Going green isn’t just for St. Patrick’s Day. Leafy greens are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, and you should eat plenty of them year-round, health experts note.
“In general, leafy greens are high in vitamins A, C and K, potassium, and fiber with only five to 40 calories per cup,” notes registered dietitian Joy Dubost. “They are real nutrition superstars.”
Among other things, greens burn fat, slow aging, help the heart, fight diabetes, nourish gut flora, neutralize toxins, build enzymes, and even offer sun protection.
To reap the most benefits, you should eat a wide variety of greens as they all offer something different.
So if you want to go green for St. Pat’s Day, here are 10 foods to try:
Beet greens: Beets are super-healthy for many reasons, but so too are the tops that we commonly toss in the trash or compost pile. Just one cup of the bitter leaves contains five grams of fiber and nearly 200 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin K. Boil rapidly for one minute to release bittering acids, then use in a salad or like spinach in dishes such as lasagna or a Greek omelet.
Watercress: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked this clover-like green tops in nutrient density. It has loads of folate, beta-carotene, and vitamin K. And watercress is the richest dietary source of PEITC (phenylethyl isothiocyanate), which studies suggest to be a powerful anti-cancer compound. Don’t cook this sweet leaf. Eat it raw on a salad or in a sandwich.
Collard greens: This Southern staple has incredible cholesterol-balancing powers. A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that collard greens were more effective than the cholesterol-lowering drug Cholestyramine. Sautee them with onions and garlic, or steam them and use the leaves for wraps. Just be sure to skip the ham hocks popular in Southern recipes.
Arugula: The peppery, intense green is packed with nutrients, including eye-healthy antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Dating back to Roman times, arugula has a reputation of being an aphrodisiac, though modern science has yet to find a definitive link. Eat it raw on sandwiches or in salads, or use it on pizza, pasta or rice. It also works well as a bed for beef or chicken.
Nettles: Here’s one for the adventurous. Those little stinging plants on the trail are actually quite healthy. Not only do they have a lot of nutrients, but they are also low in oxilates, which helps absorption of the good stuff. Handle raw leaves with gloves, but the sting goes away when they are cooked. Use them like spinach or kale, or chop them up for miso soup.
Dandelion greens: What’s bad for the lawn is good for the gut. Dandelion greens are a great source of fiber that help nourish beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. They also have the typical green profile high in vitamins and minerals. Doing a fast one-minute boil will release some of their bitterness, but it’s still best to mix them with sweet lettuces in a salad.
Rainbow chard: Due to the many colors, this particular type of Swiss chard has a wide array of phytonutrients, including betalain, a powerful detoxification agent. Try using the leafy part as you would spinach and the stalks like celery.
Napa cabbage: Also called Chinese cabbage, this tasty cruciferous vegetable has compounds that help to fight inflammation along with generous amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Mild and tender, it’s great hot or cold. Use it in salads and slaws, stir fry, or shred it and use in chicken soup instead of noodles.
Mâche: The dark green leaves of this field lettuce have a sweet nutty taste. High in omega-3 fatty acids, mâche is heart healthy. It’s also got 30 percent more iron than spinach. Thomas Jefferson cultivated it at Monticello. Use it like any other lettuce.
Parsley: Pity the poor parsley, usually used as a garnish and scrapped off the plate at the end of a meal. But this modest green makes the CDC’s Top 10 list in nutrient density. Its combination of nutrients, essential oils and antioxidants make it a superfood, one that’s known to aid digestion. And a little goes a long way. So munch on the minty sprigs after eating. Parsley also helps to beat bad breath.
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