Ingredient Spotlight on Dark Leafy Greens

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.

Health Benefits

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.

Healthy Skin

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.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

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

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  • Mari
    October 20, 2021 at 11:22 am

    . What a great post, and I appreciate the recipes you mention for getting more greens in our meals. Growing up we thought of iceberg lettuce and cabbage as good green vegetables. There weren’t many more to be had, and if there were, my parents didn’t buy them. Brussels sprouts were a rare treat, and no one had ever heard of kale. Collard greens were a Southern thing that no one I knew ever ate. My mom had distinct food prejudices. Unless a vegetable came in a can, it wasn’t a vegetable, and she didn’t buy it. Fast forward to now. There are so many wonderful greens to eat and enjoy. My mother and her friends would be shocked! I was introduced to kale and the wonderful world of greens when I switched a prescription, and the pharmacists told me about Vitamin K at great length. I can certainly feel the difference when I don’t get my greens, and I don’t sleep as well. In general I eat a salad loaded with kale and spinach and anything else on hand, for breakfast. It’s the easiest way to make sure I get enough. Sometimes I skip lunch or dinner from lack of hunger or lack of interest, so it makes my breakfast salad very important. That greens supplement looks like a great addition to my daily routine. How long does it last? It would be a great thing to have on hand and especially for days I just don’t feel like eating.
    Now to change the subject, since I’m good at it. Can you suggest a good fish to substitute for halibut? Fish seems to be getting hard to find, and there are some that are so expensive as well, and getting more expensive. Halibut is crazy expensive now and it frequently sells out before I can get to it. It looks like hoarding is coming back with a vengeance because of supply chain interruption. My family likes most fish, but they hate salmon. Two of my children are allergic to it, and the third one just doesn’t like anything about it. Typically I buy Mahi Mahi, cod, Ahi tuna and swordfish. They don’t eat shrimp, octopus or scallops. I would like to expand my fish repertoire. Any suggestions? In an upcoming spotlight, could you do fish? I would love to see that. Happy Wednesday Kelly, Alex, Terry and other lovely people. The sun is shining and our flu symptoms are almost gone. I would call that a really great day.

    • Kelly Djalali
      October 20, 2021 at 2:59 pm

      Good afternoon, Mari. For halibut steaks, I usually substitute cod; but wild striped bass can work well too. For filets, I’d say flounder or turbot, or you could go for tilapia. I will do an ingredient spotlight on fish – coming soon! We are a big seafood family, fish yes, but lots of shellfish too.
      One container of Greens First lasts me about 1 month. I mix it with 16 ounces of ice cold water, because I like the taste of it. But you can do 8 ounces of water if you prefer. If I am ever feeling run-down or like a cold is coming on, I will drink two servings a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I usually fast until midday or until after my workout. Until my workout, I have the Greens First it really is filling and gives me great energy for my workout.
      I am glad you’re feeling better and the sun is shining! Talk soon, xo Kelly

  • Sandra
    October 20, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Kelly
    Thank you for another informative post! I like to chop kale very finely and add it to my chicken or tuna salad. Greens are great!
    Take care

    • Kelly Djalali
      October 20, 2021 at 6:04 pm

      Hi Sandra, That is a great way to add kale to a recipe. I have done that with chicken salad and it adds such a great crunch too! Thanks so much for stopping by today and sharing how you like to add greens to your diet! Have a wonderful evening, xo Kelly