Festive Greens: The most nutritious foods you can add to your diet this season

 Festive Greens:

The most nutritious foods you can add to your diet this season

By Ellen Kittredge

With the chill in the air, the shortening days and, of course, the turning of the calendar pages, it is undeniably fall. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, mostly because I enjoy cradling a big steaming bowl of soup in my hands, smelling the variety of scents that rise from the bowl, be it lentil, beef barley, butternut squash or some other delicious soup packed with the wonderful vegetables that ripen during this time of the year. While I love all of the fall foods, my favorites include sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash (especially butternut!), apples and of course, greens.

Each fall I’m always reminded of how naturally sweet all of these foods are, even the greens. Some of the heartier greens, like kale, collards and cabbage, find their full expression of taste as the weather gets colder. After the first frost kale becomes really sweet. If kale isn’t something you regularly eat, I’d suggest giving it a try right now. You’ll be amazed at the how flavorful and deliciously sweet it is.

Greens: Why should we eat them?

Despite the widely divergent dietary theories you may have come across in your own research and reading, one area that every nutritionist, registered dietician and other health professional can agree upon is that we should eat more vegetables. I agree. While vegetables contain essential sources of some of the key nutrients our bodies need to function and stay healthy, all veggies are not created equal. Green vegetables, specifically dark leafy greens, like the above-mentioned kale and collards, as well as spinach, bok choy, Swiss chard, cabbage, escarole, beet greens and many others, are the type most missing in the standard American diet while at the same time the most nutritious.

Nutritionally, greens are very high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and zinc, as well as vitamins A, C, E and K. They also contain high amounts of fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals.

Some of the specific benefits that dark leafy greens offer include blood purification, cancer prevention (especially the greens that belong to the brassica or cruciferous family like broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards and mustard greens), strengthened immune system, promotion of healthy intestinal flora and cleansing of the some of the main organs of elimination, like the kidneys and liver. Greens also help to improve circulation and to clear congestion in the lungs.

I find that my clients who commit to eating at least a cup of dark leafy greens per day for two weeks find that their cravings for salt go away, and I believe this is because the minerals in the greens are helping to satisfy the mineral needs that their body has. Salt cravings can actually be an indication of inadequate mineral levels in the body.

Adding greens into the diet is also helpful with sweet cravings because they give the body such great energy by increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals that are nourishing the cells that the body no longer craves sugar for energy. Simply feeding the body with the right foods, those foods that contain high amounts of nutrients, does wonders for cravings and for energy. And greens are perhaps one of the best sources of highly nutritious foods that we can add to our diet each day.

If dark leafy greens are new to you, and you are not sure where to start, I’ll make three recommendations:

  1. Make sure to purchase your greens at your local farmers’ market or at a health food store that has a relatively quick turnaround in the produce section. You want to get fresh greens, not any with wilted or browning leaves.
  2. Experiment with different ways to cook the greens. If you normally steam your veggies, I might recommend instead boiling them directly in the water. Steamed greens may taste bitter, while those boiled in water are much sweeter. Simply put a pot of water with about an inch or inch and a half of water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, add the shredded or chopped leaves of whatever green you are cooking, let it boil for three to five minutes, and then you will have a delicious and nutritious source of minerals, fiber and vitamins that is ready to eat. I usually season with sea salt and pepper, drizzling a little olive oil on top. A squeeze of lemon adds a great flavor as well, and you can always throw in some sautéed garlic for some additional health and taste benefits.
  3. Greens can always be added to soups about five minutes before you pull the pot off the stove. I think any soup benefits from adding some chopped kale, but experiment with spinach, collards, escarole and mustard greens too. Adding greens to soups is a great way to get these wonderful foods into your body without any real extra effort.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with greens this season and see your health improve because of it. And enjoy this recipe made with raw cabbage and a great spice that has many health-giving properties of its own –  turmeric. Because the cabbage has not been cooked (even though it almost tastes like it has), it retains more of the anti-cancer properties that are such a wonderful reason to eat this food.

Ellen Kittredge, is a nutrition and health counselor practicing in Annapolis and Bethesda, MD, who helps her clients experience real and lasting weight loss, eliminate cravings, gain more energy and improve overall health and well-being.  She can be reached at ellen@ellenkittredge.com  

Indian Spiced Raw Cabbage Salad with Turmeric

By Sri Narayan.

Prep. Time: 10 to 15 minutes, not including the salting time for the cabbage

Ingredients:

One-half of a large green cabbage, shredded in a food processor, or cut into strips by hand

1 tsp. extra virgin coconut oil

1 tsp. black mustard seeds

3/4 tsp. turmeric powder

2  Tbs. raw sesame oil

1 tsp. unrefined sea salt

Combine the shredded cabbage and the salt in a salad bowl and let it sit for an hour. This will pull the water out the cabbage. After an hour, squeeze and drain the water from the cabbage and use a paper towel to blot the excess water. At this point the cabbage should be soft and dry, but crunchy.

Heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds to the oil and wait until the seeds pop. The popping starts when the oil is hot. Cool down the mustard mixture (just the mustard, separated from the oil) and add it to the cabbage, along with the turmeric and sesame oil. Toss well.

The mustard seeds add a pungency along with great health benefits, plus they make the salad look pretty. This salad should last at least two to three days when stored in the refrigerator.

Note: Coconut oil solidifies in cooler weather, so sesame oil is a better option to dress the salad. Both have their own unique health benefits.

Sri teaches cooking classes in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, and writes for the Examiner.com as a healthy living contributor. Read more about him at http://www.nourishandthrive.com/

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