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Dark leafy what?  Greens!

Whether you’ve started walking to work or composting your left-overs, it’s important to live mindfully and strive to improve your life.  Your diet merits the same attention. Saturated in an alphabet of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, leafy greens are the superstars of the supermarket produce section.  In fact, studies show that including a daily dose of leafy greens to your diet can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 14 percent.  If that’s not enough of an incentive, dark leafy greens protect your brain, your heart, and your gut. They fight the nasty c-word (cancer) and even protect you from sun damage at a cellular level.  

In general, the greener the leaf, the more nutrition it packs. Here’s a list of the top 5, in order of most nutritious:

1 – Microgreens: Proof that great things come in small packages!

Microgreens are the underdeveloped greens of vegetables such as kale, arugula, and broccoli that are harvested just one to two weeks after planting. Studies have shown that microgreens including cabbage and cilantro contain nutrient levels up to six times greater than those found in the mature plants. During early development, vegetables need an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support their growth, making their nutrient content just as abundant. Ranging in flavor from peppery to tangy, use microgreens to punch up salads, soups, and sandwiches.

2 – Kale: Not just a trendy food for yoga lovers!

When it comes to grown-up greens, kale is the heavyweight champion. It absolutely smashes its competitors in terms of lutein, a potent antioxidant shown to protect eyesight, and leads the way in beta-carotene and vitamin C. As a member of the Brassica family, along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, kale’s phytonutrient – sulforaphane – has been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. To help mellow out this all-star’s bitter flavor, tear leaves into bite-size pieces and massage with olive oil before putting it in your salad.

3 – Spinach: Popeye was onto something!

Among the greens, spinach harbors the most folate, and consuming more of this B vitamin helps protect against breast cancer development. Spinach is also top notch when it comes to potassium, which is necessary for muscle functioning, building healthy bones and to keep blood pressure in check.  Add it to your morning smoothies to boost nutrition without sacrificing taste.

4 – Mustard Greens: The secret leaf of mustard seeds.

As the name implies, these are the lacy-edged leaves of the same plant that produces mustard seeds. Mustard greens tend to be a little less bitter but more peppery tasting than kale or Swiss chard.  They and come second to kale in beta-carotene. In our bodies, beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A to bolster eye and bone health. The greens also contain a huge variety of phytonutrients that can rev up detoxification enzymes to help protect the cells of our liver and other organs from all the nasties of free-radical damage.  The spiciness found in mustard greens can be toned down by adding an acid toward the end of cooking, like vinegar or lemon juice.

5 – Collard Greens: A Southern Belle.

This green Southern favorite has large, leathery leaves with a somewhat milder flavor than other greens.  It’s tougher texter requires longer cooking times than other greens. On top of providing megadoses of vitamin K, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, collards contain higher amounts of dietary fiber than other leafy greens. A 2012 Swedish study found that women who ate high fiber had almost a 25 percent lower risk of suffering from heart disease.

Although these are your top 5 all-stars for leafy greens, don’t forget some of the other superstars:

~ Swiss Chard
~ Arugula
~ Dandelion
~ Rapini
~ Watercress

 


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