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Dark Leafy Greens – Powerhouse Vegetables

By Kathie O’Connell, N.C.

Since 1980, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans has encouraged people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Current guidelines recommend eating five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (2½ to 6½ cups per day) depending on one’s caloric intake.

For example, if a person consumes 2000 calories daily, this translates into nine servings of fruits and vegetables, or 4½ cups per day (2 cups fruit and 2½ cups vegetables).  The guidelines further suggest 3 cups a week should come from dark leafy greens (2 cups leafy greens equals one vegetable serving).  The average American eats only three servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

The USDA states it is crucial to overall health to include vegetables in your daily diet. One way to do this is to consume dark leafy greens on a regular basis.  Dark leafy greens are powerhouse vegetables.

Dark leafy greens are brimming with fiber which helps reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Fiber also lowers constipation and other digestive issues and increases fullness to help maintain a healthy weight.

Dark leafy greens contain vitamins A, C, E, K, and many of the B vitamins, which aid vision, healthy skin, growth and repair of tissues, protects bones against osteoporosis, aids in healing of cuts and wounds and may help protect against inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Dark leafy greens also are a rich source of minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, as well as plant-based substances called carotenoids that may help protect against heart disease, diabetes and perhaps even cancer.  The substances in dark green leafy vegetables act as antioxidants by removing free radicals from the body before they become harmful.  Research has found that carotenoids can stop the growth of certain types of breast, skin, lung and stomach cancers.

Examples of dark, leafy greens are arugula, spinach, leaf lettuce, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, chicory, Swiss chard, mustard, turnip greens, cabbage and broccoli.

When it comes to preparing and eating greens, dark leafy greens can be classified into three categories: salad greens, such as leaf lettuce; quick-cooking greens, such as spinach and Swiss chard; and hearty greens, like kale and collard greens.  Before preparing greens, swish them in a water-filled sink to clean, repeating until the leaves are dirt-free.  Blot dry and store in the refrigerator away from tomatoes, apples or other fruits, which may cause greens to wilt easily.

Here’s an easy and delicious recipe to try with kale, collards, turnips and Swiss chard:

Cook the greens with olive oil, garlic and a little broth for 5 minutes and serve. For extra flavor, squeeze in some lemon juice.  For a spicy addition, complement by sprinkling greens with red pepper flakes.

Kathie O’Connell, N.C. is a holistic nutritional consultant. She is a health and wellness coach for IN.FORM Total Lifestyle Transformation and does individual counseling. She can be contacted at kathie.oconnell@gmail.com or at (815) 592-4296.

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