Are you getting your greens? The USDA recommends that adults should eat 1 ½ - 2 cups of dark green vegetables each week, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three-quarters of Americans miss the target for vegetables. This is a major problem because these green, leafy veggies provide a bonanza of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that help provide the nutrients that you need to stay healthy and perform at your peak. An InsideTracker blood analysis can tell you if you’re missing any key nutrients from dark, leafy vegetables, but it’s up to you to eat them!
What are some nutrients in dark, leafy green vegetables?
Dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of nutrition. These vegetables offer benefits like:
Green vegetables are great sources of vitamins A, C, E, and K. The vitamin K in these vegetables has several health benefits, which include protecting your bones from osteoporosis and preventing inflammation. Vitamin A works to form and maintain healthy skin and good vision, while vitamins C and E protect every cell in your body from stress or injury. Green leafy vegetables are also packed with B-vitamins such as folate, which promotes heart health and prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also needed for DNA duplication and repair, which may play a role in preventing some types of cancers. In addition to all these nutrients, these veggies are also great sources of calcium and iron.
Low in fat and carbohydrates
Greens are low in calories and also low on the glycemic index scale, which makes them an ideal food for maintaining a healthy body weight. However, the calories can start to add up when you add salad dressing or lots of oil to vegetables, so it all depends on how you prepare them!
Leafy green vegetables contain a huge amount of fiber. Adding more fiber to your diet helps to regulate your digestive system and aids in bowel health and weight management. This nutrient helps your body to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, works to improve your digestion, and makes you feel fuller for longer!
Harmful molecules called free radicals damage cells, protein, and DNA (for instance, free radicals cause peeled apples to turn brown). Eating more green leafy vegetables helps protect against this type of damage because they’re full of antioxidants! Some green, leafy vegetables, including collard greens, spinach, and kale, are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, which bolsters your immune system and protects your skin. In addition, the antioxidant lutein, best known for its association with healthy eyes, is abundant in green vegetables.
What are some tasty dark, leafy vegetables that I can add to my plate?
Lots of people find that cooking green vegetables is a bit intimidating. They have an undeserved reputation of being tasteless and difficult to prepare, which is a shame because they can be delicious if made correctly. Here are our top five favorite dark vegetables, and ways to cook them:
The king of all dark, leafy vegetables, kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. It provides calcium to help you build strong bones, and also supplies potassium and folate. One great method for cooking this vegetable is to rub the leaves in olive oil and cook them for five minutes with garlic and broth.
A trademark of Southern-style cooking, collard greens are very similar to kale in terms of nutritional benefits, but they have a heartier and chewier texture. A quick and healthy way to prepare this vegetable is to steam the leaves and serve them with black-eyed peas and brown rice for a nutritious Southern-style meal.
Known for its red stems, stalks, and veins on its leaves, Swiss chard is rich in a type of phytonutrient called betalains, which have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. Chard also is a great source of vitamins A and C. Try sautéing chard, or make sweet-and-sour chard by adding raisins and vinegar to the cooked greens.
A list of leafy, green vegetables would not be complete without spinach! This vegetable is packed with folate and vitamins A and C. Also, cooked spinach is actually more nutritious than raw spinach, since the heat reduces the vegetable’s oxalate content, which will provide you with more dietary calcium. Spinach is easy to prepare, since you can quickly sauté the leaves with some olive oil and garlic in the water that remains after rinsing.
Here are some other ways to enjoy your greens:
- Wrap it up – Add greens to a sandwich or wrap with chicken, turkey, tuna, or cheese. Or use steamed collard greens as a wrap instead of bread.
- Steam – You can steam any leafy green vegetables until they’re slightly soft. Then add some garlic and olive oil to taste.
- Cook it in an omelet – You can add your greens to an omelet to pack some more vitamins and iron into your breakfast.
- Stir fry – You can put some chopped greens into a chicken, tofu, or veggie stir fry with olive oil and some garlic, onion, and ginger.
- Add to soup – Greens with larger, tougher leaves, such as collards, kale, or mustard greens, are perfect for soups.
- Make a salad – You can keep your salad interesting by rotating vegetables, textures, and tastes. Be careful not to add too much dressing—the calories can add up!
Remember, your mom told you to eat your vegetables for a reason! If you need help deciding how to incorporate more leafy, green vegetables into your diet, InsideTracker can provide you with recommendations for healthy veggies that meet your nutritional needs and taste preferences. Bon appetit!