The famous cartoon character of the 1930’s, Popeye the sailor man, would frequently find himself being handily beaten by his nemesis, Bluto. In those dark and desperate moments, Popeye would heartily devour several cans of spinach and subsequently attain superhuman powers. In a gravelly voice and careless approach towards grammar, Popeye would firmly state, “I’m strong to the finish when I eats me spinach.” And then he would send Bluto flying to the moon. Bluto, who apparently neglected to eat healthy green vegetables, would lose every time. Popeye, of course, proved wise in leaning on the powers of leafy greens, and he proved the food marketers, who too often have favored everything but leafy greens, wrong. Sadly, Americans’ heavy dependence on dairy, meat and grains to the exclusion of these all-important vegetables has taken away the necessary “punch” they should be getting from their diet, and it has been replaced with a need for an afternoon nap.
The color green is associated with life, vitality and renewal. Green is not meant to be a sprig of parsley decorating the edge of a plate, but balancing, even dominating, the colors of a plate. It also creates texture to the dining experience. Often times, greens are bitter; others are sometimes sweet, even pungent. These diverse tastes can provide complexity to the palate, which so often dwells to near exclusivity in the realms of sweet and salty.
More importantly, green leafy vegetables are among the most nutrient dense foods available — high in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and K. Each one is packed with fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other phytochemicals and micronutrients. When eaten raw, you get the added benefit of live enzymes needed for improved digestion and nutrient absorption.
Consider the following 10 reasons why green leafy vegetables should be the power players in your daily diet:
1. Boosts immune function
2. High in vitamins known to prevent cancer
3. Improves circulation
4. Purifies the blood
5. Provides steady energy
6. May ease feelings of depression
7. Promotes healthy intestinal flora
8. Improves liver, kidney and gallbladder function
9. Clears congestion, especially in the lungs
10. Helps reduce inflammation
While most people would have a hard time naming more than two or three green leafy vegetables, there are many possible choices. For greater adventures in dining and added health benefits, consider adding the following oft-overlooked greens:
The following greens are eaten raw:
Mesclun wild greens
The following should be eaten in moderation due to high oxalic acid content:
(Note: If cooked with something rich like tofu, beans, butter, nuts, or oil, the oxalic acid will balance out.)
There are a variety of approaches possible when cooking greens. Steaming, boiling and sauteing in oil or water are some of the methods you could choose. If boiling your leafy vegetables, less than a minute is sufficient time — anything longer will detract from the nutrient value. Vegetables that are steamed will be more fibrous and tight.
If the encouraging words of Popeye are not enough to cause a second glance in the direction of the lonely, assorted greens beckoning from your grocer’s shelves, think of your inner ecosystem. Greens are the food of life. They should crowd the edges, settle in the center, and anywhere else you can fit them in. There is no energy more pure and life affirming than what you will experience consuming a diet rich in leafy greens.