By now, your garden lettuce is probably on hiatus until fall, but that doesn’t mean your greens intake has to diminish to nothing for the next eight weeks. True, many greens just taste best from the garden, but chances are you’re not growing things like collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, fennel, and bok choy…so the grocer’s varieties may suit you just fine. Don’t pass these beauties up! They’re full of nutrients and fiber and can be eaten in a variety of ways. Here are a few top picks of some good greens and how to consume them.
Mustard Greens – the leaves of the mustard plant, Brassica juncea, have a pungent, peppery taste. Use them in place of swiss chard or collards or add them to any dish for extra flavor. Mustard greens provide 9 vitamins and 7 minerals, including the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E.
As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, it has powerful cleansing properties. Cruciferous veggies help prevent cancers including breast, prostate, and colon; however, eat them cooked or fermented because the raw form of these vegetables can disrupt thyroid function.
Bok Choy – Another member of the cabbage or cruciferous family, bok choy’s crisp mild texture makes it ideal for stir fries. Whether you use regular or baby bok choy, choose leaves that are crisp and green, not yellowed. Bok choy is also delicious when finely or coarsely chopped and added to quinoa or millet. High in vitamin C, calcium and vitamin A, bok choy also contains glucosinolates, which may prevent cancer. Where thyroid concerns exist, be sure this veggie is cooked or fermented when eaten.
Fennel– The seeds of this plant are a common cooking spice; the fresh variety is also very pleasant. Fennel is crunchy and slightly sweet, a refreshing contribution to Mediterranean cuisine. It is rich in phytonutrients (rutin, quercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides), vitamin C, fiber, potassium, manganese… it’s basically a nutrient powerhouse. The stalks can be cut up and added raw to salads or sautéed with your favorite vegetables. For an out-of-this world treat, make a soup of puréed broccoli and fennel in a vegetable broth.
Kale – The deep green leaves of the kale plant provide an earthy flavor and more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost any other food. It is exceptionally high in vitamins K, C, and A, and manganese. Not only that, in one serving of kale, you can fulfill over 10% of your daily recommended intake of fiber, calcium, B6, potassium, iron, copper, and tryptophan. In addition to its glucosinolates, kale is rich in a flavonoid called maempferol, which has been shown to protect against ovarian cancer. Yeah, it’s a keeper. Eat it raw with other greens in a mixed salad, fermented, or cooked in any array of dishes.
Swiss Chard – Available throughout the year, Swiss chard’s season runs June to August – so when lettuce ends, Swiss chard begins! This veggie, similar to kale and spinach, is easily added to salads or cooked dishes, and boasts a vast array of nutritional benefits. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach with a similar taste: beet green bitterness and spinach leaf saltiness. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible, with the white stalks being the most tender. One serving alone provides 716% of your daily recommended value of vitamin K! (vitamin K plays a role in skin elasticity, blood clotting and bone health.) Chard also has high values of vitamins A, C, and E, plus magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, fiber, calcium, folate… it’s all in there. One great way to gobble it up: sautée chopped leaves and stems with some chopped garlic in a small amount of animal or vegetable fat until the leaves are just wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
So if you haven’t figured it out already, greens are good for you! They’re packed with nutrients and fiber, yet low in calories and low on the glycemic index. Rich in phytochemicals, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other powerful antioxidants, greens are good cancer fighters. And in lactose/dairy sensitive diets, leafy greens are a great dairy alternative. They’re lower in calories and fat than milk, have no sugar like some non-cow “milks,” and are not highly allergenic foods. Yet you still get the high levels of calcium, plus a lot of other great nutrients. Don’t pass these beauties by on your next trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store. Green is good!