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Making Greens The Main Event: Why Leafy Greens Matter to Your Health

Green and leafy vegetables

“Eat more greens” is a phrase we’ve all come to know fairly well. It’s a saying that has been repeated throughout many people’s childhoods, by doctors and other healthcare professionals. Yet many of us still struggle with incorporating green vegetables into our diets, despite the many positive health benefits. Many Americans find it daunting to incorporate greens into their diets, especially if they don’t have experience picking them out or cooking them.

Many people in America face this conundrum on a daily basis and often settle for a few servings of leafy greens per week. While it’s recommended to eat five or more servings of vegetables a day, most people struggle to get just one or two. So, why do greens matter and how can you be sure you’re choosing the right ones?

Why Greens Matter

Leafy green vegetables matter because of the wealth of health benefits they provide, both in raw and cooked form. Compared to other vegetables, leafy greens are packed full of antioxidants but are low in calories, low on the glycemic index and very high in fiber. Leafy green vegetables are loaded with key nutrients, not to mention they are versatile and can be incorporated into a variety of dishes. Leafy greens contain high levels of lutein, which promotes good eye and heart health, and beta-carotene, which promotes bone health and the immune system. Greens also contain much needed nutrients like Vitamin A, C, and E and even calcium. In addition, dark leafy greens act as antioxidants in your body, removing free radicals before they become harmful. High in fiber, leafy greens are a great addition to meals that will keep you full for longer while also providing your body with much needed nutrients that aren’t found in processed foods.

Consistency is key when eating greens, and not so much what kinds you choose. While kale and collards are often touted as “superfoods,” all leafy greens are healthy alternatives to starchy vegetables, simple carbohydrates and processed foods. Greens are versatile, meaning they can be incorporated into meals throughout the day. Mix things up by trying out different types of greens week by week, such as switching your base for salad from romaine lettuce to spinach to kale.

Choosing Your Greens

Since there are many varieties of leafy green vegetables, it can be tough to decide where to start. First and foremost, look for greens that are in season and look fresh. Dense leafy greens like mustard greens and Swiss chard grow abundantly in cold winter months when other fruits and vegetables can be scarce. Arugula, romaine lettuce and radicchio are abundant in warmer months or sold as mixed greens in pre-washed packages and are quick alternatives to the denser varieties that require some prepping. To avoid getting bored with the same kind of greens, choose a “green of the week” as an addition to salads, soups and pasta.

How to Prep, Eat and Serve Greens 

There isn’t a universal method for cooking greens, but there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to tender greens versus tough ones. For chards, collards and varieties of kale, remove the fibrous stems and cook down the leaves by sautéing them with olive oil and seasonings, such as garlic or ginger. If you prefer them raw, finely chop your greens and soften them by “massaging” olive oil into the leaves and letting it marinade until the leaves are less dense. For softer varieties like spinach and bok choy, consume them raw or top off soups and salads with them.

Greens also go great in smoothies and are virtually undetectable when mixed with fruit. Try adding a handful of raw kale or spinach to your next fruit smoothie for a boost of vitamins without any vegetable flavor. Leafy greens can also be cooked alongside eggs or tofu in breakfast scrambles or omelets and pair deliciously with other vegetables like mushrooms or bell peppers. The next time you buy beets, carrots or turnips, don’t throw away the tops! Root vegetable tops are all edible greens that are tender enough to consume raw. By adding greens to just one meal each day, you can contribute to a healthier you.

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