Nutritionists love the idea of going green, especially if you start with your diet. They might look as plain as Clark Kent, but green plants are packed with Superman strength that do everything from fight cancer to help maintain healthy blood pressure.
We culled a top-five list after consulting with our experts: Nancy Maslonka, executive chef at Medical City Dallas Hospital and Medical City Children’s Hospital; Tom Shroeder, executive chef at Baylor University Medical Center (working with Stephanie Dean, registered and licensed dietitian at Baylor Outpatient Nutrition Counseling); and Amber Odom, registered and licensed dietitian at Cooper Clinic in Dallas.
These foods are readily available in your local market, and they’re good fresh or frozen. For those who want to grow them, start planting now or try in the fall. (Extreme summer heat is not kind to greens.)
Here’s our list, along with our experts’ tips on easy ways to slip them in your daily diet.
Popeye was wild about spinach for its iron; it turns out that’s the least of what this nutrient-dense green has to offer.
It’s a dizzying blend of:
• Vitamin A, which helps vision and skin, gene regulation, growth, immunity against infection and nerve development.
• Vitamin B, which aids in healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver, helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, and helps prevent birth defects.
• Vitamin C for wound healing, prevention of scurvy and to aid iron absorption, and strong cartilage, bones and teeth.
• Vitamin E, which helps neutralize the harmful free radical molecules that can cause a variety of illnesses and diseases from heart disease and strokes to certain kinds of cancer.
• Vitamin K, which helps in clotting and bone metabolism.
All that and it has calcium, which contributes to healthy bones and teeth, muscle contraction, heart rhythm, blood coagulation, maintenance of cell membranes and helps protect against high blood pressure; iron, which plays a key role in carrying oxygen to cells; lutein, which helps prevent age-related macular degeneration in the eyes; and magnesium, which promotes healthy brain function and strong bones and muscles.
Tips for using it: Mix it with the lettuce in your salad or substitute it for the lettuce in your sandwich. Puree and use it as a replacement for oil in brownie mixes or blend it in breakfast smoothies with bananas and blueberries or apples and pineapple. For breakfast, try cooking it with scrambled eggs or toss it in an omelet with diced tomatoes and goat or feta cheese. For dinner, add it to your favorite soup or stew or layer it in lasagna or a casserole.
If you really want to put some greens on your plate, you can’t do better than colcannon, a dish of kale mixed with mashed potatoes.
Kale is also packed with the vitamins A, B9, C and K, and calcium and lutein, plus a few more tasty nutrients including potassium, which is important in brain and nerve function, muscle contraction, protein utilization and water balance. Potassium also helps maintain a normal blood pressure, aids in the healthy functioning of the smooth muscles in your heart and intestines, and helps prevent muscle soreness after a workout.
Tips for using it: Kids love kale chips, made from small pieces baked in the oven — much healthier than potato chips for lunches. It works well chopped and added to a slow-cooking potato or vegetable soup, stew or chili. As with spinach, it’s a good addition to omelets or stir-fry.
If we didn’t love collard greens for being a Southern comfort food, we would be sold on this cooking tip — use it as a wrap instead of tortillas.
Collard greens are bursting with vitamins A, B, C and K, plus lutein and zeaxanthin, an antioxidant that, like lutein, is believed to slow macular degeneration related to aging. It’s one of the best plant-based sources of calcium and a surprisingly high source of protein, which helps the body burn fat instead of muscle for healthier weight loss. Collards support the natural metabolism; aid in wound healing; help keep hair, skin, bones and nails healthy; and help form hormones, enzymes and immune system antibodies.
Tips for using it: Slow-cook them Southern-style with a turkey leg or ham hock for added flavor. You can also steam them with carrots and zucchini and a little garlic or add them to soups and stews.
Swiss chard is filled with vitamins A, C and K, calcium, iron, lutein, potassium and zeaxanthin.
Tips for using it: Try the baby variety raw in a salad; mature Swiss chard is better suited to being sauteed with onions, garlic and seasonings, braised, or stewed low and slow. It can be slipped into lasagna or served sweet-and-sour with the addition of raisins and vinegar.
These cute little miniature trees may not have been a favorite of President George H.W. Bush, but they have inspired many others, including Molly Katzen, who named one of her cookbooks “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” (after her tasty recipe for a casserole in which broccoli stands up just like little trees).
Not only is broccoli full of vitamins A and B and calcium, but one cup contains 100 percent of the daily requirement of vitamins C and K.
Tips for using it: This can be a fun snack for kids who enjoy dipping it in light cheese, yogurt or other healthy dips. Add it to whatever you may be steaming (topped with freshly squeezed lemon juice) or stir-frying. You can also toss it in with whatever you’re baking with a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan cheese in the final minutes.