variety, the better.
Readers - What kinds of greens do you eat? What are your favorite ways to incorporate greens into your diet? What other greens do you eat that didn't make the list? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Kim McDevitt, M.P.H., RD, is a Vega National Educator, runner, cooking enthusiast and plant-focused flexitarian. She has passionately built her career in nutrition. After noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in dietetics and public health to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Accessed on 10/8/15 from: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietaryguidelines/
Traber M, et.al. (2015). α-Tocopherol disappearance rates from plasma depend on lipid concentrations: studies using deuterium-labeled collard greens in younger and older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Accessed on 10/7/2015 from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2015/03/04/ajcn.114.100966.abstract?cited-by=yes&legid=ajcn;ajcn.114.100966v1
Kahlon TS, Chiu MC, Chapman MH. (2008). Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage. 28(6):351-7.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). Specialty Greens Pack a Nutritional Punch. Accessed on 10/8/15 from: http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2014/jan/greens