While all veggies are incredibly nutritious, dark leafy greens rule the vegetable world.
Unfortunately, they don't taste very good to the everyday person. In fact, eating plain kale can feel like enjoying a bowl of green dirt. Yum.
Good news -- it is possible to make dark leafy greens taste good. Seriously.
"When it comes to nutrition, all leafy greens are superfoods," Alexandra Parker, accredited practising dietitian from The Biting Truth, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"They top the charts in fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and vitamins A, C and K, while also low in kilojoules. They are stacked full of antioxidants, which can help prevent diseases like cancer and heart disease."
Examples of dark leafy greens
- Dark lettuces -- romaine, green leaf, rocket and butterhead
- Cruciferous leafy greens -- spinach, kale, silverbeet, bok choy, mustard greens, cabbage, broccoli, broccolini, watercress, beetroot leaves and sweet potato leaves
- Herbs -- fresh mint, basil, parsley, coriander and oregano
Dark leafy greens are also one of the best foods to eat to help with weight loss, accredited practising dietitian from The Biting Truth Anna Debenham explained.
"Because they are so nutrient-dense and kilojoule-poor, they're ideal if you're looking to lose or manage your weight," Debenham said.
"Leafy greens are also packed with fibre, the nutrient that keeps our bowels nice and healthy. The fibre in leafy greens also helps to keep us fuller for longer.
"Bulking out meals with leafy greens is a great way to keep portions of other foods in check whilst still leaving us feeling satisfied after the meal. A general rule of thumb -- the deeper the green, the more nutritional goodness the leaves contain."
If you're thinking, 'well, I'll just have iceberg lettuce because it tastes like nothing' -- firstly, good thinking, but secondly, we don't get the same amount of awesome nutrients compared to dark leafy greens.
"Dark leafy green veggies contain high levels of vitamins and minerals -- for example, calcium, folate, iron, potassium and vitamin A -- compared to iceberg lettuce, for example," Debenham siad.
"The bottom line is that all veggies are a great choice. However, from a nutritional point of view, dark leafy greens come out on top."
If you need more encouragement before you add kale, spinach and broccoli to your shopping list, consider these points.
"If you don't receive enough fibre in your diet you may experience constipation or irregular bowel movements," Parker said. "Fibre also helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer, which can assist with weight management."
"A diet rich in vitamins and minerals is essential to keep our immune systems strong, and therefore a diet lacking in green leafy vegetables can mean you are more susceptible to things like the flu," Debenham added.
Alright, now that you're convinced, this is how many serves of dark leafy greens we should aim for every day, and what that looks like on a plate.
"For optimum health, we should be aiming to eat 5-6 serves of veggies each day," Debenham told HuffPost Australia.
"Variety is key here to make sure you're getting all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. We usually recommend at least half to one serve of leafy greens a day (for example, rocket, bok choy, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, silverbeet)."
What one serve of dark leafy greens looks like
- 1 serve = 1 cup raw greens (e.g. spinach, rocket, kale)
- 1 serve = ½ cup cooked greens (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, bok choy)
If you struggle to meet these daily guidelines of dark leafy greens because you think it's akin to eating a handful of chlorophyll, try preparing them in these five ways. Your dark leafy greens will actually taste good.
"Dark leafy greens can have an intensely bitter flavour, and this often deters people from enjoying them regularly," Parker said.
"Here are some of our favourite ways to flavour darker veggies to make them more enticing."
1. Steam and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest and pepper
Choose your dark leafy green of choice (kale, spinach, broccoli and silverbeet is perfect here) and lightly steam until vibrant green yet still crisp. Drain, place them in a bowl and toss with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic, lemon zest and pepper.
"Our bodies need a small amount of dietary fat to absorb some of the vitamins found in dark green vegetables," Debenham said. "You can achieve this by adding a splash of olive oil, a quarter of an avocado or a handful of nuts to your greens."
2. Sauté with garlic, onion, chilli and mushrooms
After choosing and rinsing your dark leafy green of choice (again, the above greens work great), sauté in a pan with olive oil, crushed garlic, onion, chilli and mushrooms. Have as is or fold the cooked flavourful greens into an omelette or frittata.
3. Add chopped greens to a stir fry
Near the end of the cooking time, stir in some chopped dark leafy greens (try bok choy, kale, cabbage, broccoli or broccolini) and cook until wilted but still bright green. Make sure you add a flavoursome sauce to your stir fry, like satay or a simple garlic and soy sauce.
4. Add to smoothies
Although the colour might initially put you off, start including spinach or kale into your smoothies. As long as you don't go overboard (working your way up is key), you shouldn't taste the flavour too much.
If that's still too much, try adding dark lettuces which have less flavour.
5. Add some to your sandwich or wrap
If eating a bowl or plate of greens is still too much, add small amounts to your sandwiches and wraps. Start with the dark lettuces, rocket and baby spinach, and work your way up to adding wilted kale or sauteed broccolini.
And remember: our brains are hardwired to be wary of bitter foods (i.e. veggies) and it only takes a few exposures to get used to, and enjoy, them.
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