By Charlyn Fargo
We could pick a lot of food to fit this category, but when it comes to nutrition, leafy greens are rockstars, according to the latest issue of Food & Nutrition magazine.
Heres why they top the charts in vitamins A, C and K, potassium and fiber with only 5 to 40 calories per cup. Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, collards and cabbages are natural defenders and recognized for their potential roles in cancer prevention. Kale, spinach and turnip greens are high in lutein, a phytochemical that may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
As a general rule, the darker the green, the more nutrition. Spinach will give a more powerful nutrition punch than iceberg.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming at least 1 1/2 cups of dark green vegetables per week. A note of caution for anyone taking blood thinners like warfarin because of their high vitamin K content, large amounts of leafy greens may interfere.
Before you use greens, thorough cleaning is essential. Wash greens in several changes of cool water to eliminate dirt. Fresh leafy greens keep in the refrigerator crisper for three to five days. For extended storage, hardier greens can be blanched and frozen. Cooking greens concentrates many of the vitamins and minerals and can help lessen bitter flavors. However, water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C can be lost if the greens are cooked for too long.
Try collards, spinach, mustards, cabbage, romaine, watercress, chard, turnip greens, kale, arugula and escarole.
Q and A
Q: Is adding Parmesan cheese a good way to add flavor to salads and other healthy foods without adding a lot of calories?
A: Richly flavored cheese, like Parmesan, used in small amounts can be a smart strategy for adding flavor without many calories. One tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese adds only 22 calories, just less than one gram of saturated fat and only 76 milligrams (mg) of sodium. You might want to try the blocks of Parmesan and Romano, as they tend to have a stronger flavor than the pre-grated cheeses. Then you can grate just the amount you need at home. With a flavorful cheese like Parmesan or Romano, one tablespoon or less is plenty. However, when large amounts are melted over a food or when its part of baked dishes that include the Parmesan name (like Eggplant Parmesan), the calorie and fat (especially saturated fat) can add up.
If adding some grated Parmesan to salads or vegetables helps you enjoy them so much more that you eat larger portions of these healthful foods, then overall it will probably help you fill up on fewer calories. A diet with plenty of leafy greens and other low calorie vegetables is linked to health benefits including lower risk of cancer, heart disease and more.
Information courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research
To welcome spring, (and take advantage of the nutritional value of greens mentioned above), heres a recipe for Kale, Cherry & Sunflower Seed Salad, from Cooking Light magazine.
Kale, Cherry & Sunflower Seed Salad
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces baby kale
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 tablespoon sunflower seeds
Combine the vinegar, olive oil, mustard and honey in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper. Tear the kale and add the dried cherries, red onion and sunflower seeds. Toss well and serve. Serves four (serving size 1 1/2 cups).
Per serving: 117 calories, 5.6 g fat, 184 mg sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian from Springfield, Ill. For comments or questions, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.
Nutrition News: Leafy greens are nutrition rockstars
By Charlyn Fargo