Kale, swiss chard, collards, bok choy, cabbage, watercress, spinach, arugula, and lettuce are some of the most versatile foods we know. These leafy greens appear as the main ingredients in our salads, as decorations on gourmet dishes, and as wrap substitutes for burger buns and tortillas. They can be blended with fruits for smoothies or juiced with other vegetables. They’re even sold in powdered form and liquid extracts.
Best of all, leafy greens are nutritionally packed foods. They are a good source of vitamin A, B, K, B9 (folate), and C. They also contain minerals like calcium, zinc and magnesium as well as omega-3s, amino acids, and many antioxidants. Eating leafy greens can even help us:
Retain our cognitive skills
A 5-year study of almost 1000 seniors (81 years or older) found that those who consumed one or two servings of leafy greens a day had a younger mental capacity by 10 years than those who never ate them.
Be heart healthy
Dark leafy greens are especially potent in protecting us against cardiovascular disease and stroke. Leafy greens also help enhance exercise performance, lower blood pressure, and reduce arterial stiffness. In addition, vitamin K-rich foods like greens help with blood clotting, an important function that prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel is injured. (If you are using blood thinners, you should not avoid leafy greens, but avoid them in excessive amounts. Keep your dietary vitamin K within limit and consult with your physician).
Protect our intestines
Leafy greens promote growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria as well as help prevent constipation. Research conducted by the Institute for Medical Research in Australia found that proteins of cruciferous leafy greens (kale, collard greens, broccoli, and cabbage) trigger specific genes to produce more immune protective cells, which in turn help us fight against bacterial infections, allergies, inflammatory diseases, obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers.
Lutein and beta-carotene present in leafy greens are associated with lowering cancer risk. They act as antioxidants and can inhibit the growth of certain types of breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, and stomach cancer cells.
How to incorporate greens into your diet
Because they grow in fertilized soil, I recommend you give your leafy greens a good washing or soaking before you begin using them for your meals. Try preparing your produce at night so you’ll have them ready when you wake up and rush to get ready for your day. With your greens ready to go, here are some ideas on how you can incorporate them into your diet:
1. Create a salad
I encourage you to enjoy a variety of different greens. Create a salad by adding your favorite organic vegetables: tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, raw or lightly steamed broccoli, corn, and avocado. Vitamin A from greens is best absorbed with a small amount of healthy fat. You can also add a spoon of ground flax or hemp seeds with your favorite dressing or lemon juice.
2. Make a smoothie
A green smoothie is a wonderful morning drink to have on its own for breakfast. If you plan on drinking a smoothie every day, I recommend rotating your greens: use kale for one day then try romaine, dandelion or green lettuce on different days. Add bananas, berries or oranges to fill your smoothie with antioxidants.
3. Try juicing
If you have time for juicing, choose from leafy greens, vegetables, apples and citruses. Darker leaves have the most bitter taste and will therefore benefit greatly from apples and citruses. You can also make a juice with a few kale leaves, celery, apples, lemon and pinch of ginger. For another juice, try romaine lettuce leaves, carrots and lemon.
4. Eat a wrap
Soft, large leaves of collard greens are best suited for wraps. To make them easy for wrapping, cut out the hardest part of the stem. You can place your favorite burrito ingredients in the collards or use them in place of burger buns. Another type of wrap you can try is with romaine lettuce, which you can substitute for taco shells.
Katja Breceljnik is a Clinical Nutritionist who runs the blog More Than An Apple. She graduated from the California College of Natural Medicine and has received a certificate in NeuroEndocrine Regulation & Anti-Aging. She is a passionate advocate for healthy living in a dirty city. She has helped many people with both reversing their symptoms and gaining understanding of the connection between their symptoms and the cause.