Don’t Leave Leafy Greens Out of Your Daily Diet

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Don’t leave leafy greens out of your daily diet

All leafy greens are nutritional winners and should be incorporated into the daily diet as they are nutritional powerhouses loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Whether you follow a vegan, Paleo, Atkins or South Beach diet, or adhere to the principles of Weston A. Price, leafy greens are always an allowed food and strong recommendation. They expand through several plant families including Brassica, Asteraceae and Amaranthaceae, and there are hundreds of varieties with flavors that vary from slightly sweet to bitter to spicy.

Some of the more common leafy greens include:

  • Brassica family: kale, collards, broccoli, broccolini, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, turnip greens and mustard greens.
  • Asteraceae family: lettuces, such as Romaine, butterhead, loose-leaf, crisp-head and dandelion greens.
  • Amaranthaceae family: spinach, chard and beet greens

A single serving of leafy greens is one cup raw or one-half cup cooked and can provide a significant amount of vitamins A, C, K and folate, the minerals iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and phytochemicals chlorophyll, carotenoids and phytosterols. The Brassica family also provides the phytochemicals flavonoids, indole-3-carbinol, isothiocyanates and lignans. What do all of these important nutrients and phytochemicals do for our body?

  • Vitamin A is needed for normal growth and development, immune system function and the health of the eye and vision.
  • Vitamin C is needed for the synthesis of collagen which is found in body tissues, proper wound healing, synthesis of some hormones and neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, which affects mood.
  • Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and the health of our bones.
  • Folate is needed for the synthesis of DNA and new cells, metabolism of amino acids and prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy.
  • Iron is a component of hemoglobin (carrier of oxygen) and myoglobin (storage of oxygen).
  • Potassium is an important electrolyte that is critical for nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
  • Calcium is an important component of bones and teeth and is involved in muscle contraction.
  • Magnesium is found in all body tissues and involved in thousands of chemical reactions in the body.
  • Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that act as powerful antioxidants, have anti-cancer properties, work to reduce the risk of heart disease and are detoxifiers of the body.

Good greens should have a lively, bouncy look with vitality. Smaller leaves are sweeter and more tender than large ones, but large leaves will also be tender once they’re cooked. Yellowing, limpness and spotting indicate age and a loss of vitality. In this state, they have a slightly sour smell and bitter taste.

Serve greens simply cooked as a side dish. They’re also delicious in soups and combine well with neutral foods, such as potatoes, pasta and beans. Some varieties, like chard, can be wrapped around savory fillings or chopped and used as fillings for pastas and crepes. If the greens are tender, like spinach, arugula and watercress, they can be added to salads.

Many greens are grown in fine, sandy soil. Rain splashes onto the leaves, leaving a gritty deposit, so they must be washed carefully. Trim them first, and then give the leaves a rinse under the tap. Fill a sink or large bowl with plenty of water, add the greens and gently agitate the leaves to loosen the dirt. Let them soak for a few minutes while the dirt settles to the bottom, then lift them up without stirring the dirty water. Shake the excess water off, and allow them to dry on cloth or paper towels.

Green BEAN Delivery always offers a variety of leafy greens for members to choose from. Make a commitment to incorporate these important plants into your diet daily.

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About Author

Elizabeth Blessing is co-founder and chief nutritionist of Green BEAN Delivery. Originally from Noblesville, Ind., Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Indiana University and a Master of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University. After graduating from Bastyr, she worked as a nutrition educator for Washington State University King County Extension’s Food $ense Program. While at Food $ense, she co-authored nutrition education curriculum. Now Elizabeth is the on-site Nutritionist and a Food Service instructor at The Chef’s Academy, the Indiana Business College’s culinary school. Get her nutrition tips and recipes each week on the Healthy Times blog.

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