Instead of just wearing green this St. Patrick’s day, why not eat green? A healthy diet includes filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens are a great vegetable choice. From the everyday romaine lettuce found in salads to the not so common beet greens, there are so many different varieties to please even the pickiest eaters. Leafy greens are one of the top nutrient-rich foods, and here are few of the benefits:
- They are loaded with vitamins A, K and C, as well as folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
- The antioxidants and phytochemicals found in leafy greens can help protect you from heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
- They can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.
- They are full of fiber, which can aid in digestion and boost weight loss.
- They are very low calorie - one cup of raw, leafy greens is around 7-35 calories.
There are so many varieties, which one is best for me? The darker the color the better, but they are all good for you. If you need ideas on how to cook them, go online and experiment with a new recipe. Pick up some collard or mustard greens at the local farmers’ market and ask the farmer how they prepare them. My favorites are baby spinach and kale. They come pre-washed in big bags or plastic containers. When I get home, I take about half out and place them in a gallon-size Ziploc bag to store in the freezer. This cuts down on waste if we can’t finish them before the expiration date. Later, you can add the frozen leaves to smoothies.
What if eating a big salad is not my thing? Don’t worry, you can sneak greens into soups, eggs, smoothies, or pasta dishes. They will wilt and shrink down in size when added to warm dishes or sautéed in a pan. Try adding chopped, fresh spinach to your morning omelet along with mushrooms, onions and a little feta cheese for a savory protein rich breakfast.
Is it better to blend or juice leafy greens? I prefer smoothies to juicing. Smoothies are more nutritionally balanced because they contain all the fiber to help lower cholesterol and keep you full. Plus, you can add a source of protein like Greek yogurt or peanut butter. I add a handful of pre-washed kale or baby spinach to my post-workout smoothies - it gives them a boost of vitamins and minerals. I do recommend a high quality blender that can handle the stalks and fibrous content of greens so your smoothies end up smooth.
My doctor told me to avoid greens because I’m taking Coumadin. Greens are high in Vitamin K which play a key role in blood clotting. I tell my clients who are taking a blood thinner to talk to their doctor about monitoring their blood and adjusting their medication as they add greens to their diet.
Here are two of my favorite smoothie recipes that contain leafy greens:
1 cup washed leafy greens (baby spinach or kale recommended)
1/2-1 cup water
1 small frozen banana
1 cup of frozen mango/pineapple or other fruit
Nutrition Facts: 170 calories, 2 grams protein, 36 grams carbs, 3 grams fiber
Adapted from www.100daysofrealfood.com.
1-2 cups fresh pre-washed kale or baby spinach
3/4 cup Greek non-fat yogurt
1/4 cup water
1 cup of fruit (strawberries, mixed berries, pineapple, or cherries)
1/2 banana (better if frozen, makes it creamy and smooth)
Nutrition facts: 240 calories, 21 gram protein, 39 gram of carbs, 6 gram fiber, 25% RDA for Calcium, over 100% RDA for Vitamin C, A and K.
Juliana Wright, Registered Dietitian
Huntsville Hospital Wellness Center