Does your family flee when leafy greens crop up at the table? Registered dietitian Sue Czap of UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute offers advice on which greens to choose and shares some tasty ways to work them into meals.
Dietitians recommend eating a variety of leafy greens several times a week. These vegetables are good sources of vitamins A, C and K, and they’re packed with phytonutrients—natural chemicals produced by plants that keep them healthy and also help support human health. Greens also provide dietary fiber, which is important for digestion, and they are naturally low in calories.
All of these features are important for maintaining good health, and they may help reduce a person’s risk of cancer as part of an overall plant-based eating pattern.
Here are a few things to know as you aim to add more of these nutritional powerhouses to your family meals.
Leafy goes way beyond lettuce. There are plenty of leafy green options, many of which are part of the cruciferous family of vegetables known for their cancer-fighting properties. These include collard greens, bok choy, arugula, cabbage, broccoli and watercress. While we can usually find some of the staples—like escarole—in the grocery store year-round, certain leafy greens are in season at different times of year. Hardier leafy greens—such as cabbage, collards, beet greens, and kale—are in season during the winter months. Leafy greens readily available in the summer include lettuces, spinach and chard.
Keep them chilled. Leafy greens will stay fresh for about three to five days if kept refrigerated. Hold off on cleaning them until you’re ready to use them. When you are, wash them thoroughly by soaking in cool water to remove dirt and other debris.
Cook with creativity. How you prepare leafy greens depends on what type you’re using, but you can cook leafy greens in perhaps an infinite number of dishes. In fact, it can be nice to keep a bag of baby spinach around to add to a recipe whenever appropriate. For example, a handful or two of baby spinach can work well thrown in with some scrambled eggs, blended in smoothies, tossed in salads or added to whole-grain side dishes.
Here are some additional ideas.
- Kale: Kale is best when braised, sautéed or used in a soup. Be sure to remove the tough “spine” of the kale prior to chopping. For a demo, check out Rebecca Katz’s video on the “strip and rip” method of preparing kale. If using raw, mature kale in salads, I recommend massaging it with olive oil and lemon juice (or vinegar) to tenderize the leaves. Or, consider using baby kale in salads, which is tender and has a milder flavor. Try this Arugula and Kale Salad or Tuscan Beans and Greens.
- Collard greens: Collard greens are typically used in Southern cooking. The hardy leaves need to be well cooked and are typically braised or stuffed. Try this Zippy Sweet Potatoes and Collard Greens recipe.
- Spinach: Spinach is naturally high in water content. It’s versatile and can be used raw or cooked. Try this Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms recipe.
- Chard: Chard comes in several colors. Young, tender chard can be eaten in salads. Chard cooks quickly and pairs well with orange juice and olive oil. It’s one of the first spring vegetables available locally. Try this Emerald Greens with Orange recipe.
Find additional healthy, plant-based recipes on the Wilmot Cooking for Wellness blog.
Sue Czap is a registered dietitian and a board certified specialist in Oncology Nutrition. She teaches a monthly wellness cooking class for cancer survivors and works primarily from Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Pluta location.