February is heart health month! We wouldn’t have the capability to love or be loved without the amazing muscles that are our hearts (I mean… we’d literally die… but that’s not the route I was going with this). Anyway, during this month of romance and love, it’s important to remember that we ourselves should be included, so what’s one way we can give some love back to our little hearts? Keep them healthy by eating nutritious foods, aka… green leafy vegetables.
We all know about them; they’re the penultimate nutritious foods that are so penultimate that we avoid eye contact with their name whenever they’re mentioned in every food and health article. However, if you’re like me and the other 80% of the U.S. population that finds it difficult to eat these in the recommended amounts, falling in love with this subgroup of vegetables is a notoriously difficult task. So how do we make green leafy vegetables our Valentine and create a deeply passionate relationship with them?
Step 1: Find out who they are
Well first, we should know who they are and be able to recognize them on a blind date at Mariano’s or the more romantic setting of a farmer’s market. Green leafy vegetables come in a variety of textures and tastes, but what they all have in common is that they’re nutritional powerhouses, packing an incredible amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and beneficial bioactive compounds with very little calories. You can see these nutrients at play with the rich, vibrant hues and delicate, voluminous leaves that abound in these vegetables. Here’s a list of some common leafy greens in the U.S.:
- Collards, swiss chard, kale, spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, bok choy, arugula, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, radicchio, sorrel, watercress, romaine lettuce, purslane, Belgian endive, herbs
Everyone has a little baggage and their own flair of personal history, but these vegetables’ baggage is full of treasures and their history full of positive influences. From providing more potassium than bananas to having enough fiber to rival that of a slice of the mighty whole grain bread, here are just some of the attractive benefits of dating a leafy green:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- B vitamins such as folate and B6
- Minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, manganese
- Phytonutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin
Step 2: How do they make you feel?
Now that you got to know them a little bit, it’s time to focus on how they treat you. Do they do random, little things to make your day better? Do they make your heart beat stronger? Any leafy green checks “yes” to all of those questions. Time and time again, research has shown that there’s a strong association with eating at least one serving per day of leafy green vegetables and slowing cognitive decline, preventing certain cancers, supporting eye health, and reducing risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. Basically, for any disease or decline in the human body, there’s a good chance that leafy greens provide a component that helps keep it at bay and keep you in good health. I don’t know about you, but that kind of treatment sounds like a pretty good sign of an ideal partner if I do say so myself.
Step 3: What do you do together?
Both a clue at the beginning and a secret throughout a relationship, is how do you spend your time together and how much time together? In other words, how are we going to stay in love? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a collaborative report published every five years providing science-based nutritional and dietary guidance, it’s recommended to aim for about 1 ½ - 2 cup equivalents of leafy greens specifically per week (aka don’t worry folks, you don’t have to try to come up with a new date idea every single day). Just a note, one cup equivalent doesn’t mean one cup. For leafy greens, 1 cup equivalent is equal to two cups of raw leafy greens or 1 cup cooked leafy greens/other vegetables raw. Here are a few tricks to get a delicious date in with a leafy green:
- Braise, steam, sauté or stir fry tougher greens
- Collards, swiss chard, kale, escarole, turnip greens, mustard greens, cabbage
- Example dishes: add to a grain bowl with sweet potatoes and maple tahini dressing, mix with chicken and soy sauce for a quick stir fry, or braise with some lemon and bacon for a bright, salty side dish
- Add raw into salads, slaws, pasta dishes, or sandwiches for more tender greens
- Spinach, lacinato kale, arugula, lettuces, watercress, herbs, cabbage
- Example dishes: citrus, fennel salad with balsamic vinaigrette, cabbage slaw on top of tacos, mix with pesto and beans on top of a whole grain cracker
- Blended for tender greens
- Spinach, kale, herbs
- Example dishes: blend into smoothies, pestos, or with olive oils to infuse
- Wilt at the end of cooking for tender or tough greens into soups,
- Spinach, kale, swiss chard, mustard greens, escarole, turnip greens
- Example dishes: throw them in at the end of a soup, curry or stew such as this miso red curry soup
- Use as cups for crispy, large-leafed greens
- Variety of lettuces such as romaine lettuce, endive
- Example dishes: chicken curry salad in endive cups, pork lettuce cups with carrot slaw
If you need a few more ideas for the delicious recipes part, join us for our Virtual Building Blocks: Soups class on Saturday, February 12th where one of the recipes features kale or our Virtual Valentine’s Day class to see how to pair a salad with a romantic meal. Falling in love with leafy green vegetables can take a little work, but delicious recipes, consistency, and a little curiosity are the secrets to a strong foundation for this scrumptious, beautiful love story.