This post was written by Sophia Ostrowiak Ventura, intern, and reviewed by Rachel Stohlman, RDN, LD, community outreach dietitian, Parkview Health.
We all know eating leafy greens benefits our health, but if you don’t have a natural affinity for their flavors, it can feel like a chore to incorporate them into your diet. In this post, I want to explore the importance of eating greens, and their nutritional benefits, and share a quick seasonal recipe that will help jump-start your vegetable intake.
The power behind the plant
Leafy greens are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Besides being essential for maintaining our bodies, these nutrients can also help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Some of the critical components found in these potent plants include:
- Iron: Aids in producing hemoglobin in the blood needed for oxygen transportation into the body’s tissues.
- Calcium: Supports teeth and bone strength while also helping to produce digestive enzymes that break down the food we eat.
- Magnesium: Helps with muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation.
- Potassium: This nutrient is required for normal cell function and helps your heart beat properly.
- Vitamin A: Aids in the normal formation and function of the heart, lungs, eyes and other organs.
- Vitamin C: This antioxidant helps support your immune system and collagen production.
- Vitamin E: Protects cells from harmful free radicals linked to diseases such as cancer.
- Vitamin K: Helps make proteins needed for blood clotting and bone health.
Incorporating these vital vegetables
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the weekly recommendation for dark-green vegetables for individuals older than two years old is one and a half cups. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that only 1 in 10 Americans actually meet this requirement.
Fortunately, there are many ways to incorporate leafy greens into your meals and everyday diet. With a little effort, you can add these plant powerhouses into any recipe to help boost its nutrition profile. A few of my favorites include salads, sandwiches, quesadillas, stews, soups, pasta, casseroles, omelets, scrambled eggs and smoothies.
So, when at your local grocery or farmer’s market, don’t be afraid to reach for a bundle of kale, chard, arugula, romaine lettuce or spinach. And remember, the richer the color of the leafy green, the higher the nutrient content. Once you get your haul home, wash and dry them properly before digging in, then enjoy!
A recipe to try
Power Greens and Nectarine Salad
1 cup romaine lettuce
1 ½ cups arugula
1 ½ cups spinach, finely sliced
½ cucumber, sliced
3 medium nectarines, sliced
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
Dash of salt
Black pepper, to taste
- Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl.
- Add mustard, honey and vinegar to a smaller bowl.
- Gradually whisk in oil until blended, then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Drizzle evenly over salad and toss to coat, then serve.