With the recent chill in the air, the shortening days, and of course the turning of the calendar pages, it is now undeniable: Fall is officially here. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, mostly because I enjoy cradling a big steaming bowl of soup in my hands, smelling the variety of scents that rise from the bowl, be it lentil, or beef barley, or butternut squash, or some other delicious soup packed with the wonderful vegetables that ripen during this time of the year. While I love all of the Fall foods, my favorites include sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash (especially butternut!), apples, and of course, greens.
Each Fall I’m always reminded of how naturally sweet all of these foods are, even the greens. Some of the heartier greens, like kale, collards and cabbage, find their full expression of taste as the weather gets colder. After the first frost is when kale becomes really sweet. If kale isn’t something you regularly eat, I’d suggest giving it a try now, and then again after the first frost in your area. You’ll be amazed at the difference in taste!
Everyone knows that they should eat more vegetables. Despite the widely divergent dietary theories you may have come across in your own research and reading, this is one area that every nutritionist, registered dietician and other health professional can agree upon. And I’d have to add my own voice to that recommendation as well…while perhaps getting a little more specific. While vegetables contain essential sources of some of the key nutrients our body needs to function and stay healthy, all veggies are not created equal. Green vegetables, specifically dark leafy greens, like the above-mentioned kale and collards, as well as spinach, bok choy, Swiss chard, escarole, beet greens, and many many others, are the type of vegetable that is both most missing in the standard American diet, and is perhaps the most nutritious.
Nutritionally, greens are very high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and zinc as well as vitamins A, C, E and K. They also contain high amounts of fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phyto-chemicals.
Some of the specific benefits that dark leafy greens offer include: blood purification, cancer prevention (especially the greens that belongs to the brassica or cruciferous family, like broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards and mustard greens), strengthened immune system, promotion of healthy intestinal flora, and cleansing of the some of the main organs of elimination, like the kidneys and liver. Greens also help to improve circulation and to clear congestion in the lungs.
I find that my clients who make a commitment to eating at least a cup of dark leafy greens per day for two weeks find that their cravings for salt go away, and I believe this is because the minerals in the greens are helping to satisfy the mineral needs that their body has. Salt cravings can be an indication of inadequate mineral levels in the body. I also find adding greens into the diet be helpful with sweet cravings, and this is because they give the body such great energy through increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals that are nourishing the cells, that the body no longer craves sugar for energy. Simply feeding the body with the right foods, those foods that contain high amounts of nutrients, does wonders for cravings and for energy, and greens are perhaps one of the best sources of highly nutritious foods we can add to our diet each day.
If dark leafy greens are new to you, and you are not sure where to start, I’ll make three recommendations:
1. Make sure to purchase your greens at your local farmers market or at a health food store that has a relatively quick turn-around in the produce section. You want to get fresh greens, not any with wilted or browning leaves.
2. Experiment with different ways of cook the greens. If you normally steam your veggies, I might recommend instead boiling them directly in the water. For some reason (I haven’t figured out why yet) steamed greens seem to taste bitter, while those boiled in water are much sweeter. Simply put a pot of water with about an inch or inch and a half of water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, add the shredded or chopped leaves of whatever green you are cooking, let it boil for 3-5 minutes, and then you will have a delicious and nutritious source of minerals, fiber, and vitamins that is ready to eat. I usually season with sea salt and pepper, and drizzle a little olive oil on top. A squeeze of lemon adds a great flavor as well, and you can always throw in some sautéed garlic for some additional health and taste benefits.
3. Greens can always be added to soups about 5 minutes before you pull the pot off the stove. I think any soup benefits from adding some chopped kale, but experiment with spinach, collards, escarole and mustard greens too. Adding greens to soups is a great way to get these wonderful foods into you body without any real extra effort.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with greens this fall, and see your health improve because of it!