Greens: The Ultimate Nutritional Powerhouses
When it comes to improving our health and wellbeing, greens are the #1 food we should be eating on a regular basis – as in every day. But they’re undoubtedly the food most missing in our modern diets. So, what gives?
[Photo credit: Kenny Johnson, for The Essential Thyroid Cookbook]
Leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses loaded with more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants per calorie than any other food. In fact, as Jill and I were conducting our rigorous nutrient research for the most thyroid- and immune-supportive ingredients to include in our Nutritional Springboard that ultimately became the foundation for our Essential Thyroid Cookbook, we quickly discovered that greens were uniquely more nutrient dense than any other food, so we opted to designate them into their own category!
Greens are incredibly alkalizing and support the body in achieving a balanced pH, which is essential for optimal health. Greens are also chock full of key phytonutrients like chlorophyll and glucosinolates that work to purify the blood and detoxify harmful substances from the body. Most people don’t realize that greens are also the best food they can eat to obtain the important vitamins and minerals needed to support healthy bones and a healthy heart.
Specifically, greens are very high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, and Vitamins A, C, E, and K. They’re loaded with fiber, folic acid, and many other antioxidant phytochemicals that are critical in warding off degenerative diseases.
But still, even though greens are increasing in popularity, most people I encounter admit that a big bunch of kale or Swiss chard completely intimidates them or they simply don’t know how to prepare them in a way that actually tastes good.
Let me talk you through how to select, store, and prepare greens so that you can feel more confident about putting them into your basket, and once you get home how to successfully get them onto your plate!
Greens vary widely in their flavor characteristics. Some greens are mild, sweet, and grassy, while others may be pungent, bitter, sharp, or even spicy. For people who may be new to introducing more greens into their diet, I usually recommend getting the palate used to some of the milder, sweeter greens before moving onto the greens with more complex flavors.
The mildest tasting dark leafy greens tend to be bok choy, spinach, and collards. Swiss chard and beet greens tend to be slightly sweet and grassy in flavor. If you’re looking for something with a little spicy kick, try arugula, mustard greens, or dandelion greens. Greens that have the most bitterness include dandelion greens, turnip greens, and kale.
Experimenting with different cooking techniques and seasonings can help to balance certain flavors in the greens. For example, braising (cooking in fat/oil, then finishing in liquid) a slightly bitter green like kale in a small amount of diluted apple juice, orange juice, or white wine can tone down the bitterness. And lightly steaming or sautéing certain greens, rather than eating them raw, can also make them more palatable to most people. Believe it or not, gentle cooking techniques also help to unlock certain nutrients that would otherwise stay bound up in greens’ dense cell walls.
When selecting greens, you want to choose the ones with crisp leaves and stems and vibrant color. Yellowing is a sign of age and may indicate that the greens will have an “off” flavor.
To keep them fresh while being stored, first remove any bad leaves from the bunch. Leaves that have already started to turn can cause the rest of the bunch to spoil more quickly. Next, pat them mostly-dry then wrap in paper towels. Place the greens back in an open plastic produce bag or use a special perforated produce bag to allow the greens to “breathe.” It’s best to utilize your greens within a few days to a week of getting them home.
When you’re ready to cook with them, you may want to give larger greens like kale, Swiss chard, and collards a quick bath. Filling a sink with cold water and swishing the greens around allows any dirt or debris to be easily removed from the greens. Shocking them with cold water can also help perk them back up if they’ve started to wilt.
Here are seven wonderful ways to get more greens in your diet:
- Drink your greens! Incorporate your greens into a smoothie. I love using frozen organic kale or baby spinach for convenience. Using deeply pigmented berries and cherries can mask the color of the greens as well as most of the taste. If you enjoy a vibrant looking green smoothie, pair the greens with lighter colored fruits and vegetables like green grapes, banana, kiwi, cucumber, celery, and pineapple.
- Add a handful of finely chopped greens to soups and stews toward the end of their cooking time for vibrant color, flavor, texture, and more nutrients!
- Use as a flavorful salad base. Baby spinach, spring mix, baby kale, red leaf and green leaf lettuces, watercress, micro greens, arugula, and romaine are all great greens to use in your daily salad. Dress with a simple homemade vinaigrette. Or for a clean, preservative-free ready-made dressing, try Tessamae’s brand salad dressings.
- Sauté with garlic and a splash of reduced sodium tamari soy sauce or coconut aminos and brighten with a dash of brown rice vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice. Kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, and cabbage have denser leaves that lend themselves well to lightly sautéing.
- Steam your greens. Kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, turnip greens, and mustard greens become milder in flavor and pungency after a few minutes of steaming. Try drizzling a creamy sauce like Thai peanut or lemon tahini over your steamed greens.
- Wrap it up! Try using a blanched collard or Swiss chard leaf as a wrap in place of a tortilla and stuff it full of yummy hummus, shredded veggies, or quinoa pilaf. For a milder green, try butter lettuce or romaine.
- Always think green! Every time you sit down to eat, ask yourself how you can add greens to your meal. Try layering your sandwich with leaf lettuce or spinach, loading up your slice of pizza with some spinach and enjoying it with a large green salad, or throwing a handful of spinach or kale into your morning omelet.
As you can see, there are so many greens to choose from, as well as a wide variety of ways to prepare them. The key is to find greens that you love and eat them often. When you tire of your favorites, be adventurous and try greens that you’ve never heard of before.
Jill and I also really love this cookbook: Greens Glorious Greens: More Than 140 Ways to Prepare All Those Great-Tasting, Super-Healthy, Beautiful Leafy Greens by Johnna Albi & Catherine Walthers, St. Martin’s Press (1996).
We hope this short article helps you get started, but if you need more inspiration for cooking with greens, be sure to check out our cookbook, The Essential Thyroid Cookbook: Over 100 Nourishing Recipes for Thriving with Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. A few sample recipes that feature greens (Asian Lettuce Wraps and Moroccan Chickpea and Vegetable Stew) can be found in our sample cookbook. You can download it for free on our homepage (scroll down just a bit).