Hello and welcome to this edition of Ingredient Spotlight on Djalali Cooks. Dark Leafy Greens are the rockstars of a healthy diet. They provide excellent sources of vitamins K and C; minerals like calcium and iron; essential nutrients like potassium, fiber, folate and antioxidants. Today let’s take a look at some common leafy greens and the benefits of a diet rich in dark leafy greens.
When we think “Dark Leafy Greens” usually spinach, kale, chard and collards come to mind. But did you know that broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, arugula and common lettuces, like romaine, are also considered dark leafy greens? Add dandelion greens, mustard greens, beet greens and microgreens, and you have a very long and versatile roster of greens to choose from.
The list of health benefits provided by these powerhouse veggies is as long as the list of greens themselves. Providing essential vitamins and nutrients for our entire bodies, greens provide more benefit than you may have even realized!
Brain Function and Stress
Dark Leafy Greens contain folate, which is a B vitamin – B9, to be specific. Vitamin B9 promotes the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. This can mean lower rates of cognitive decline as we age.
Included are the neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for regulating mood. Spinach, lettuce and broccoli are all excellent sources of folate.
Dark Leafy greens are great sources of beta-carotene. For real! The plant pigment that gives carrots their orange color is also in dark leafy greens. Beta-carotene gives your skin a healthy glow, and it acts as a natural sunscreen – protecting your skin against harmful UV rays from the inside out. This doesn’t mean you should skimp on topical sunscreen though!
Beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A in the body, which can smooth the complexion; stimulate new cell growth and turnover; and can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Kale is one of the best sources of beta-carotene.
I bet a lot of us have heard about eating the right foods to help reduce inflammation in our bodies. Boosting the inflammatory response of our bodies is an important defense against chronic illnesses. Regulatory T cells are responsible for determining which cells are “invaders” and which cells are our “self” cells. Vitamin D promotes Regulatory T cells, making your immune system “smarter” so it knows not to attack itself. Guess which leafy greens are at the top of the list for vitamin D – Spinach, Kale and Collards.
A healthy gut is also reliant on leafy greens to feed the good bacteria with its fiber, and to defend against the bad bacteria and inflammation that cause bowel and autoimmune issues in the gastrointestinal tract. The high Potassium content in leafy greens like spinach help to regulate fluid in the body, balancing the sodium content. So, a diet rich in leafy greens has been shown to effectively reduce belly bloat.
How to Add More Greens to Your Diet
Adding lots of healthy leafy greens to your diet is pretty easy. Big handfuls of fresh spinach or chopped kale leaves can be tossed into just about any soup or stew to give you a more nutritious meal. Add broccoli, Brussels sprouts or hearty greens like collards, to sheet pan dinners. Try my Mushrooms and Greens Grilled Cheese. Or my Spring Soup with Beans and Greens.
I am a big fan of whipping up a super easy salad of arugula and red onions with a little olive oil and vinegar to top sandwiches, pizza and pasta dishes. It’s a really simple and effective way to add flavor and nutrition to anything – even if it’s a less-than-healthy dish. (Nobody tell Pizza I called it unhealthy. Shhhh…) Perfect examples of this are my Bresaola Pizza with Arugula Salad and my Hot Smoked Salmon Rigatoni with Arugula Salad.
Another Great Way to Get Your Greens
Here’s the thing: I cook everyday for Djalali Cooks. Alex and I eat what I make and if you follow the blog, you know that some days I haven’t featured a recipe with greens. Sometimes, I don’t even have greens on hand. Or sometimes I just don’t have the time to get enough greens into my meals to meet my daily nutritional requirements. I bet life is this way for you, too.
My solution is that I start every single day with Greens First. (Yes, I am that person who totes along a container of this stuff whenever I travel. Lol!) Greens First is an all-things-green daily nutritional supplement. I have been drinking Greens First every morning for over three years, and the results I feel from supercharging my system with this green drink are immediate and long-lasting.
By noontime, I have already had 15+ servings of fruit and green vegetables. It’s a great way to re-energize, restore and revitalize your body first thing in the morning. It gives me energy and I never have that nagging realization that I haven’t eaten any vegetables all day when 5:00 PM rolls around.
Combined with good sleep, adequate water and daily exercise, I can actually feel good about the fact that I eat pizza every week; or sometimes indulge in sweets, or heavy things like lasagne because I am giving my body daily doses of antioxidant power from super-greens, phytonutrients, fiber, organic fruits and vegetables, digestive enzymes and probiotics.
Power to the Greens!
I urge y’all to add more dark leafy greens to your diet, and to try Greens First. I hope you found this Ingredient Spotlight on Dark Leafy Greens interesting and informative. What’s your favorite way to add Dark Leafy Greens to your diet? Let me know in the comments and feel free to reach out with any questions! Take care and be well, xo Kelly