Think green

August 27, 2013|Lynn Little

 Raw and cooked leafy greens are an important part of a healthful diet. You’re in the majority if your definition of leafy greens is limited to salads made with iceberg lettuce. On the plus side, your salad is low in calories —about 14 calories in 2 cups, without dressing. Because iceberg lettuce is mostly water, it also has few nutrients.

The good news is that there are many leafy greens that are nutrition powerhouses low in sodium, high in fiber and contribute plenty of nutrients for your dollar.

 Kale is a versatile leafy green that should be used for more than a garnish on your 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 also a good source of calcium. 

The young, smaller leaves of ruffled kale add a nice bite and interesting blue-green color to an otherwise 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 healthful leafy green that can be used fresh in salads or cooked. It is packed with vitamins A, C and folate as well as calcium. 

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 them. Darker colors signal better nutritional choices, and these darker green and red leafy veggies offer more than iceberg lettuce. 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, offer nutritional benefits and have the advantage of keeping longer. 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 from cooking cabbage, try adding a whole walnut to the cooking liquid. 

Broccoli is considered a leafy green though it is known for its stalks and florets. The leaves are usually not eaten, but the stalks and florets are eaten raw, stir fried or quickly steamed. 

Broccoli is rich in vitamins A, C, potassium and folate with the darker bunches offering greater nutrition. Select florets that are closed and have firm stems;  avoid bunches that are yellow and flowering.

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

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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