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Getting nutritional experts to agree on just about anything these days is difficult, but you would be hard-pressed to find a nutritionist who doesn’t agree that we need to eat more veggies. In fact eating more vegetables might be the single most important thing you can do for your health.
Brightly colored vegetables are among the most nutrient dense foods there are,i supplying our bodies with the highest amount of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including antioxidants, for the least amount of calories. Interestingly, the phytonutrients that benefit human health are the plants’ own natural defense against pests and diseases, and are what give vegetables their distinctive colors.
Increased vegetable intake has been associated with a decreased risk of nearly every chronic disease. The phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals found in vegetables confer significant protection against most cancers.ii People with the highest intake of vegetables also tend to have better cognitive function as they age and appear to be better protected from Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who consume little to no vegetables.iii Vegetables also supply numerous nutrients that help reduce inflammation, a major factor in most chronic diseases. Adequate vegetable intake even appears to protect the eyes from the type of damage that causes macular degeneration. See why the experts are always telling us to eat more veggies?
One group of vegetables that are especially nutrient-packed, but often lacking from our diets, are the leafy greens. For many people, leafy green intake is limited to iceberg lettuce and spinach, but there are so many other choices available, ranging from romaine and red leaf lettuces, to kale, chard and collards, to the more exotic arugula and endive. These greens are prime sources for many vitamins, minerals and important health-promoting phytonutrients. Recently scientists analyzing collard greens, kale and Chinese broccoli identified 45 different flavonoids, phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and protect against cancer.iv In fact, one of the richest sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, flavonoids that protect the eyes from macular degeneration, is kale.v The brassica family of vegetables—which includes kale, collards, mustard greens, cabbage and arugula—contain more anticancer phytonutrients, including a group of compounds that stimulate detoxification enzymes, than any other vegetable family.vi
Packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and numerous phytonutrients, why don’t more people eat their greens regularly? It could be that some people just aren’t sure how to prepare greens—what do you do with a big leafy bunch of kale, anyway? Or, it could be the distinctive taste of many greens. While some are mild, even sweet, many impart a slightly bitter flavor. Though this flavor comes from some of the most beneficial phytonutrients, some people find it unpleasant. In general, though, cooking tends to minimize the bitter flavor. Delicate greens such as chard, spinach or beet greens can be lightly steamed or sautéed, long enough to soften them, but quickly enough so that the greens maintain a bright vibrant color. Heartier greens, such as kale and collards, can be boiled quickly, for one to three minutes, and then cooled in an ice bath before they are sautéed. These heartier greens can also stand up to longer slow-cooking methods (think collards cooked Southern style, simmered for hours with a big ol’ ham hock).
The basic recommendation from the government is to get five servings of vegetables a day, but many holistic health professionals recommend aiming for closer to eight to 11 servings. As you strive to get your recommended servings of vegetables, consider adding leafy greens.
There are so many varieties you’ll never get bored, and no matter how you choose to incorporate these wonderful vegetables into your daily routine, your body will thank you!
2 bunches kale, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard or any combination of these
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt or tamari/soy sauce, to taste
Prepare greens by tearing leaves into bite-size pieces. Discard stems. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add greens. Swish greens around in the water to wash. Wait a few minutes to allow any dirt to settle to the bottom. Using your hands gently remove greens from the water and discard rinse water. Repeat this process until no dirt remains in the bowl. Gently shake greens to remove excess water, leaving some clinging to the leaves. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the greens to the pan in batches, allowing the first batch to wilt slightly before adding the next batch, stirring to incorporate. Once all the greens are in the pan, cover and cook approximately 3 minutes. Stir and add a small amount of water if greens are sticking to the pan.
Continue to cook 1-2 minutes more until greens are tender but still bright in color. Add salt or tamari to taste and serve immediately.
The sweetness of this vinaigrette is a nice contrast in salads using bitter greens.
Makes 1 cup
Juice and zest from ½ of a large orange
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
¾ cup olive oil
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is well combined. Pour over your favorite bitter greens and enjoy.
Adapted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (Penguin Books, 2006)
2 large bunches collard greens, stems removed and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves
minced 2/3 cup raisins or currants
1/3 cup orange juice
Bring large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add a generous pinch of salt. Add the collards and cook, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes, until softened. Remove collards from boiling water and immediately rinse under cold running water in a colander, until greens are cool enough to handle.
Shake off excess water.
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the collards, raisins and ½ tsp salt. Sauté for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Collards should be bright green. Add the orange juice and cook for another 30 seconds. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2002)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds (optional)
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 large bunch greens of your choice, washed, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
Sea salt or tamari, to taste
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook cumin and mustard seeds stirring constantly for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and optional cayenne. Add the greens and cook covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally until tender, around 4-6 minutes. Add a small amount of water if greens look dry or begin to stick. Stir in salt or tamari to taste and serve immediately.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ lb shitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 bunches watercress, tough stems removed
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon tamari
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Melt the coconut oil then add the mushrooms and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the watercress and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; add the vinegar, tamari and sesame oil. Stir well to combine and serve immediately.
This recipe also works well with kale or collard greens
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 pinches of red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of dandelion greens, trimmed of any tough stems and cut into 1” pieces
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
4 ounces goat cheese
Toast the almonds in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant and just slightly browned. Transfer almonds to a small plate and set aside. Increase the heat to medium and add the olive oil and onion. Sauté until onion starts to soften and then stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring to ensure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the dandelion greens and cook, stirring, until they are wilted, about one minute. Add the broth and partially cover, cooking one minute. Remove the lid and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is mostly evaporated, 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the goat cheese into the greens, stirring to combine. Top with the reserved almonds.
Adapted from Eating Well magazine, Oct/Nov 2005
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1 medium shallot, minced
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon garlic powder
8 large Swiss chard leaves, washed, stems removed, leaves left whole
14-oz chicken broth
1 jar marinara sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a large bowl mix beef, breadcrumbs, shallot and spices until just combined. Divide mixture into
eight oblong portions. Lay chard leaves flat and overlap the sides where the stem has been removed.
Place one portion of beef closer to the end where the stem was. Tightly roll the chard around the beef
and place seam-side down in a large skillet. Repeat with remaining beef and chard leaves. Pour broth
into skillet, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until instant read thermometer
inserted into the center of rolls reads 165˚ F, about 8-10 minutes. Discard remaining broth. Serve the
rolls topped with warmed marinara sauce and optional cheese.