There’s no disputing that leafy green vegetables are the healthiest foods on the planet. The more you eat, the leaner and healthier you’ll be. Since they’re so nutrient-dense, full of fiber, and low in calories (around 100 calories per pound), you can consume them in virtually unlimited amounts.
Green vegetables are loaded with protein (100 calories of romaine lettuce has 7.2 grams) and contain a cornucopia of micronutrients, including folate, carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin (which promote healthy vision), calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Some leafy greens, like kale, watercress, collards, arugula, and bok choy, belong to the cruciferous family of vegetables whose unique nutrients such as isothiocyanates have been shown to be some of the most powerful cancer fighters in existence.1
But what if you don’t feel like eating enormous salads all the time? Not to worry. There are plenty of other ways to include more leafy greens in your meals. Some of the tricks below are even great for sneaking greens into a fussy child’s (or fussy adult’s) diet.
Blending and Juicing
Don’t like chomping down on greens for what seems like endless periods of time? Drink them instead. Blending your greens into a smoothie or making a cold-pressed juice with primarily vegetables (and a small amount of fruit, if necessary) helps to increase the bioavailability of beneficial micronutrients by breaking down the walls of plant cells, a feat that chewing alone might not accomplish adequately.2 Even if you’re a big salad eater, including blended or juiced greens into your diet is worth trying if you’re not doing it already.
If you’re making a big egg or tofu scramble, add in some chopped spinach, kale, or collards towards the end of the cooking process. You’ll be starting your day with a nice portion of greens, with plenty of fiber and protein to keep you full for a long time.
Stews, Chilis, and Soups
Just like with a scramble, you can easily add chopped greens to any one-pot meal you’re making. My favorite is Julieanna Hever’s Beans and Greens Chili recipe. Greens can also be blended into the base of soups, which accomplishes the same goal of increasing nutrient absorption just as smoothies do.
Sauces, Either Chopped or Blended
Greens also work well in savory sauces. Blend spinach into your fresh pesto sauce or add any kind of leafy greens to a tomato-based sauce. For sake of convenience, it’s useful to always keep a bag of frozen chopped greens on hand to toss into a sauce as it’s heating up.
Noodles and Pasta
If you’re making pasta (hopefully whole grain), add some greens into the boiling pasta water three minutes before the noodles are al dente, then drain and continue to prepare as normal. Not only have you boosted the micronutrient content of your pasta dish, you’ve also reduced the caloric density of the meal.
Collards in Place of Tortillas
Next time you make a wrap of burrito, grab some of the biggest collard green leaves you can find. First, trim the hard stems off the bottoms, and then blanch them in boiling water for one minute. Remove the leaves from the boiling water and dry them off. You’ve now got the most nutrient-dense tortilla on the planet.
Burger Patties or Meatballs
Whether you’re making a burger or meatballs out of beans, beef, or turkey, you can add some chopped spinach to the mixture as well. It might not amount to a huge portion of greens, but any time you can add more greens to a dish, it’s worth doing.
By incorporating any or all of these tips into your daily routine, you’ll end up flooding your body with the most beneficial disease-fighting nutrients possible in some of the least noticeable ways. So give some of the above techniques a try this week and let me know how it goes.
Do you have a favorite trick for getting greens in your diet? Post to the comments below!
1. Conaway CC, Yang YM, Chung FL. “Isothiocyanates as cancer chemoprotective agents: their biological activities and metabolism in rodents and humans.”Current Drug Metabolism (2002): 233-55.
2. Parada J, Aguilera JM. “Food microstructure affects the bioavailability of several nutrients.” Journal of Food Science (2007), DOI: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2007.00274.x
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