Springtime is for Dark Leafy Greens

It was at the very tail-end of Winter, that life on many levels got interrupted in a huge way. There is no one who as not been affected in some way by the enormous impact that the coronavirus and Covid-19 has had.

It will  be a major topic of discussion and matter for concern for a good long while.

And here we are, half way through my favorite season of any year, Spring, and it has gone, if not totally unnoticed, at least left to fend for itself as we re-organize, re-adjust, then rinse and repeat on a weekly if not daily basis.

Darn!  It is Spring!  It is the beginning of the growing season, and for the good of our future good health and optimistic mood, we need to pay attention to its many gifts, particularly, I say, to the re-entry into local markets, of the beautiful, nutritious, cost-effective dark leafy greens!

They are my favorites, for sure. You may want to check out the overview I did about them a few years ago. It is here for your refreshment of the basics, which I will review here looking at a few varieties of greens a little more closely.

Dark Leafy Greens and are a true workhorse of the vegetable world.

It is hard to think of a group of foods that provide nutrients than dark leafy greens. At the least, they can all be depended on for the following:

Fiber, which helps to support our digestive tract and produce beneficial bacteria, so important in building a healthy digestive system.

Antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E which support the digestive tract lining, strengthen the immune system, and protect us from free radical damage, reduce inflammation and the risk of heart disease.

A collection of B vitamins that boost our energy levels and help us to manage stress.

Vitamin K for bone health, proper blood clotting, and help in preventing inflammatory diseases.

Minerals such as iron, magnesium, and calcium, which support energy levels, relax our muscles, and reinforce bone health.

Omega 3 fatty acids, essential fats that are highly anti-inflammatory. These are the good fats!

Protein, the macronutrient important to healing and repair.

Glucosinolates, which are compounds that have anti-cancer properties and help us to detoxify.

Greens are also low in calorie and carbohydrate contents and their glycemic index, which make them an ideal food to facilitate achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Seriously, folks, dark leafy greens, more than any other food, improve all aspects of our life. They are vital to a healthy, balanced diet, and should be eaten in amounts of at least a cup a day, preferably more.

There are many, many varieties of edible green leaves, and the best thing is to eat as wide a diversity of them as you can, in as close to their natural state as possible – they are most nutritious when eaten raw or very lightly steamed.

Here, in alphabetical order, are six  of the most popular ones, easy to find locally, along with some of the particular gifts of each.

1.ARUGULA (aka rocket, colewort, ropuette, rucola, and rucoli). It has a slightly peppery taste and small leaves that can easily be incorporated into salads or used as a garnish. It is usually sold as baby arugula, which is much less spicy than the adult version.  It has medicinal uses as well.

Arugula is one of the best sources of dietary nitrates, the benefits of which are debated. Some studies have found that they may help increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure by widening the blood vessels. It has medicinal uses as well.

2. COLLARD GREENS are from the cabbage family, so related to kale and spring greens, and are loose-leafed. They can be juiced and also make great wraps or lettuce cups. They are actually a form of cabbage that does not form a head, but instead has long and flat leaves, and are not as sweet as some other greens. They are one of the best sources of vitamin K among the greens, known for its role in blood clotting and bone support.

3. KALE is sometimes called the most nutritious of all the dark leafy greens and it does have some stand out features. (Each different green has some standout features, for sure. Still, kale seems to wear the nutritional crown among all the greens.). Surely, it has lots more lutein than its competitors, which is important to anyone wanting to protect their eyesight. Lutein and beta-carotene, also plentiful in kale, reduce the risk of diseases caused by oxidative stress. Kale is also a particularly good cancer-fighter, due to a phytonutrient called sulforaphane.

Any greens maintain more of their nutrient profile if they’re eaten raw rather than cooked. This seems to be particularly true of kale.  It’s good in salads, and its relative “toughness” can be mitigated it by “bruising”  it with olive or avocado oil mixed with a little sea salt and lemon juice – crunching the oily leaves with your hands helps to break down some of the fibers which then soak in the oil, thereby softening the leaves.

4. MICROGREENS are proof positive that good things come in small packages. They are the underdeveloped greens of vegetables – kale, arugula, broccoli, for example – that are harvested just one to two weeks after planting and are a treasure trove of all the nutrients that would be present in the mature plant, but in much greater quantities, sometimes as much as 40 times greater.

Microgreens have a range of flavors from peppery to tangy and can be used to punch up salads, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, and to garnish anything. They have been gaining in popularity since the 80s.

5. SPINACH probably gets the popularity award among the dark leafy greens. It is the sweetest tasting of them all, which makes it a good “starter green” for people unaccustomed to eating them. It’s great in smoothies, salads, and juices, and pestos. It is delicate, in that high temperatures will cause significant nutrient loss.

The standout nutrient in spinach may be folate, which it has more of than any other green. Folate plays a key role in red blood cell production and the prevention of neural tube defects in pregnancy. One study on that sort of defect, for example, found that one of the most preventable risk factors for the condition was low intake of folate in early pregnancy. Folate also helps to protect breast cancer development, likely because folate is needed for proper cell division.

Another standout nutrient in spinach is potassium, which is important for muscle functioning and to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.

6. SWISS CHARD  is probably the second “sweetest” green, though some people find it slightly bitter. It is, in my opinion, the most magnificent of leaves, standing tall and dark and majestic, especially when it’s grown organically and treated well while waiting to be bought. It is often used in salads, smoothies, and  Mediterranean cooking, and belongs to the same family as beets and spinach.

The stems of the chard plant be used as additions to salads, smoothies, and juices, as well as to some cooked dishes. They fiber and nutrient rich, as well as colorful – either, white, yellow, red, or green.

These greens are all in season, so   all of them often. Green Smoothies are a wonderful way to easily get lots of dark leafy greens into your system.  I invite you to download my free e-book Green Smoothies: Your Best Quickstart to a Happier, Healthy YOU! Click here for that.

There are many others – all for the trying and the enjoyment. Still others like dandelion or mustard, have bitter compounds that stimulate digestion. Be sure to see more about them in my next newsletter/blog.

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