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Dark leafy what?  Greens!  

Whether you’ve started walking to work or composting your left-overs, it’s important to live mindfully and strive to improve your life.  Your diet merits the same attention.  Saturated in an alphabet of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, leafy greens are the superstars of the supermarket produce section.  In fact, studies show that including a daily dose of leafy greens to your diet can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 14 percent.  If that’s not enough of an incentive, dark leafy greens protect your brain, your heart and your gut.  They fight the nasty c-word (cancer) and even protect you from sun damage at a cellular level.  

In general, the greener the leaf, the more nutrition it packs. Here’s a list of the top 5, in order of most nutritious:

1 – Microgreens: Proof that great things come in small packages!

Microgreens are the underdeveloped greens of vegetables such as kale, arugula, and broccoli that are harvested just one to two weeks after planting. (also known as sprouts) Studies have shown that microgreens including cabbage and cilantro contain nutrient levels up to six times greater than those found in the mature plants. During early development, vegetables need an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support their growth, making their nutrient content just as abundant. Ranging in flavor from peppery to tangy, use microgreens to punch up salads, soups, and sandwiches.

2 – Kale: Not just a trendy food for yoga lovers!

When it comes to grown-up greens, kale is the heavyweight champion. It absolutely smashes its competitors in terms of lutein, a potent antioxidant shown to protect eyesight, and leads the way in beta-carotene and vitamin C. As a member of the Brassica family, along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, kale’s phytonutrient – sulforaphane – has been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. To help mellow out this all-star’s bitter flavor, tear leaves into bite size pieces and massage with olive oil before putting it in your salad.

3 – Spinach: Popeye was onto something!

Among the greens, spinach harbours the most folate, and consuming more of this B vitamin helps protect against breast cancer development. Spinach is also top notch when it comes to potassium, which is necessary for muscle functioning, building healthy bones and to keep blood pressure in check.  Add it to your morning smoothies to boost nutrition without sacrificing taste.

4 – Mustard Greens: The secret leaf of mustard seeds.

As the name implies, these are the lacy-edged leaves of the same plant that produces mustard seeds. Mustard greens tend to be a little less bitter but more peppery tasting than kale or Swiss chard.  They come second to kale in beta-carotene. In our bodies, beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A to bolster eye and bone health. The greens also contain a huge variety of phytonutrients that can rev up detoxification enzymes to help protect the cells of our liver and other organs from all the nasties of free-radical damage.  The spiciness found in mustard greens can be toned down by adding an acid toward the end of cooking, like vinegar or lemon juice.

5 – Collard Greens: A Southern Belle.

This green Southern favourite has large, leathery leaves with a somewhat milder flavour than other greens.  It’s tougher texter requires longer cooking times than other greens. On top of providing megadoses of vitamin K, vitamin C, and beta-carotene, collards contain higher amounts of dietary fiber than other leafy greens. A 2012 Swedish study found that women who ate high fiber had almost a 25 percent lower risk of suffering from heart disease.

Although these are your top 5 all-stars for leafy greens, don’t forget some of the other superstars:

~ Swiss Chard      ~ Arugula     ~ Dandelion      ~ Rapini     ~ Watercress

5 WAYS TO ENJOY DARK LEAFY GREENS (that aren’t salad)

1 – Add to smoothies: A smoothie is a great way to pack in a lot of nutrients in one place. Add one to two handfuls of green vegetables to your morning or afternoon protein smoothie.If you have never added greens to a smoothie, spinach is a nice place to start because it has a mild flavour.

2 – Add to your breakfast scramble: Whether you are making a simple egg scramble or a more complex frittata, consider adding a few handfuls of greens to the mix.  Kale, spinach or Swiss chard will taste great with your breakfast creation.

3 – Add to your soups:  A warm bowl of soup is another great way to incorporate several different vegetables into one meal.  Just like your smoothies and eggs, including leafy greens in your soup is easy – just add them in during the last few minutes of cooking to preserve their texture. 

4 – Make some chips: Kale chips are popular for a reason.  Rip the leaves into bite size pieces, toss in olive oil and some herbs to taste (or just some sea salt), place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes; checking regularly to ensure edges aren’t burnt.  Want a great recipe? Click HERE.

5 – Lettuce wraps: Not just for gluten-free advocates, dark leafy greens make a great alternative to flour tortillas.  Collard greens tend to be the easiest but you can also try Butter lettuce leaves, large kale leaves or Swiss chard. 

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