When I walk through our local farmers’ market, I keep an eye out for the leafy green vegetables, the darker the better as the most colorful greens are generally the ones highest in nutrition. For example, the less colorful iceberg lettuce is relatively low in nutrients when compared to its more vibrant cousin, romaine lettuce.
The reason green leafy vegetables are the first to catch my eye is the fact that they are probably the most nutrition-packed food that can be bought. Besides containing vitamins K, A, C and E, as well as some B vitamins, they are also a rich source of iron, folate, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Furthermore, green leafy vegetables contain almost no carbohydrates. There have been many studies done that have suggested that leafy green vegetables promote healthy hearts and help prevent certain types of cancers.
There are a variety of reasons I go to the farmers’ market for leafy greens instead of the grocery store, the main one being that the Food and Drug Administration listed leafy greens as one of the ten riskiest foods for food-borne outbreaks last year. As I certainly did not want to eliminate this nutritious food from my diet, I decided instead to shop where greens are safest – at my farmers’ market where they are grown locally and sold fresh. Also, I have the option of buying only organically grown greens.
If you have not experienced a wide variety of leafy greens, I have listed some below that you don’t want to miss.
My favorite leafy green vegetable is spinach which comes in many varieties. I love tender, new spinach leaves in my salad. Spinach is also good cooked, but remember that it takes only seconds to cook a spinach leaf. Spinach is very high in calcium and iron.
Arugula, a green with a peppery taste, is one many people might pass over. However, lightly steamed or added to a pasta sauce, it is delicious. (By the way, the ancient Romans considered arugula an aphrodisiac). Arugula is rich in calcium and vitamins A and C.
Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) is another of my favorites. Rich in vitamins A and C and calcium, it is delicious stir-fried.
Some people find the taste of kale bitter, but added to soups and sauces, it adds a lot to the flavor, and it is packed with vitamins A, C and K.
Unless you live in the south, you may not know about the delights of collard greens. Although when cooked with the stems, collards can take a long time to cook, the secret is to cut the greens from their stems, and then they will be ready in 15 minutes. These greens are rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate and calcium.
Mustard greens have a sharp, spicy flavor, and I love them raw in salads or in soups. They are rich in vitamins A, C and K and calcium.
I have enjoyed both the leaves and stems of Swiss chard raw in salads, but for a nice change of pace, I sometimes use the chopped stems in place of celery in recipes. Swiss chard is one of the most nutritious leafy green vegetables of all. It is rich in vitamins A, C, E and K and also some of the B vitamins, as well as magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, folate and much more.
Dandelion greens may look like a weed, but steamed or eaten raw, they are delicious and rich in vitamin A and calcium
Chicory tastes a bit bitter so if I am eating it in a salad, I always pair it with other greens. However, it is delightful in soups or pasta sauce.
Broccoli can be prepared in a variety of ways and is delicious. It contains vitamins A, C and K and folate.
Although leafy greens are most nutritious when eaten raw, many greens taste better with cooking as their flavor becomes sweeter, and it is possible to cook greens in such a way as to preserve at least 90 percent of their nutritional value. However, they should then be eaten the same day.
I always store my fresh greens in the refrigerator in either a plastic bag or a paper bag (I prefer a paper bag as it absorbs moisture, and the greens stay crisp longer). If you do store them in a plastic bag, push out as much of the air as possible and insert a paper towel to help absorb the moisture.
The next time you have the opportunity to stop at your local farmers’ market, head for the leafy greens! You will be healthier and will discover a smorgasbord of choices.