Leafy greens are full of nutrition

September 11, 2012|Lynn Little

You're in the majority if your definition of leafy greens is limited to salads made with iceberg lettuce. The good news is that there are many other leafy greens, which are nutrition powerhouses low in sodium, high in fiber.

 Kale is a versatile leafy green that should be used for more than a garnish on the plate. It comes in many varieties from plain to curly leaf and is tasty fresh or cooked. It is a rich source of vitamins A, C and K and is a good source of calcium. The young, smaller leaves of ruffled kale add a nice bite and interesting blue-green color to a plain salad.

To cook kale, tear leaves into small pieces. You also can cook stems if you chop them into quarter inch pieces. Another quick way to eat kale is to add it to soup during the last few minutes of cooking.

Baked kale chips make a delicious snack. Toss dry leaves with olive oil and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and bake about 15 minutes at 325 degrees until crisp but not browned.

 Spinach is another leafy green that can be used fresh in salads or cooked. It is packed with vitamins A, C and folate as well as calcium. Spinach is a healthful choice, raw or cooked.

 Broccoli is considered a leafy green, though it is known for its stalks and florets. The stalks and florets are most often eaten raw, stir fried or quickly steamed. Broccoli is rich in vitamins A, C, potassium and folate with the dark green bunches offering greater nutrition.

 Leafy lettuce, red, green and Romaine, are commonly used in salads. To prevent their leaves from browning, be sure they are well drained and that you've blotted out excess water before refrigerating.

Red leaf offers the most antioxidants to fight inflammation and chronic diseases, followed by green leaf and Romaine. If you're used to eating only iceberg, gradually increase darker greens in your diet and you'll benefit from their higher nutritional content.

 Cabbage, both red and green, offers nutritional benefits and has the advantage of keeping longer than other greens. Red cabbage offers greater antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits than the green cabbage. Both are good sources of vitamins C and K. To prevent red cabbage from turning blue or purple as it is cooked, add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to the cooking water and avoid using aluminum cookware. If you object to the strong odor of cooking cabbage, try adding a whole walnut to the cooking liquid.

Swiss chard is a greens superstar packed with vitamins K, A, and C, magnesium, potassium, iron and fiber. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. Swiss chard can be prepared like spinach. 

Whether you enjoy your leafy greens fresh or cooked, organic or conventional, be sure to wash them all before eating.

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