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Healthy Eating: Greatest Greens

All leafy greens are nutritional winners, but some in particular take the prize: the greenest ones. Spinach, kale, watercress, and other dark greens pack more nutrients into their leaves than do their paler relatives, such as Boston lettuce or Belgian endive. Dark greens are especially good sources of betacarotene and vitamin C, both of which may protect against heart disease, some cancers, and cataracts.

Depending upon the green, a single serving (one cup raw or one-half cup cooked) can also deliver a significant helping of folate, iron, potassium, or calcium, says Cathy Nonas, a dietitian at North General-Hospital in New York City. Dark greens' high concentration of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plant cells, seems to be linked to higher levels of nutrients: The darker a green is, the better it is for you.

Dark greens' flavor tends to be just as substantial. Often, the greens can stand nearly on their own in simple side dishes. But they also make hearty additions to soups, pastas, and more. On the following pages, there are classic preparations -- such as steamed spinach with lemon and a white-bean soup with kale -- as well as new takes, such as a Greek-style tzatziki made with chopped Swiss chard. With so many ways to enjoy these vegetables, you'll likely find it's easy eating greens.

Steamed Spinach with Lemon
Cavolo Nero and Cannellini Bean Soup
Wilted Dandelion Greens with Sweet Onion
Watercress, Pink Grapefruit, and Walnut Salad

Guide to Greens
There are a wealth of nutritious greens to choose from, and many easy ways to cook with them.

Arugula
(Beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C)
The potent peppery flavor makes arugula a great salad green that needs little company; also good on sandwiches.

Beet Greens
(Beta-carotene, calcium, iron, vitamin C)
They can be found in bunches or still attached to the beets. Saute in olive oil with garlic, then serve as is or mix with pasta.

Collard Greens
(Beta-carotene, calcium, folic acid, iron, vitamin C)
Long a Southern staple. Boil the chopped, stemmed leaves until tender, and serve with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar.

Dandelion Greens
(Beta-carotene, calcium, iron)
A member of the sunflower family. The tangy, slightly bitter flavor can come across as too potent when raw, but the greens are delicious when steamed, sauteed, or stir-fried.

Kale
(Beta-carotene, calcium, folic acid, iron, vitamin C)
Stalks and tough center ribs should be removed from the piquant leaves, which come in many shades and textures. Wonderful in soups, mashed potatoes, or sauteed in olive oil.

Mustard Greens
(Beta-carotene, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin C)
These greens pack a bite that's sharp and peppery. Prepare them as you would collard greens, kale, or broccoli rabe.

Spinach
(Beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C)
The slightly bitter leaves may be curled or smooth. Serve raw in salads; use steamed or boiled leaves in lasagna, stuffed chicken, or baked or mashed potatoes.

Swiss Chard
(Beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C)
This member of the beet family has celery-like stalks that are usually white or red. Like many greens, chard can be sauteed in olive oil and served with lemon; it's also nice in soups and savory pies.

Watercress
(Beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C)
Small, crisp member of the mustard family that's slightly bitter with a hint of pepper. Delicious in salads; also good in sandwiches and soups.

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