The age-old adage often attributed to mothers of yore with something along the lines of eat your vegetables! is completely bang on, and even more so in 2016. See, your mother (or your mother's mother, or the mother that came before her) was on to something. Vegetables are a good thing. (I think most of us would agree.) And yes, sometimes the younger demographic turns their noses at some of the vegetables on offer at the dinner table. But your mother was right. And today, we'll focus on a specific group of these vegetables. Eat your greens, mon ami(e).
In this post, my aim is to arm you with knowledge so that you can better navigate the food and eating waters. I plan to give you some quick tips on how to include more greens into your daily food regimen. I will share a quick template for a weeknight staple at our house, ye olde Meatballs (a superfoods vehicle in my opinion).
So when I say greens, for the sake of today's post,
I am talking leafy greens.
This means anything that is a leaf typically found on a plant, and a leaf we can eat. This means your obvious ones like kale and lettuce; I also aim to include those lesser obvious ones like herbs and spices, pungent-tasting greens like watercress or sorrel (perhaps my current garden perennial favourite). And by leafy greens, do not shy away from found-in-the-wild kind of foods like seaweed or nettle.
WHY THE GREENS
Flashback to your grade six science class: every plant has a few different parts, among them the leaf. This part of the plant allows it to harness energy from the sun in the form of photosynthesis, thereby storing energy necessary for the building and maintenance of the entire plant. In order for the process of photosynthesis and the storage of said energy in to chlorophyll, magnesium must be made available. Magnesium is actually at the center of the chlorophyll molecule, much like iron is at the centre of our red blood cells. Therefore, it would be safe to say that by eating any leafy green of any kind, be it originally from land or water, one could be assured they would be consuming good amounts of magnesium.
Why do we need magnesium? Where calcium helps our muscles contract, so magnesium helps to relax the muscles. Where calcium helps our nerves send electrical impulses, so magnesium helps to quiet those electrical impulses. Magnesium is known as the calming mineral. Suffer from leg cramps? Charlie horses a regular occurrence? Hard time falling asleep at night, thoughts are racing? Maybe upping your leafy greens could be a part of how food could best support you.
We also need Calcium and Magnesium to be in the right ratio, along with lots of other vitamins and minerals in order to properly build and maintain bones and bone density. So eating greens? Yea, they're good for your bones. (Bonus: dark leafy greens are also a pretty stellar source of calcium.) On the subject of bones, greens are also high in manganese, another essential mineral in the building and maintenance of bones.
Magnesium is also a very important electrolyte in the body, and so by ensuring a good intake via foods, you would be supporting a healthier blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.
Magnesium is also an important mineral in the manufacturing of enzymes, mightily involved in the entire digestive process including how your body handles glucose. It is also a necessary component in the chemical reactions that happen in the brain in order to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. So greens? Yeah, they're good for your digestion and brain too.
In addition to magnesium, greens are typically good sources of potassium, another important electrolyte, especially important for heart and kidney health.
Dark leafy greens are good for your skin too: manganese plays an important role in your body's manufacturing of collagen.
Greens are also good sources of vitamin K, another key player in bone health and mental health as well. You'll find lots of B vitamins in the greens as well: these water-soluble vitamins are utilized constantly in adrenal health, stress management, skin health, mental health, hormone building, detoxification, enzyme manufacturing and digestion. Oh yes, also necessary if you are building a human being in your uterus.
They are power houses of minerals and vitamins like vitamins A, C, K that assist your body in the detoxification work, helping to clean out your blood, and have been shown to lower your risk of developing cancer.
The more bitter tasting greens are of tremendous support to the liver, supporting digestion by inducing it to produce more bile which is the body's natural way of re-packaging spent metabolic waste and toxins and shipping them out the regular route of elimination, #2.
Greens are usually good sources of fibre too, which helps escort those toxins out of the body. Some of this fibre also goes to fuel the bugs in your gut, those good guys we want to have in our innards. You could say that eating your greens is essential to disease prevention then.
Greens are shown to help lower cholesterol, thereby assisting in reducing inflammation. (Where inflammation occurs, cholesterol builds.) They are also fabulous purveyors of those all important flavonoids that will help mitigate inflammation and reduce oxidative stress on your body.
There is a fascinating video available online, an anecdotal video from Dr. Terry Wahls who worked through the devastating diagnosis of MS. She tells the tale of how her food choices helped support her body recover, fuelling her mitochondria, the energy manufacturing engines of each and every cell of her body. She specifically speaks to the idea of consuming 9 cups of vegetables a day, with three cups coming from leafy greens. It has been taken away from the TEDx's roster as they state it falls outside their curatorial guidelines. You can still find a version here.
In conclusion, it's safe to say that if you have a body and want to maintain its regular functions,
all of them, you need to eat your greens. Every day.
WHAT KINDS OF GREENS
Well it's clear that when we talk greens, you probably are thinking of the obvious players like spinach and kale, or maybe arugula or dandelion greens for the more bitter ones. I want you to think outside the box. Let's draw a list, shall we?
- bok choy
- swiss chard
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- beet greens
- turnip greens
- brussels sprouts
- dandelion greens
- green onions
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
- green tea
- broccoli leaves
- amaranth leaves
- nettles (careful if foraging, they really do sting!)
- nasturtium leaves (yes! you can eat these! and the flowers too.)
- borage leaves (young ones)
OK so they're good for you. I get it, you're saying to yourself. But how do I eat them? I had enough creamed spinach growing up, thank you very much. Let's go over a few ideas here.
Here's a good recipe round-up, if you're looking for ideas (click on the titles, as some of these will link out to a recipe):
- cook simply in a good fat like butter, and add S+P
- even fancier, you can cook your greens up in coconut oil with ginger and garlic, and at the last minute drizzle sesame oil over top
- perhaps the most obvious, but make a salad, and use more than just one green
- make kale chips
- blitz together a bit of spirulina or chlorella with some pumpkin seeds for a breakfast topping
- throw them in smoothies (the greens like kale and spinach can contribute to inhibiting proper thyroid function, so best to reach for other greens like lettuce, chard or watercress, or herbs like mint)
- make pesto
- whip up a greens curry (like my Palak-a-la-Ginny)
- mince finely and toss in soups or on eggs or sauces; your picky eaters will think it's flavouring
- use sushi nori leaves as a sandwich wrap instead of bread
- toss in some dried seaweed or minced herbs in to your next ferment
- deydrate your pock-marked greens from the garden and crumble into everything!
- if you grow broccoli or cauliflower in your garden, keep those leaves and dehydrate them!
- toss that s**t in everything
In June of last year, I put together a blog series called A Month of Salads. Find the round up here.
Here is my template for an easy weeknight meal that will help curb inflammation, fuel your sweet body with those good nutrients necessary for optimal health. I like to think of meatballs as flavour and super foods vehicles. The sky is the limit here; you will soon discover what you like and will make this recipe your own. I look forward to hearing about it.
1.5 lbs grass fed beef or pork, or bison, or chicken or turkey
2 eggs (brain superfood)
1/2 bunch minced fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro or basil (super green)
1/2 onion, minced (liver loving)
2 tbsp minced seaweed (mineral and iodine rich)
2 tbsp dried herbs like oregano or marjoram, or 1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp lemon juice
Add any dried crumbled greens from your garden if you have them (I use lovage all the time, or the dehydrated hail-damaged greens that are inevitable every summer in Alberta)
1.5 tsp sea salt (minerals!) and ground black pepper
Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 25 min. You can turn them once if you like, but it isn't necessary. Once they're in the oven, now you can go make the sides to accompany the meatballs. Eat them right when they come out of the oven.