One of the most powerfully simple ways to improve your immediate health, along with your healthy lifespan, is to eat more leafy greens. Leafy greens simply provide you with the most nutrients per calories on the planet, and most of us don’t even come close to eating enough of them.
Why are leafy greens so good? In addition to the fact that you can load up on nutrients and fiber while consuming few calories, they’re associated with reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, are full of protein, rich in folate, calcium, carotenoids, and literally countless other phytonutrients. Moreover, those belonging to the cruciferous family (kale, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli, among others) have been shown to contain compounds called “glucosinolates” that convert into “isothiocyanates” (ITCs) when chewed or chopped. ITCs have been shown to have a variety of powerful anti-cancer effects, removing carcinogens, reducing inflammation, inhibiting angiogenesis, neutralizing oxidative stress, and killing cancer cells.
Kale has been hogging the spotlight for quite some time now when it comes to leafy greens, and for good reason – it’s one of the most nutrient-dense of the bunch, it’s easy to grow, and it’s pretty versatile. But as much as some people may try, they just don’t like it. I happen to love kale, but I understand – if it isn’t prepared properly, kale can be bitter and tough. If you can’t stand kale, there’s no reason to despair. There are tons of other leafy greens out there that you may find you like. Here are some of my favorites, not in terms of nutrient density per se, but in terms of palatability, ease of use, and availability.
Collards rank up there with kale on the Agregate Nutrient Density Index score, and it’s got a much milder taste. You can use it in place of kale in just about any recipe, raw or cooked, and it’ll even serve as a burrito wrap in place of a tortilla, since the leaves are relatively hearty and flat. Just slice off a little thickness from the stem so it rolls up easily.
Cabbage (purple, chinese, napa)
While purple cabbage technically isn’t a “green” vegetable, it’s every bit as fantastic as any of the other leafy greens on this list. Moreover, in an analysis of antioxidant content per unit cost, purple cabbage came out on top as the most economical way to load up on nutrients. So chop it up and add it into soups, salads, tacos, or wraps. Just slice it up and put it in whatever you can think of. There are many varieties of cabbage, all of which are extremely nutrient-dense. Experiment with them to find the types you prefer.
Although the raunchy chard dancers from the show “Parks and Recreation” claim otherwise, chard is actually very palatable and not bitter at all. It ranks towards the top of the ANDI charts and is full of antioxidants including a flavonoid called “syringic acid,” which has been shown to have powerful blood sugar regulating properties. Chard is most delicious when lightly steamed or even boiled – add it to pastas or scrambles in place of spinach or as a side by itself, cooked with leeks and garlic.
Next time you buy beets at the store or farmer’s market, don’t discard the greens attached to the bulbs. Wash them and put them in a separate bag for later use – chopped up in salads, sautéed with other veggies, or even in green smoothies and juices. Beets are actually part of the same family of veggies that swiss chard and spinach belong to and contain many of the same powerful phytonutrients.
Dandelion greens aren’t for the faint of heart as they’re incredibly bitter, but they contain powerful detoxification compounds and are loaded with vitamin A and vitamin K, among many other phytonutrients. A study in 2011 using dandelion root tea demonstrated that the plant may induce apoptosis (cell death) in leukemia cells while avoiding healthy cells. Dandelion greens are palatable when combined with other milder greens like spinach, and chard, and also work well as an extra boost in green juices. Too bitter to handle? Squeeze some lemon juice on them or include lemon in your juice (same goes for any of these other greens). It’ll cut the bitterness and help increase iron absorption.
Our closest living relatives – chimpanzees and gorillas – consume tens of pounds of green leaves every day. While we don’t need to consume ten-plus pounds per day ourselves, we should take a page out of their books and make leafy greens a major part of our diets. If you haven’t tried some of the greens listed above, make it a point to pick up a few bunches next time you’re in the grocery store or at the farmer’s market and include them in every meal possible.