This is the 5th article in a series on helping you eating optimally healthy, where we will focus on practical ideas to incorporate more leafy greens into your daily diet.
In the first article - Why are we so dedicated to disease - I spoke about the mindset that needs to shift from that of curing diseases and instead emphasize caring for our bodies for a lifetime so that we don’t succumb to the conditions that we are seeing more and more of now at ever younger ages.
In the second article - The diet-inflammation connection - I wrote about a typical dietary scenario and linked it to how a person felt, and then made some suggestions for change.
Then in the third article - From Fit to Fat, to Fit - I wrote a commentary about a man who underwent a remarkable transformation to purposely let his body ‘go’ for 6 months and before long he looked like the average overweight middle-aged man, where he was once a lean and chiseled fitness trainer. He then embarked on 6 additional months to return to his former physique by eating healthy and exercising again, just to understand and empathize with the challenges his obese clients faced.
Finally, in the fourth article - The Preventable Side of Cancer Through Lifestyle Habits I explored the evidence we have today in how much cancer is impacted by the lifestyles we choose, namely the quality (or lack thereof) when it comes to our diet.
The Dietary Power of Leafy Greens
Many people fall short on the recommendation to eat 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (I know some who don’t even eat that in a week). Even more so, people are lacking in adequate consumption of leafy green vegetables. A large part of this is people simply don’t know what to do with them, so hopefully after reading this article you can start incorporating them into all kinds of foods.
Leafy greens, especially dark ones, are powerhouses of nutrients. They are also inexpensive for the large amount and quality of vitamins and minerals they contain. Leafy greens include things like kale, collard greens, red/green/ or rainbow chard (sometimes called Swiss chard), mustard greens, beet greens, bok choy, arugula, spinach, wild greens like dandelion or lambs quarters, and even herbs like parsley, basil, and cilantro. If you are a gardener, leafy greens are hardy and easy to grow. It also means you are getting as organic as possible.
Research shows that dark leafy greens potentially ward off many types of cancers and are very good for heart health. I admit I am always skeptical when I read about new vitamin supplements that promise ‘high antioxidants’ or claims to be a natural extract of whatever fruits or vegetables. A synthetically made vitamin can never replace what is found in nature and all the intricate components as they are meant to be consumed in its most natural and whole form possible. And sometimes people consume such vitamins instead of eating healthy, blindly thinking that this somehow makes up for the lack.
Putting Greens to Work For You
It is not far from the truth that we in our modern culture are overfed yet undernourished, and children are no exception. They are so starved for nutrients found in plant foods that it is no wonder we are seeing an alarming rise in all conditions such as allergies, asthma, general immune deficiencies, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, and even childhood cancers. Dr. Terry Wahls, a medical doctor and researcher, aptly stated that we are seeing so many behavioural issues in children because the brain is simply starving for the building blocks to conduct the biology of life. (Incidentally, Dr. Wahl was diagnosed with MS in 2000 which progressed so quickly that she was in a wheelchair within a few years. It was through radically changing her diet, including taking out processed foods, dairy, and grains, and instead eating a lot of greens and raw foods that in 9 months of doing so she threw away her wheelchair and began running and riding a bike).
Children need to learn at a young age what real eating is all about, and it must be modeled by parents so that it becomes normal to see greens and raw vegetables on a plate at every meal. Can’t imagine your child eating kale for example? Or you have no idea how to prepare Swiss chard? Here are 10 tips to help you get more leafy greens into your diet:
Become familiar with things in the grocery store that you normally don’t even notice or ever buy. Learn the names and if you have internet access, there are many recipes you can find online when you become more creative.
Buy a bunch of parsley on your next shopping trip and over the next few days, add it to anything you make – soups, stews, on top of mashed potatoes, or as a garnish on a pasta dish prior to being served.
If making wraps or sandwiches, always put in a few leaves of something green (iceberg lettuce, being so nutritionally void, does not count!).
Soups lend themselves well to the addition of greens. Chards, kale, and beet greens can be added chopped up small into any soup, adding always at the end of cooking so as not to destroy the valuable nutrients with too much heat. Even if you are not yet at the stage of making homemade, a can of soup is far healthier if you add in a few greens before serving.
Make a salad with mixed greens, including things like spinach and arugula (which has a spicier flavour) instead of just plain romaine lettuce.
Spaghetti sauces or chili are a great way to ‘hide’ leafy greens for children. Again, always put in just at the very end of cooking.
Stir frying chopped kale with garlic and a touch of soya/tamari sauce is a nice side dish. Or simply add a handful of chopped greens (bok choy works well) at the end of making a vegetable or shrimp stir fry. Cilantro is a delicious garnish on top of any stir fry.
In the spring when our bodies naturally want to detoxify after a long winter, gather bags full of new dandelion greens (make sure it isn’t sprayed in any way). Best of all, it’s free! Add to a salad or to your next morning smoothie-in-a-blender made up of a banana, frozen berries, a spoonful of plain dairy or non-dairy yogurt, coconut oil, raw almonds, flax seeds, a ¼ of an avocado, and enough water to blend.
It is a delicious blend and goes over well with children, with lots of healthy fats to feed young brains. It is incomparably better than a bowl of even the ‘healthiest’ boxed cereal on the market (and I say that with a hint of sarcasm since none are truly healthy).
Making homemade pesto can be very easy by using a handful of basil, 1 clove of garlic, 1/3 of a cup of walnuts and/or sunflower seeds, juice of half a lemon, and a pinch of salt (or you can add parmesan cheese instead of salt). Add enough olive oil to make it blend easily into a blender and voila! A great topping for noodles or as a sauce for steamed vegetables like cauliflower or yellow beans.
You may not be able to use a huge bunch of kale, especially when you first begin to incorporate more greens, for example before it goes too wilted. I often buy several bunches at a time, then rinse and chop into large pieces and blanch it in boiling water for less than 30 seconds. Quickly drain and spread out on cookie sheets and put into the freezer for an hour or two. Then remove and it can be portion sized into containers or small Ziploc bags and put in the freezer for later use. Kale for example, when frozen, crumbles easily into small pieces ready to go into or onto anything. Now there are no excuses to not have time to add extra greens to any dinner meal!
And there you have it, some new ideas on how to incorporate these healthy greens into your daily meals. Be creative and best of all, happy eating!