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Nutrition

Dark leafy greens: An essential superfood

Kale.JPG

 (Rosie Acosta)

It turns out that Popeye was smart to eat spinach. The nutrients found in spinach and other dark leafy greens provide a host of health benefits that can ward off disease and actually help you live longer, and they are easy to prepare. Here, we shed light on all there is to love about five popular dark greens.   

Kale

This dark leafy green now tops the list in produce popularity. Previously sold mostly in health food stores, it is now easy to find in your local grocer. Kale is a great source of Vitamins A, C, and K, plus it contains calcium and potassium. Additionally, kale contains carotenoids – specifically, lutein and zeaxathin. Consuming both may help prevent Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).  

This green is not only delicious when steamed, but it makes a fantastic crunchy chip. Tear the leaves into small pieces, drizzle a bit of olive oil or lemon juice and sprinkle the kale with your favorite spice blend. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit and - voila! You have crunchy kale chips. While many supermarkets carry a variety of commercial kale chips, be wary of their fat content. Some kale chip brands are loaded with extra calories due to the fat in the flavors added.

Swiss Chard

This is a delicious green loaded with vitamins and minerals containing 13 different antioxidants, including kampferol-which helps protect the heart, and syringic acid -which has been shown to help control blood sugar levels, making Swiss chard a great green for diabetics.  Keep in mind that Swiss chard contains oxalic acid that can deplete bones and teeth of calcium when eaten in large amounts. However, boiling Swiss chard uncovered will greatly decrease the amount of oxalic acid. Once fully cooked, season it with salt and pepper and serve.

Collard Greens

This dark leafy green, a staple in the south, is delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals. Collards contain vitamin C, E, K, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. Collards also contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates, which help detox the body and lower oxidative stress, decreasing the risk of cells becoming cancerous. A study by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that dark leafy greens such as collard greens are associated with a decreased risk of cancers, including breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer. To get the biggest nutrient punch from collard greens, simply cut the collards into thin strips and steam for five minutes.

Mustard Greens

This bitter, but delicious dark leafy green has been shown to help lower cholesterol by binding to bile acid and pulling it out of the body. They are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as important antioxidants, beta-carotene and manganese. They also contain a high amount of anti-cancer property, glucosinolates. Rinse and chop up the greens and let them sit for 5 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of broth into a skillet and heat until it starts to simmer. Then, add the greens and sauté for 5 minutes. Finish it off with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Turnip Greens

This green is higher in glucosinolates than kale and contains vitamin A, B6, C, E, and K, calcium, copper and iron. Turnip greens also contain fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Turnip greens are also very high in folate, supporting cardiovascular health. The high iron content is important for the formation of healthy red blood cells. To prepare turnip greens, simply steam for 7 minutes (maximizing nutritional benefits) and then sauté with lemon and garlic for a delicious side dish.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.