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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12 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Dark, Leafy Greens”

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  1. Kale in stirfry is one of the best things going. Tempeh, kale, onions, garlic and ginger. That’s all you need.

    1. I just discovered Kale and really like how resilient it is in practically any cooking application. You can do anything with Kale including throw it in soup like Zuppa Toscana (the kind they serve at Olive Garden). I haven’t tried blending it in a green smoothie yet, but I’m looking forward to using it a lot more! Great suggestion!

  2. Great stuff. I love my greens. I have a salad with spinach or some type of dark green/green-red lettuce daily. And then I also have cooked greens of some other sort at least once or twice a week, usually kale, though sometimes collards, and typically some spinach anytime I make eggs for a meal. Nutritionally, there’s just nothing better than adding some greens…lots of vitamins, very little in the way of carbs.

    I have several types of sea vegetables in my pantry. I just forget to use them very often. I need to be more diligent about that.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  3. MMMMmmm, greens! They are awesome. As a cash-poor graduate student, I love buying these. They are usually cheap compared to other vegetables, and you can get a whole lot of them at one time. I usually pick up at least one bunch a week, and I just go by which type looks best at the time. Mustard, turnip, and kale are the ones I tend to eat the most…but now that it’s springtime, I’m also out gathering young dandelions from my backyard!

    I like ’em simple – chopped and sauteed/steamed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and then served with salt and cider vinegar. Delish.

    1. Hey all. Don’t forget the best green of all, it is free all summer. Dandelions. Cut with scissors soak over night fresh in salads is great to me.

  4. I never really ate a lot of greens until I started coming to this site daily. Now I eat a huge salad with dark greens (Kale, Chard), throw in some Romaine and every veggie I can find. Not only is it amazing for you but I calculated how much money I save per day by eating this and since I started this I have saved over $300.00.

  5. I love this website… almost as much as I love dark leafy greens. Good to know that I should be adding some fat to the salads, since I generally bare-paw the leaves straight (no dressing).
    Unfortunately, my boyfriend doesn’t love them so much. While I can sneak them into sandwiches or soups, it doesn’t seem like he eats enough of them. What kind of alternatives are there that pack a comparable amount of nutritional punch (if such magical vegetables exist)?

  6. I have a kale “smoothie” every morning for breakfast, and I LOVE it!
    3 large leaves of kale (stem removed)
    1 apple, cored
    optional: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or fresh grated ginger
    6 ice cubes
    a little water
    I blend them in the blender so I don’t lose any of the fiber. It tastes mainly like apple, but it’s very filling and satisfying. The kale has lots of nutrients including calcium and protein. I guess you could add a raw egg if you wanted extra protein, but this smoothies fills me for hours.

  7. Having a good dressing, spices and herbs brings a salad to life.

    I love adding fresh chopped chilli to mine. Depending on the salad, I’ll add fresh coriander, parsley, basil, thyme…etc.

    As for a dressing, just do 3 parts oil and 1 part vinegar. Olive oil and lemon juice is a great and simple one to do.

  8. Dark green leafy vegetables are bursting with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that provide important cancer-fighting benefits. It also has antioxidants that are also known to play a role in preventing other signs of aging. Just like having a windshield repair kit in the body.

  9. Hey Mark, what is your take on green smoothies with fresh greens?

    My wife has MS and we follow a primal/paleo diet to help manage that but as well as what we take away we also look to optimise everything we put in us. Green smoothies allow us to get flaxseed, ginger, fresh organic greens & a whole bunch of fruit down us in one go.

    I know you have covered green powders but would love to get your take on fresh, blended green smoothies.

    Cheers & Grok On!

  10. “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.”

    Spinach or broccoli lightly steamed and drenched in butter is about as good as a vegetable gets, IMO.