A recent study (Crystal Wiley Cene, July 1, 2011) analyzing effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on Diabetes Type II has shown that increasing one’s intake of dark leafy greens by only one serving a day decreases the risk of the disease by a significant 14%!

One serving of dark leafy greens is equal to one cup; this is less than your average salad. There is huge variety of dark leafy greens and a plethora of ways to use them.

All dark leafy greens are very high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium, iron, and folic acid. They are packed with fiber and have been proven to have cancer preventative, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular benefiting properties, and now have shown to be effective at reducing Diabetes Type II risk.

Mustard greens, collards, and kale are popular in the Southern US cuisine. Traditionally, they are sautéed with acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, and pork, however using uncured turkey ham or smoked turkey meat will produce the same rich peppery and smoky flavor and will be healthier than the original.

Collard greens also make an excellent wrap. Just take a large leaf, carefully cut out most of the thickness of the rib without piercing the leaf and use any way desired. Try stuffing it with spinach (more dark leafy greens), hummus, some pickles, and shredded carrots.

Speaking of spinach, its taste is one of the mildest of dark leafy greens, yet it is a nutritional powerhouse. In addition to all the vitamins and anti-oxidants, 1 cup of cooked spinach delivers a quarter of daily calcium needs (www.nal.usda.gov). Spinach is very versatile and can be used raw in salads, wraps, and sandwiches, as well as cooked in soups, sautés, and baked as in spanakopita, a traditional Greek cheese and spinach pie. For a quick burst of nutrition, try adding a large handful of raw baby spinach into a smoothie. It will not change the taste and if you do not like the change in color, just add some frozen cherries or blueberries for a beautiful purple shade.

Salad greens are available throughout the year and varieties are abundant. Romaine lettuce, arugula, radicchio, escarole, mache, also known as lamb’s lettuce are just some of the wonderful choices. Each has a different flavor profile with Romaine being the mildest and arugula and radicchio the most bitter. Mache possesses just a touch of sharpness and offers small soft leaf rosettes that are very high in iron, compared to other lettuces. Endive is mildly flavored too and may be filled with various appetizers, hummus, or guacamole, proving to be delicious, nutrition, and a great presentation idea.

Swiss chard is another mildly flavored dark leafy green. It comes in white, red, and rainbow varieties. It can be sautéed or stir-fried on its own or with other vegetables, or steamed, blended, and mixed in to mashed potatoes. The stalks are tougher and take longer to cook, so, cook them first, and add the leaves later to prevent overcooking.

Some less commonly used dark leafy greens are beet tops and sorrel.

Beet tops are commonly available, have a mild flavor that’s a little sharper than cabbage. They can be stir-fried with cabbage for a good balance of flavor and a very nutritious meal, or used in soups instead of or along with cabbage. Always store beets and beet top separately, as keeping the plant whole will cause beets to lose their sweetness and the tops will wilt much quicker.

Sorrel is similar to spinach in appearance and texture but the taste is not nearly as mild. Sorrel has a spark of acid unlike any other dark leafy green and works great as a small addition to soups, salads, and sautés to add zing and pizzazz.

Broccoli is also considered to be a dark green leafy vegetable so it delivers benefits of both the dark leafy greens and of cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli may be eaten raw, steamed, or stir-fried. For a healthier version of a cream-of-broccoli soup try to blend cooked broccoli in a Vita-mix or a blender with some tofu (for creamy texture and added protein value), almond milk, and lemon juice; add leftover cooked broccoli into a pancake batter; or use broccoli stalks in soups, while using florets for appetizers or side dishes. Another idea for using broccoli stalks is roasting. Just peel and cut the stalks, season with spices of choice and roast at 400ͦ F until golden and tender but not too soft.

Since dark leafy greens are packed with fat soluble vitamins they should be accompanied by some oil to allow proper vitamin assimilation. Olive oil is the most common option and it does pair well with any of the greens. However, if you are feeling adventurous and want to get off the beaten path try sautéing your greens with coconut oil and adding cumin, mustard seeds, and turmeric for an Indian influence or add some sesame oil, sesame seeds, and ginger for an Asian theme.

So many options and so little effort! Only one more serving of dark leafy greens a day has potential to make you healthier even despite hereditary predisposition to Diabetes or other chronic conditions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to live and cook for your health contact us for consultations and cooking classes.

Disclaimer: For informational purposes only; not for prescribing or endorsement