Smart Fuel: Dark, Leafy Greens

With earth day barely a week behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to a new way to Go Green. This time, however, we’re not talking about forgoing paper napkins or ditching the polystyrene cup. In fact, we’re actually talking about adding something in: Dark, leafy green vegetables, and lots of ‘em.

Now granted, we’ve discussed many of these nutritional powerhouses in previous posts – here, here and here, for instance – but you see, and not to get all girly on you here, but leafy green vegetables are like the little black dress of the vegetable world. They go with just about everything, they’re appropriate for every occasion, and, with very few exceptions, they are universally liked. And for that reason, they deserve a second look!

On the nutrition front, dark green leafy vegetables, calorie for calorie, are considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. Specifically, they are an excellent source of several minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium as well as vitamins K (providing nine times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) per 1 cup serving) C, E, and many of the B vitamins. In addition, leafy greens provide a number of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin and also contain small amounts of fatty acids. Cementing their place on the nutritional honor roll, leafy greens contain very few carbohydrates, much of which is offset by its high fiber content (so much so that the leafy greens are generally considered a “freebie” vegetable in most low-carbohydrate diets).

In addition to their shared nutritional benefits, leafy green vegetables also have several medicinal benefits in common. According to recent research, for example, leafy green vegetables can help prevent age-related cognitive declines, can help prevent cataracts and boost eye health (you can thank the potent combination of lutein, and zeaxanthin for that one!), and may also reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Now let’s talk taste: Although they are all dark green vegetables and have similar appearances, the tastes actually differ significantly which, in turn, can dictate how you use them in cooking. Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, broccoli rabe and collard greens, for example, have a more pungent flavor that can be used to add zip to stir frys, casseroles or soups or that can be served as a stand alone dish with salt and a touch of lemon juice. Bok Choy, meanwhile, has a milder, almost sweet flavor that goes well when sautéed with onions and garlic or again, to add texture to stir frys, casseroles or soups. Another great – but admittedly lesser known – leafy green are sea vegetables, or seaweed, which, with its salty flavor, make a great base for soups, salads or again, to add flair to a stir fry (are you seeing a theme here?). Still not sure? Consider using the leafy greens as a nutritious “bed” for just about any entrée. Finally, there’s the more salady-type greens, including romaine and endive, which make a great base for just about every salad but that can also be used as a substitute for bread to make sandwich “wraps.”

One good tip to remember, however you are eating your greens, is to always try and add a little fat (either in the form of oil, butter or salad dressing), as it helps promote absorption of fat-soluble vitamin K.

So, however you like ‘em – hot, cold or somewhere in between – consider adding leafy green vegetables to your next meal!

AmyMo, drdrewhonolulu, Pixie Dust Flickr Photos (CC)

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