In the midst of a health and wellness era, most of us perusing mindbodygreen already know how important it is to eat our greens. After all, healthy greens are excellent low-calorie sources of nutrition, with myriad vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and even hydration. As a registered dietitian and founder of Tovita Nutrition, I see a ton of clients weekly who have trouble meeting their daily green requirements. I hear, "I’m bored with salads" and "I can’t eat any more broccoli" constantly. The fact of the matter is that salads are not the only means of eating your vegetables, and salad greens are not your only options! Increasing your green intake is a lot easier than you think if you think outside the box. First, we are going to look at greens you may not have previously considered, and then we will discuss ways to incorporate them. We already know that spinach, kale, and broccoli tend to be the more popular greens, so let’s take a closer look at the healthy greens you may be less familiar with.
One cup of cooked mustard greens has more than nine times the daily value of vitamin K and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and E. Remember, vitamin K is essential for blood clotting purposes and supports bone health by facilitating the transport of calcium. Mustard greens are also packed with minerals like copper, manganese, and calcium. While these guys have a strong antioxidant capacity, they may also have digestive benefits as they contain compounds that support the cells lining the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
Mustard greens are especially delicious when sauteed. Consider a saute with apple cider vinegar and sweet onions.
While loaded with vitamins and minerals, artichokes should be highlighted for their antioxidant capacity, fiber content, and cholesterol-lowering properties. The phytonutrient compounds found in artichokes provide them with the ability to scavenge otherwise harmful free radicals. This system actually helps to combat inflammation that may cause disruption to normal bodily functions.
Steamed artichokes can be served as a stand-alone dish, or they’re delicious in a tapenade. Serve them in a healthy, Greek-yogurt-based spinach-and-artichoke dip at your next gathering.
Watercress is a cruciferous plant and therefore has many of the same health benefits as other vegetables belonging to the cruciferous family. This tangy-tasting green is a nutrient powerhouse, loaded with vitamins and minerals, namely calcium and potassium. In fact, this green provides more calcium than milk!
This green superfood is delicious in a salad with sweeter notes, like those from pears and cranberries.
Just one cup of cooked Brussels sprouts provides more than two times the daily value for vitamin K and more than 100 percent of the daily value for vitamin C. These sprouts are also rich in compounds called glucosinolates, which help to reduce systemic inflammation and thus may help prevent the development of many chronic diseases, including cancer.
Roasted Brussels sprouts make for a delicious side dish, or sneak in some shaved Brussels sprouts to this chickpea-pasta mac-'n’-cheese recipe.
Have you ever admired a patch of yellow dandelions in a wild, grassy area? Believe it or not, these pretty little plants, often labeled weeds, have a lot more to offer than just a budding flower. The green leafy portion of this plant boasts an impressive nutrient profile. Dandelion greens are loaded with vitamins A, K, and E and are a good source of calcium and iron.
While they’re delicious in salads, feel free to change things around by cooking them in a bean or legume side dish and complement it with flavors from garlic or onions. You may also cook them into an omelet or grind them into a pesto sauce.
Green bell peppers.
While lots of focus seems to be given to their colorful counterparts, green bell peppers sometimes get lost in the crudités mix. After all, it’s easy to overlook the green when juxtaposed with the vibrant red, orange, and yellow. However, these guys are high in vitamins A and C and folate, which helps to support red blood cell function. Bell peppers are good sources of dietary fiber, which provides a range of health benefits from promoting digestive regularity to even reducing cholesterol.
Green bell peppers are delicious in any cruciferous stir fry, or they can be eaten raw in a crudités mix. Dip them in an artichoke hummus or scallion vegetable dip for an extra boost of greens.
These are just a fraction of the lesser-known greens that can help you increase your green intake if you feel you’re in a salad rut. Other ways to add greens into your diet include adding greens to smoothies, soups, sauces, and dips or dehydrating them into chips. Just remember, a green plate fuels a green body fuels a green mind!
I’m not sure I’ve known a vegetable to receive as much attention as our beloved kale, but it’s for good reason! In addition to boasting super-high levels of vitamins K, A, and C, this superfood is especially recognized for its antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene. Lutein plays a major role in promoting ocular health by protecting the eye from both potential light and oxygen damage. A little less-known fact about this veggie is that there are many different varieties of kale! While we’re likely familiar with the flatter, wider leaf, there are smaller, curlier leaves known as starbor and darkibor kale. Either way, one cup of cooked kale has only 36 calories, so don’t be shy about piling whichever variety floats your boat onto your plate.
Kale is a great addition to a breakfast frittata, or use it in a classic white bean and kale soup to warm you in the winter months. You can also try baking kale into a classic omelet muffin.
Have you ever noticed those little greens that often decorate your omelet at a restaurant, or that may garnish a soup or sandwich? If not, it may be because you habitually move them to the side of your plate to be discarded at the end of your meal. Well, next time you notice those little decorative greens, also known as microgreens, don’t toss them! They’re nutritional powerhouses, and I’ll tell you why. Microgreens are essentially plants that have not fully grown, as they’re harvested between 7 and 14 days of germination. These little guys have a higher vitamin concentration than their fully matured plant counterparts—particularly vitamins C, E, and K.
You may continue to garnish meals with microgreens, but consider adding them to a lentil salad, a homemade flatbread, or simply using them for the base of a salad.
Similar to microgreens, sprouts are often presented as garnishes or plate décor. However, sprouts have far more to offer than simple decoration. For instance, broccoli sprouts contain a potent antioxidant compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has been shown to reduce the risk of various types of cancers and helps to combat inflammation. Note: Sprouts may be likely to carry food-borne illnesses like salmonella or E. coli. It is recommended to cook sprouts to reduce the risk of illness.
These are just a fraction of the lesser-known greens that can help you increase your green intake if you feel you’re in a salad rut. Now that you're in a state of green mind, let's give you a green body by taking a closer look at ways to sneak greens into your diet without feeling like you’re overdosing on vegetables.
1. Add greens to smoothies.
This is one of my favorites. If you are not a vegetable lover, a smoothie can completely mask the taste of any green. If you’re one of these people, spinach is likely the perfect smoothie addition for you because it has a rather neutral taste and goes undetected when combined with fruits like bananas or berries. Here's how to make a perfect green smoothie every single time.
2. Make a vegetable soup.
...or a bean soup, or a lentil soup. Just be sure to add your greens! Kale nicely complements a white bean soup, or try to wilt your greens into a noodle soup. Don’t forget to garnish with microgreens! Here's a great green soup recipe.
3. Add greens to a sauce.
Wilt some greens into your tomato sauce, or give your homemade pesto sauce an extra green kick. Yes, I’m telling you to add even more greens than basil. Throw some baby kale or microgreens into the food processor for a super green boost.
4. Make a vegetable dip.
When I think of the approaching autumn season, things like cinnamon aromas, crisp temperatures, and vibrant foliage come to mind. However, I recognize that for many people the autumn season provokes feelings of excitement for football. What I’m trying to say is football season is the perfect time to experiment with healthy vegetable dips! The next time you host a gathering for a game, try making a crowd-pleasing Greek-yogurt-based spinach and artichoke dip.
5. Dehydrate greens into chips.
Lastly, making veggie chips is always a fun idea and a delicious way to eat your greens. If you don’t own a dehydrator, try baking your greens in the oven until they crisp to your liking. Feel free to top them with some nutritional yeast for a cheese-like kick with a boost of protein.
Here are the only rules you need to make a perfect green smoothie every time. Plus, absolutely everything you need to know about plant-based nutrition.