Lean, Leafy, and Green

Tips on how to include more greens in your daily diet.

You’ve heard it since you were a kid: Eat more green vegetables. So why do you still not eat them? They’re low in calories and fat and super high in fiber, iron, protein, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid. Eating at least half a cup a day of leafy greens will ward off heart disease, cancer, and diabetes and improve colon function.

But what are they? Leafy greens, also known as leaf vegetables or greens, are nothing more than edible plant leaves. There are approximately 1,000 types of plants with edible leaves, but a few of the most nutritious and taste-friendly include spinach, lettuces (red leaf, green leaf, Romaine, and iceberg), kale, collard greens, cabbage, Swiss chard, and broccoli.

Why should you include leafy greens in your diet and how can you do it? Read on to find out.

The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and fried chicken. – Maya Angelou

Spinach

At only 20 calories per serving and brimming with iron, vitamins A and C, and folate, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. A fact you may not know is that spinach is even healthier when cooked. This is because heat allows the calcium in spinach to be more easily absorbed. Eat spinach leaves in a salad or wrap, or add frozen spinach leaves to soups, green smoothies, pasta dishes, casseroles, or eggs.

Lettuces

The darker green the lettuce, the more nutritious. Rich in vitamins C, A, and K, dark green lettuce is the perfect base for salads. Combine the greens with fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, nuts, or seeds for a healthy meal or side dish. Top with an oil-and-vinegar-based dressing and avoid creamy, high-calorie dressings. Iceberg lettuce may be the most popular leafy green, but it’s made of mostly water and offers little nutritional value. Skip it and get something greener.

Kale

Possibly the most nutrient dense of the leafy greens, kale is rich in calcium; vitamins A, C, and K; potassium; magnesium; and folate. Good for your heart and brain, kale may also help prevent cancer. Rub the leaves with olive oil or tahini and cook on the stove with garlic and olive oil for a delicious side dish or add kale to tofu, noodles, pasta, pizza, or pesto.

Collard Greens

Typically considered a Southern food, collards or collard greens are also nutrient-dense. With a chewy texture and a taste similar to cabbage, collard greens are often slow-cooked by themselves or with a turkey leg or ham hock. In an effort to limit carbs, try using collard green leaves as a sandwich wrap in the place of bread or tortillas.

Cabbage

A half-cup of cooked red or green cabbage contains only 15 calories. Although the green variety of cabbage is quite pale, it’s still high in vitamin C and other antioxidants. Cabbage is a versatile leafy green that can be eaten raw in salads or coleslaw, cooked into stir-fry, or fermented into sauerkraut.

Swiss Chard

Tasting similar to spinach, Swiss chard is also rich in iron and vitamins A and C. Add Swiss chard leaves to your salad, steam and season them for a side dish, add them to quiche and egg dishes, or use them in place of a tortilla for a sandwich wrap.

Broccoli

Not often thought of a leafy green, broccoli belongs to the same family of greens as cabbage. A wonderful source of vitamins C and A, protein, fiber, potassium, folate, and other nutrients, broccoli adds a little crunch to stir-fries, pastas, soups, and salads. Be careful not to steam or cook broccoli too long or you’ll lose some of its valuable nutrients.