Bitter Greens: Big Personality, Big Health Rewards 

People have been eating leafy greens since prehistoric times. But it wasn’t until the first Africans arrived in North America in the early 1600s that America got its first real tastes of dark green leafy vegetables, which they grew for themselves and their families.

So, over the years, cooked greens developed into a traditional African American food. Ultimately, they became essential in Southern regional diets and are now enjoyed nationwide.

Dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of nutrition. They are rich in many vitamins, several minerals, and a bundle of phytonutrients.  For a more complete listing of their many nutritional benefits, click here. Some of the most popular greens are listed, as well as what makes each one a little different from all the others.

Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of dark green leafy vegetables is their low calorie and carbohydrate contents and their low glycemic index.

These features make them an ideal food to facilitate achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Adding more green vegetables to a balanced diet increases the intake of dietary fiber which, in turn, regulates the digestive system and aids in bowel health and weight management.

Many varieties of greens are available in the American markets-the most popular are collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, spinach and kale. Then, certain other dark leafy greens have bitter compounds, which some people have some difficulty befriending. They are, however, very good at stimulating digestion and, in general, providing great support in maintaining a very healthy gut.

Bitter Greens are actually digestive magic in several ways.

  1. First, eating bitter fo0d activates the taste buds that simultaneously stimulate enzyme production and bile flow, which promotes digestion. The better your food is digested, the more nutrients you’ll absorbed from your food. It’s that absorption that provides the benefit.  The high fiber content in bitter greens also helps to eliminate waste through the digestive tract, almost like sweeping it clean.
  2. Bitter greens also promote natural detoxification of the liver, which regulates cholesterol, balances hormones, detoxifies the blood, and metabolizes fats.
  3. They will balance your taste buds and help to reduce cravings.
  4. The high anti-oxidant and magnesium levels in bitter greens help to calm symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Beet Greens have been claimed to be beneficial since the Middle Ages. Their leaves are rich in potassium riboflavin, vitamins A and K. In fact, just one cup of them contains 220% of the RDA of Vitamin, A, 37% of the potassium, and  17% of the fiber.

Dandelion Greens grow wild and commercially. They have bright-green jagged leaves, that are best eaten in the Spring when they are more tender, and slightly less bitter. Truth be told, I didn’t know them as anything but a pesky, invasive weed before I learned as a young bride far from my home from our landlady, that they could be substituted for any dish that called for kale, collards, Swiss chard, or spinach. Now I make sure to buy at least one bunch every Spring to add to my smoothies.

Remember, too, that the nutritional benefits of all these bitter greens are maximized when  they are consumed raw.

Mustard Greens are a rich dark green and have a strong mustard flavor. They are much less spicy when cooked, and do well in stir-fries, soups, and stews. They can also be added to salads and smoothies.

Turnip Greens are fuzzy and green. They are sweet when young, (the best time to eat them raw), but get tough and strong tasting as they age. Like dandelion greens they can be added to or substitute in any dish that calls for some of the milder greens.

Bitter Greens are a “specialty item,” so shop for them carefully.  Buy them from the farmers’ market or local co-op if you don’t grow your own.

Here are a few things to look for.

  • Look for the brightly colored ones that are free of brown or yellow spots
  • Ensure that they are firm, not soggy or wilted. Their stems should be relatively moist and crisp, not dried out.
  • Try to purchase greens when they are in season, and  locally grown – they will be fresher and travel fewer miles to reach you.

Bitter Greens tend to be bold, spicy or peppery in taste. It is their plethora of nutrients that they contain so try to get along with them.

They are a great friend to your body. To make them more palatable, try one or more of these things:

  •  Build up your tolerance. Start out with modest amounts and build from there. As you eat more of them, you will become accustomed to them,
  • Lightly steam them or blanch them. This helps to temper their strength.
  • Pair them with an acid. Lemon or lime juice or vinegars will help reduce the bitterness.
  • Add a little good sea salt or Himalayan mountain salt. They will help break down the cell walls, making the greens easier to chew and digest.

Just as it is with people, you can get along with the big personality bitter greens. Be patient and persistent. They will reward you greatly for your efforts!

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