Feb. 20 collard greens

February 20, 2002

Eat your greens


The dark green color. The large, lush leafy countenance.

It's not broccoli ... lettuce? Nope.


Cabbage? Sorry.

Kale? Spinach? Swiss chard? Mustard greens? Arugala?

No, non, nix, nein and nyet.

Dark, leafy, exotic (if only for its role in southern cookin'), the collard green - a.k.a. collards - is on the 10 Most Wanted list. Most Wanted Vegetables, that is.

Loaded with the usual good nutritional suspects such as fiber, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium, collards are among the healthiest veggies singled out by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.


Known as a staple of soul food, collards reside in the cabbage family, growing in large, leafy bunches much like romaine lettuce.

Possessing a taste reminiscent of cabbage and kale, the vegetable is in its peak growing season, easily prepared and used in the same ways as spinach or cabbage.

Just don't reach for the salt pork when cooking, or else its nutritional wallop will be reduced to a whimper.

"Collards are a really good thing, but it depends on what we're doing with them," says Dawn Roper, director of food and nutrition services at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"That cup of greens cooked in salt pork can go from 49 calories to 200 calories. You haven't touched the nutrients. You've just added this other stuff that's not necessarily healthy."

Its calcium content makes collards an attractive option for vegetarians who can gain nutrients they would otherwise receive from eating dairy products, says Tim Higgins, clinical nutrition manager for Washington County Health System.

He enjoys using greens in soups, and says there are several opportunities to use collards that don't involve salads or steaming.

"People aren't accustomed to cooking them, but it's just about experimenting with them," Higgins says. "(In soups) that just becomes an accent of flavor as well as texture, not to mention the nutrients you're getting."

Citrus fruits are drenched in vitamin C, though a half-cup of collards, with 23 percent of the daily recommended intake, is no slouch.

Similarly, fiber content might be greater than anticipated. Compared to oatmeal, which contains 3.5 grams of fiber, one cup of greens yields 5.3 grams.

And, Roper says, one cup of collards provides 44 percent of the daily requirement of folic acid, about 176 micrograms. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Association Website, folic acid can lower the level of homocysteine, an amino acid, in the blood.

High levels of homocysteine can be a risk factor for conditions ranging from stroke to heart attack.

Add in its vitamin A content, a fat-soluble nutrient key in maintaining the integrity of cells, and Higgins says you've got in collards a strong, natural multivitamin.

"If one has a varied diet," he says, "they probably don't need to supplement their vitamin intake."

While broccoli, lettuce and spinach may more often than not be the first alternative for shoppers searching to quench a green vegetable thirst, Roper and Higgins advocate varying the diet as much as possible.

"One vegetable might have more vitamin C, another more calcium and they complement each other. Vegetables are meant to be a part of the entire food program," Roper says. "There is no perfect food, and to eat one as if it were means you're overlooking other vegetables."

Collards Recipe

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1 smoked turkey neck, optional
  • 2 boxes frozen collard greens, thawed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon ham or vegetable bouillon
  • water

Saut onion, margarine and turkey until onions are clear. Add collards and bouillon to mixture, then cover with water. Simmer until tender.

Lower fat variation: Eliminate saut step. Add onions, bouillon and greens together and simmer until tender.

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