We’ve all been told to eat our greens before (likely as children!), yet many of us still struggle with ways to eat more greens in our regular diet. Spinach is usually a standby, which is a great choice, but there are so many other delicious dark leafy greens to try – and many ways to eat them!
Leafy greens are an incredibly nutrient-dense food. They’re a vegetable family that truly has it all, including an array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, amino acids and even nutritious fats (omega 3s). They offer us energy and strength for both our minds and bodies and are an everyday superfood that is easy to find in most grocery stores.
Key Nutrients in Dark Leafy Greens
Some of the important, abundant nutrients in dark leafy greens include:
Folate is a water-soluble B-vitamin that is needed in the synthesis of DNA and is necessary to produce new cells. Folate is essential for reproductive health and preventing birth defects, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering the amount of homocysteine in the blood and may reduce our cancer risk.
Magnesium is the “iron” of the plant world due its key role in synthesizing chlorophyll or the “blood” of plants. It’s involved as a cofactor in hundreds of reactions in the body. Magnesium is important for bone health, energy production, muscle and heart function, and it is also used by the brain and known as the “anti-stress” mineral.
The iron in dark leafy greens is fundamental to our energy levels. It helps us form hemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout the body and myoglobin that enables oxygen to power our muscles. It’s also required for enzyme synthesis, protein metabolism, and the formation of collagen and elastin.
In one study of farmers in Tanzania, higher consumption of dark leafy greens was linked to greater iron levels.
Finding ways to eat more greens in your diet increase your intake of antioxidants. Dark leafy greens are extremely antioxidant rich, and these compounds help protect our DNA from damage. Some of the primary antioxidants in greens include Vitamins A and C, which are important for the immune system and addressing autoimmune diseases, and Vitamin K for bone health.
Key Health Benefits of Dark Leafy Greens
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Greens contain a suite of minerals and vitamins important for bone health including calcium, magnesium and Vitamin K. Studies indicate that people who eat more greens in their diet have a higher bone mineral density and a lower risk of osteoporosis.
Blood Sugar Balance/Diabetes
Dark leafy greens are very low on the glycemic index, and their hefty fibre content helps to lower blood sugar levels. This meta-analysis found that finding more ways to eat dark leafy greens in your diet lowers your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Greens also make a good low-carb replacement for breads as you can use them for wraps or serve meals over a bed of greens instead of grains.
Greens have many nutrients for heart health, including omega-3 fats, fibre, magnesium, calcium and plant sterols. They also boost levels of nitric oxide, a compound that helps to increase blood flow and relax vascular tissues. Many studies have shown that consumption of dark leafy greens greatly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease – and only 1 serving per day can do the trick.
Finding ways to eat dark leafy greens provides you with the nutrients you need to detoxify your body in a gentle manner on a regular basis.
Many of the vitamins and minerals in greens help to reduce inflammation, including Vitamin C, A and omega 3s, as well as a rich array of flavonoids that protect us against many inflammatory conditions.
Aside from the fibre content, the bitterness of certain dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens, mustard greens, arugula and watercress can help stimulate digestion. Bitter foods stimulate the taste receptors on our tongues and help to enhance digestive flow.
The compounds in greens, including folate, lutein, nitrite, and Vitamin E, can help boost brain function. This study showed that 1 daily serving of dark leafy green vegetables slows aging and cognitive decline.
Learn more about how to reduce your risk of brain-related diseases here.
Best Ways to Cook Dark Leafy Greens
Many of the nutrients in greens are delicate and can be easily destroyed, so it’s best to gently steam them, give greens a quick stir-fry, or add to soups and stews at the end of cooking once you’ve turned the heat off (add them to the pot and just let them wilt).
Greens are also water soluble, meaning their compounds can leach out in water. That’s fine if you are making a stew, stir-fry soup or one-pot meal, where everything remains in the pot, but you may lose some nutrients if you cook your greens and then drain them – as some of those nutrients will go down the drain with the water.
Of course, you can also enjoy leafy greens raw. If you find them tough, massaging greens with an acid (citrus or apple cider vinegar) and olive oil helps to break down the cell walls so they are easier to digest.
10 Ways to Eat More Greens in Your Diet
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If you are looking for ways to eat more greens in your diet, these 10 ideas will help inspire you!
I recommend people have at least one big salad a day. You can use a variety of materials such as arugula, spinach, romaine, or a spring mix. Try to reduce the amount of plastic you bring into your home by avoiding bagged greens or greens.
2. Add to Soup
Putting greens into soup might be slightly unusual to some, but we see it in Asian and Japanese cuisine all the time. They put various seaweeds and bok choy in many of their concoctions. A great seaweed to add to soup is wakame.
3. Sauté Them
Lightly sauté up some greens as a side dish.
4. Blend into a Smoothie
Adding some green leafies to your favourite shake actually tastes great – and it’s one of the easiest and more delicious ways to eat more dark leafy greens. Start off with mild greens like spinach and romaine, and then work your way up to stronger and bitterer greens.
5. On Pizza
Pizza is one those foods that is sacred to some and they don’t mess with their toppings. Well, if I may, kale goes great on a homemade pizza pie. Spread them chopped over the pizza before putting it in the oven, and they will come out as a nutritious crispy addition. Spinach and chard are wonderful, too.
6. Make Kale Chips as a Snack
If Hostess™ tasted these beauties before they committed to the hydrogenated deep-fried trans-fatty acid potato chip, they surely would have started growing acres of kale. When you got the munchies kale chips will do! Grab 8 great kale chip recipes and discover more healthy snack ideas here.
7. Blend Into Dips
Dark leafy greens are wonderful in green-based recipes like pesto, but they can also be incorporated into other types of dips and spreads. Last time I whipped up a hummus, I threw in some spinach. Delish!
8. In a Wrap
Don’t know what to have for lunch? Make a wrap! Start with some greens and add in other elements like cooked or raw veggies, eggs, tofu or tempeh, animal proteins, or beans and legumes. It always turns out great and it’s a handy way to clean out your fridge.
9. As a Wrap
Not only can you put greens in a wrap, but you can use them as a wrap. Romaine and boston lettuce work great for this, as do collard greens.
10. Use As a Powder
Food technology has brought us some atrocious “edible food-like substances”, as Michael Pollan puts it, but it has also made some great products available. In comes the super-powered greens powders. You can find a whole variety of these products at your local health food store to add to smoothies and other recipes.
I hope you feel inspired to eat more greens every week!