Get in the Greens

Leafy vegetables are full of nutrients and easy to prepare.

by Erin Jung, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center
leafy vegetable
Leafy greens are low in calories, yet contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals.

If you want a healthy diet, take some advice from another part of life and “go green.” Vegetables are packed with essential vitamins and minerals that help our bodies stay strong and healthy. Leafy greens, in particular, are full of nutrients. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends adults eat 1½ to two cups of leafy green vegetables weekly. But many Americans fall short of that and are considered vitamin-deficient.

Rich in Nutrients
Leafy greens are low in calories, yet contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals. They are often rich in Vitamins A, B-6, C and K, as well as folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber and antioxidants. These nutrients support different systems within your body, notably playing roles in energy production, cell function and preventing chronic disease.

The general rule of thumb is that dark-green vegetables contain more nutrients than lighter-colored vegetables. For example, kale is richer than iceberg lettuce in virtually every nutrient. Here are some green vegetables to keep in mind the next time you fill your cart at the grocery store or farmer’s market:

  • Collard greens
  • Herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, etc.)
  • Kale
  • Lettuce (romaine, leaf, arugula, etc.)
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip greens

A Variety of Dishes
Leafy greens are versatile and easy to prepare. They can be cooked and served several ways, too. Here are some cooking methods and dishes to try!

Steam: Great for collard greens and chard. Bring a small amount of water to a gentle boil. Place a steamer basket over them and cook the vegetables in the basket until they are tender, yet firm.

Sauté: Heat a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil and a teaspoon of minced garlic before letting the greens cook down for several minutes. Add them to a pasta or curry dish if you like, but they are also tasty on their own. Sprinkle on some fresh herbs like thyme, parsley or oregano to add some extra flavor.

Bake: Kale chips have become fairly popular, but did you know you can make them at home? Prepare a baking sheet and cut up kale into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of black pepper before baking them at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are nice and crisp.

Blend: Try adding greens to a morning smoothie to get your day started the right way. Kale and spinach are great choices for this. You can even use the frozen varieties.

Toss: Chop up your favorite salad greens and prepare a fresh salad in a pinch. Try adding lean protein like grilled chicken or canned tuna, and crunchy vegetables like cucumbers and carrots. Drizzle some vinaigrette dressing to complete the salad.

Wrap: Try swapping out the bread from your favorite sandwich with a big piece of romaine or butter lettuce to make a tasty lettuce wrap. PM

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