If you’re like me, you grew up with a strong distaste for certain vegetables. In grade school, I claimed the nickname “I Hate Zucchini.” No amount of dressing could endear me to salad either! In reality, veggies were only boring or gross due to my overloaded taste buds. Once I eased up on junk, I fell in love with the subtle sweetness, saltiness, and unique gentle flavor to each plain plant food. This former Cookie Monster soon became a proud Veggie Vampire.
When I’m not savoring beetroots or chopping up cruciferous vegetables, you can find me preparing leafy greens – from green-leaf lettuce to red cabbage. This vegetable group includes great sources of calcium, iron, dietary nitrates, and other minerals. Note: some leafy greens are high in oxalates, which impedes calcium absorption. Dr. Michael Greger suggests ways to easily avoid this. Just limit the “big three” (spinach, beet greens, and chard), and focus on the rest of nature’s leafy green bounty.
Here are 3 simple habits I’ve used to get in my leafy greens.
I have green smoothies for breakfast
Breakfast smoothies are my long-term habit. Originally, I couldn’t stand “polluting” a sweet, bright fruit blend with bitter dark greens. But after getting home from a long road trip, I jumped into green smoothies. Now that I’m used to the taste, I love it, and it saves me so much chewing! Here’s my basic formula:
- Common fruits I get cheap throughout the year: Bananas, apples, grapes, mangoes, or pineapple.
- Greens: Often celery, a lettuce, or spring mix. I have to re-blend multiple times to fit it all in!
- Seasonal or pricier fruits that keep things interesting: Pears, persimmons, peaches, figs, plantains, etc.
- A little frozen mixed berries with kale.
Does blending disturb the fiber in fruit? A study showed apple puree caused a blood sugar spike, unlike chewed apples. However, pureed bananas and mangoes were neutral when studied. Blended berries, on the other hand, had a positive effect. They actually countered the blood sugar issues caused by other ingredients! Knowing this now, I’ll add some berries to each smoothie to hopefully smooth over the sugar uptake. I also try to drink slowly and never rush.
I throw greens into whatever I’m cooking
I feel like a n00b in the kitchen; I still haven’t learned to steam or pressure-cook. Boiling has been my habit since forever. So when I wanted to up my greens, what did I do? I just plopped a bunch of leaves in my pot of quinoa, red lentils, and carrots that were already bubbling.
Spinach and chard were my favorites before I found out about oxalates. Now I’m eager to try every kale, along with collards and arugula! Gotta love the way greens condense—you can cram so much nutrients in every bite. While cooking removes some nutrients like vitamin C, certain greens fare better than others. Antioxidants in kale survive boiling and actually increase when you blanch or steam. The folate in broccoli leaves increases during cooking.
I sprinkle raw greens on my dinner
During my aforementioned road trip, I stayed in my car for some time. Without a refrigerator or stove, I counted on a pre-washed lettuce feast to get my fix. After doing my shopping, I’d eat about a pound over the course of a meal—snacking on just the greens at first and then sprinkling them on flatbread with canned beans and vegetables.
Now that I’m home with a fridge, there’s no need to eat the whole box of spring mix immediately! Instead, I can use the heuristic of “a few bites of greens before supper.” It might be a single handful before I sit down to eat, or I may smother my plate with a thick layer of lettuce. Another idea I’ll try is to food-process the greens into a garnish.
I’ve noticed that my stomach feels great when I pair my grains and beans with leafy greens. Several years ago scientists studied a sugar in greens called sulfoquinovose or SQ. They found SQ feeds the good bacteria that help our guts thrive. Whether it’s SQ, the fiber, or some combination of other beneficial chemicals, I can always count on my raw tender greens to boost my mood, my digestion, and make my feel alive!
In summary, my three tricks to eat more greens are ridiculously simple. I just got in the habit of adding greens to everything I blend, cook, or serve. Many people use raw lettuce leaves for “boats,” or blanch giant collards to make wraps. Kale chips, celery with nut butter… the sky is the limit. However, many of us grew up veggie-shy. If we adopt a plant-based life like I did, green vegetables become holier than ever as a source of iron, calcium, and more. I hope this post gets you hungry for greens and inspired to explore new ways of enjoying them. Bon appétit!
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Photo: Ronise Daluz via Unsplash