It seems that no matter what we are discussing, Mom and Grandma were right.
Remember all the times they told you to eat your vegetables?
Well, science agrees and now we know that consuming the right amount of green vegetables can keep us away from a large number of ailments and health issues.
Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, author of ‘The Veggie Queen’ and a teacher of culinary education states, “Greens are the number one food you can eat regularly to help improve your health.”
Here is a list of the top 5 green vegetables that should find their way to your plate at least once a week.
Take in adequate portions of these, along with protein, and you will get the right amount of fiber and other nutrients to keep you going and to keep you healthy.
The dark green leaves from this plant from the cabbage family offer you the highest amount of nutrition with the least amount of calories. Kale is in season between November to February but it is now available in the market through the year.
It contains sulfur phytonutrients known to be present in the Brassica group of plants. Some of the types available in the market include curly kale, dinosaur kale and ornamental kale. The curly variety is slightly pungent and it has peppery qualities too.
The ornamental one is best suited to salads since it has a milder flavor. Dinosaur kale has embossed leaves and it is slightly sweet in flavor.
Origins – The origins of kale can be traced to Asia Minor from where it was brought to Europe 600 years before Christ. It was grown extensively in ancient Rome. It was brought to the United States by English settlers in the 17th century.
Health Benefits – Kale is known to be great for those who want to lower their total cholesterol. It is also beneficial for those who have a family history of high cholesterol. These benefits manifest themselves if the kale is steamed and not sautéed or fried.
The fiber binds with bile acids and forces more of these acids to be secreted. When that takes place, cholesterol levels reduce.
Kale is being scientifically tested for being effective in 5 different kinds of cancer. These are bladder cancer, breast cancer, ovary cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. The nutrient responsible for these anti-carcinogenic capabilities is called isothiocyanates.
While the jury is still out on the positive effects of kale on inflammation, the omega 3 present in the vegetable helps reduce internal inflammations.
Tips on buying, storing and using – The kale leaves that you pick up should be dark green in color. A darker green indicates a higher level of phytochemicals and therefore more health benefits.
The stems should be hard and moist. It is obvious that the leaves should look fresh and not yellow or wilted. Smaller size leaves are milder than those that are large.
You can store kale in a plastic bag and remove as much air as you want. This should stay in the refrigerator for about 5 days. It is advisable to rinse kale under the tap before using it. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes before you start cooking.
Steaming the leaf is the best way to consume kale since it provides the cholesterol lowering benefits to a much higher extent.
Collards belong to the same family of plants as kale. The leaves of this plant are dark blue green in color and smooth in texture. The edges are not frilled, like in the case of kale. The flavor is mildly smoky and they are in season mainly between January and April.
Origins – The origins of collard greens is similar to that of kale as well. They were also introduced to the United States in the 17th century by English settlers.
Health Benefits – Since the similarities between kale and collard green are so many, it is obvious that the health benefits also follow suit. Collard greens have cholesterol lowering capabilities that match those of kale due to the same bile binding effect. In fact in one recent study, collard greens emerged as better than any other green in this respect.
Collard greens also provide protection from cancer. Glucosinolates like glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, sinigrin and glucotropaeolin are considered to provide the vegetable with cancer preventive, detoxification and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tips on buying, storing and using – Leaves that are not wilted, firm and greener in color are freshest and healthiest. Smaller leaves have a milder smoky flavor and therefore best for children. Store them in the chiller to avoid wilting.
If they are left in the refrigerator for too long, they may start tasting bitter. To extract the maximum health benefits, let them lie for about 5 minutes before cooking. Adding some lime juice to the leaves brings out healthy enzymes in them too.
Turnip greens are the leaves of the more popular turnip plant. Till late, these greens were discarded while cooking turnip and it is only now that the various great qualities of these greens are being understood and put to good use.
The leaves of the turnip plant are softer and smaller than kale or collard greens. They are considered to be slightly bitter but the bitterness is not harsh and therefore delectable to the taste buds. Turnip greens have been used in cooking in Southern America for many years.
Origins – Turnip has been grown in the Near East for the last 4000 years. It was a common vegetable grown in ancient Greece and Rome too.
This vegetable was brought to North America by English colonists and they played an important role during the slavery days when the turnip greens were left for the slaves while the root was consumed by the landlord and owner.
Health Benefits – Turnip greens have large amounts of calcium - two times more calcium than mustard greens. Phytonutrients like glucosinolate are converted to isothiocyanates in the body that help prevent cancer.
While these greens have not been researched as much as some other vegetables have been, the nutrient content of turnip greens tells us that they can do wonders for overall health too.
Turnip greens contain high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese and beta-carotene. The main antioxidants present in this vegetable include quercetin, isorhamnetin, myricetin, kaempferol and hydroxycinnamic acid.
Vitamin K and omega 3 fatty acids are the nutrients responsible for its anti-inflammatory effect.
Tips on buying, storing and using – You will be able to buy turnip greens with the turnip itself. Just make sure that you do not throw away the greens and make use of them in some way.
Like collard greens, it is best to wash them and sprinkle some lemon juice on them to bring out the nutrients. These can be used as salad greens. Some garlic, olive oil and black pepper will bring out the flavor in them too.
Spinach is extremely rich in nutritional content especially if one is comparing based on calorie content. No doubt Popeye used this magical leafy green to enhance his strength and stamina.
Produce that is made available between March and May can be considered to be the freshest since this is the time it is in season. It is also in season in September and October. Fresh and raw leaves have a mild and sweet flavor to them.
When cooked, the flavor turns to slightly acidic and earthy.
Origins – It is believed that spinach has its origins in Persia and India. It was introduced to China in the 7th century. It was introduced to Europe in the 11th century by the Spanish Moors.
It was called the ‘Spanish vegetable’ in England for some time after that. Netherlands and United States produce the maximum amount of spinach in the world today.
Health Benefits – Spinach contains high levels of oxygen sensitive phytonutrients. The Vitamin C present in spinach helps protect these nutrients. Along with large amounts of vitamin K, they help in maintaining good bone health and can therefore help prevent osteoporosis.
Glycoglycerolipids that are important in the process of photosynthesis in the spinach plant is now known to improve digestive health.
Many ailments like ulcerative colitis and other inflammation related digestive issues can be prevented by regular intake of spinach.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are two carotenoids present in spinach that aid in better eye health. Intake help in delay of age-related macular degeneration.
Tips on buying, storing and using – Leaves of the spinach you choose should be a vibrant green. They should look fresh and not wilted or yellow. Water exposure spoils spinach and therefore it should be stored without washing.
Run it thoroughly under tap water when you are about to cook it since they tend to gather dust while on the plant. Soaking spinach is also not a good idea since the nutrients tend to run into the water.
Boiling spinach for using in dishes is the best way to use it. But make sure that you use the water since it may have the essential nutrients you need.
Closely related to cauliflower, broccoli is called cabbage sprout in Italy. Different types of broccoli range in flavors, textures and look. Some are crunchy while others are soft and fibrous.
Colors range from dark green to sage to purplish green too. The one used in North America is called Italian green or Calabrese.
Origins – Broccoli has its origins in Italy. It was used avidly in Rome and spread from here to the Near East. During the colonial era, broccoli was introduced to America.
Health Benefits – Steamed broccoli can help in cholesterol reduction due to the bile binding fiber that it contains.
It also contains 3 glucosinolate phytonutrients that aid in the detoxification of the body. Broccoli helps in initiating a process that alienates toxins and removes them from the system.
Vitamin D deficiency is a common issue in many countries. Significant amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K present in broccoli help the body make the required amounts of vitamin D.
Kaempferol, a flavonoid present in broccoli, can help us reduce the negative effects of substances we are allergic to.
Tips on buying, storing and using – When choosing broccoli flowers make sure they are compact and far apart. A uniform color indicates a better product too. Yellow florets indicate that the flowers have over matured.
Placing broccoli in a plastic bag from which air has been removed is the best way to store broccoli. It can remain in the refrigerator for about 10 days. Do not wash before storing. In fact it is also best to cut it as least as possible in order to retain maximum vitamin C in it.
You can eat the stems and leaves of the broccoli plant. They provide immense flavor to the food. Retain low cooking temperatures while cooking this healthy food.
The stems take longer to cook and so should be introduced to the dish earlier on in the cooking process.
Other Great Green Veggies
Some other extremely healthy green leafy vegetables include Swiss chard, mustard greens, Romaine lettuce, cabbage, iceberg lettuce, bok choy and endives.
Making Greens Interesting for Kids
Despite knowing the great health benefits of green vegetables, getting children (and sometimes even adults!) to eat greens can be frustrating.
Before you give it up as a lost cause, try some of these tips:
- Set an example - If your little ones do not see you eating green vegetables, there is no way you will be able to convince them.
- Make it fun – Make stories for lunch time or dinner time where greens can be used as props. Broccoli can become miniature tress and spinach can be the undergrowth in a forest.
- Start with little portions – If your children are reluctant to try the greens, make them eat one bite for one meal. You may want to make this a rule or set a competition between two siblings. Over a week, you can increase the helping.
- Rewards work well – When greens are finished on the plate, reward this with something you know is important for your child. Create a sticker board and give a reward once they reach a certain number of pre-decided helpings of greens.
- Make pictures – Making pictures and patterns out of greens is easy. This helps it make a little interesting and may attract the younger child. The older ones may need more persuasion.
- Make it tasty – There is nothing better you can do than to make the greens tasty. Try different recipes and check how to can make greens tasty without losing the nutrient element.
- Offer greens when hungry – Giving greens as the only option when they are hungry might work for some kids too.
- Disguise them – Hiding green sin different kinds of dishes is another option that you have. Check out some ways in which you can get these greens to enter your child’s nutrition below.
Leafy Green Vegetable Recipes
- Smoothie - Add a few leaves of kale or spinach in a smoothie and your child will never know. Some milk, a medley of fruits and honey along with the greens should do it.
- Pasta – Make pasta sauce from scratch and add in greens to your tomato based sauce. The white sauce can also be embellished with cut and steamed greens.
- Soup – Soup is another way in which greens can be hidden and served up. Mash up the steamed greens along with the other vegetables and meat and it will be gobbled up before you know it.
- Leafy crisps – While this option does remove a significant amount of nutrition, it is better than not having them at all. Kale or spinach crisps are easy to make and easy to eat as well.
- Breads – If you are a baker, you can bake some breads that incorporates greens too.
- Stuffing – Stuffed chicken with green vegetable stuffing can be delicious. Choose to offset some of the flavor with garlic and butter.
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