by Krystal Hawks, ETC blog contributor

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, why not embrace the four-leaf clover and all of our other leafy greens! These magical veggies are full of fiber and other various vitamins and minerals that protect against many diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and, even, cancer.

 

First things first, what leafy greens am I even talking about?

There’s kale, collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, red and green leaf lettuce, cabbage, and bok choy. With all of those options, it’s next to impossible to not find a few that you like and can incorporate into your week!

Now that we know what we’re talking about, what do they do?

Kale is rich in many antioxidant vitamins like A, C, and K. Kale is also a good source of calcium, folate, potassium, and fiber.

Collard greens have a heartier and chewier texture than kale or cabbage, but have a strong cabbage-like taste. These greens are full of fiber and vitamin K.

Turnip greens have those antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K, but also calcium, magnesium, and iron. Choose ones with consistent color, crisp leaves, and slender stems.

Swiss chard have red stems, with veins on the leaves that can have a beet-like taste, but slightly bitter (this diminishes once cooked). These greens can help with skin maintenance and skin health, and really give you that “glow.” Vitamins A, C, and K are found in swiss chard. As well as fiber, magnesium, potassium, iron, and B-complex.

Spinach, one of the most familiar greens, is rich in vitamin A and C, along with folate. In addition, an antioxidant called kaempferol is found in spinach, and is researched to help prevent the formation of cancerous cells and improve brain function.

Red and green leaf lettuce is full of B vitamins like: niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6. In addition to these, it is also packed with vitamin A and K, lutein, folate, and choline.

Cabbage can be either red or green, and is an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber.

Bok Choy is the Chinese cabbage and has vitamins A, C, and K; and, also, folate and B6.

 

What do all of these nutrients do for our bodies?
Vitamin A Essential for collagen production, which encourages skin health and acne prevention.  It also stimulates and improves the immune system, and is important for eye sight
Vitamin C Essential for collagen production, which encourages skin health and acne prevention. It also stimulates and improves the immune system.
Vitamin K Supports heart health, bone development, the formation of healthy cells (proper blood clotting), and is researched to decrease the severity of Alzheimer’s disease.
B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6) Can cure tiredness, depression, and prevents against Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers, and can help control diabetes mellitus.
Calcium Vital for strong bones and teeth; it prevents softening of the bones, and, therefore, lowers bone fractures and osteoporosis.
Magnesium Helps the body absorb and use calcium. It also is proven to protect against cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Iron Facilitates the formation and development of healthy red blood cells.

Refresher: red blood cells are imperative for oxygen to circulate throughout the body.

Folate Involved in proper cell division, and protects against cancer cell development.
Potassium Promotes muscle functioning and helps stabilize blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Lutein Important for eye health.
Fiber Aids in reducing blood cholesterol and decreases your risk for heart disease.

Bonus: it keeps you full!

 

How can we eat these leafy greens?

Although it’s possible, you don’t have to be like Popeye and squeeze spinach out of a can. You should try adding these greens to soups, smoothies, tacos, stir-fry dishes, wraps, and sandwiches. You can mix and match them in your salads. Chop them up finely and adjust which ones you use to change the flavor or bitterness. You can also crisp these veggies up in the oven with a little bit of olive oil and make “chips.” Sautee, blanch, or steam them in order to soften the tough texture and bitterness.

It’s best to cook them until the color brightens slightly, and the leaves begin to soften.  Make note, cooking these greens makes their nutrient bioavailability increase because heating them up decreases their oxalate content, and allows for more calcium to be released, which your body can then absorb.

Make sure you wash them first! Submerge them in cool water, separate the leaves, agitate them a little with your hands, dry them and they’re ready to eat!

Try this recipe for a healthier alternative to the sugar and calorie-filled Shamrock Shake:

Blend together:

1 frozen overripe banana

cacao nibs or chocolate chips

1/8 to ¼ tsp pure peppermint extract

1 cup of milk

¼ cup of frozen spinach

Courtesy of Chocolate Covered Katie

 

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and add leafy greens to different dishes! Swap out which ones you use for different flavors and textures. Just keep trying! Not every rendition will be a hit, but it’s definitely worth a shot! At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Don’t give up. Love yourself. And #eatthechocolate.

Krystal is an undergraduate student at Kent State University studying Nutrition and Exercise Science. She has a passion for working out and making healthier alternatives to her family’s recipes. Her ultimate career goal is to become a Sports Dietitian and show active individuals the importance of a balanced diet, that it doesn’t have to be boring, and all the benefits of well-being and health!