When Popeye wanted to save Olive Oyl, all he had to do was gulp down a can of spinach and WHAMMO… he had instant muscles, super human strength and could save poor Olive from that hideous fiend Bluto. One question we are often asked is, “what’s one of the best sources of vitamins and nutrients in a plant based diet”? In our opinion the pound-for-pound heavy weight champ of vegetables, and Popeye’s favorite, are Dark Leafy Greens.
Dark Leafy Green vegetables are absolutely packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are probably calorie for calorie the best source of concentrated nutrition found in any food. Dark leafy greens are packed with vitamins A, B-complex, E, C and K, an assortment of minerals (including iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium), small amounts of Omega-3 fats, and an array of phyto-chemical and nutrients including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein that help protect our cells from damage and age-related problems.
Some of the more common dark green leafy vegetables are Spinach, Swiss chard, Kale, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Collard & Mustard greens, Cabbage, and Red and Green Leaf Romaine Lettuce. Although it would be easy for us to say eat them all, the best way to get started incorporating these types of foods into your weekly diet, is to pick 3 that you are either interested in because of their nutritional value, or you have had experience with them in the past. To get you started, here’s Dr. Larinde’s top 3 picks.
We’re not starting off with this just because its Popeye’s favorite, but because spinach has the most nutritional bang for the buck. Whether you decide to blend it in a smoothie, sauté it in garlic and olive oil, of just eat it straight out of a can like Popeye, this dark leafy green is a powerhouse of nutrition packed in every bite.
“Spinach has a high nutritional value and is extremely rich in antioxidants, especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled. It is a rich source of vitamin A (and especially high in lutein), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, vitamin B2, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Recently, opioid peptides called rubiscolins have also been found in spinach.”
One of the most overlooked of the dark leafy greens due to its inherent toughness, Kale is a superb source of many hard to find phytonutrients. The “K” in Kale is my way of remembering this dark leafy green contains the highest source of Vitamin K which helps regulate blood clotting, prevents bone loss from osteoporosis, reduces arterial plaques in atherosclerosis by reducing calcium uptake, and helps reduce inflammation seen in inflammatory arthritis. Although you can prepare kale the same as you would Spinach and Swiss Chard, one great way to utilize this dark leafy green is making kale chips.
“Kale is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and rich in calcium. Kale is a source of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Kale, as with broccoli and other brassicas, contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Boiling decreases the level of sulforaphane; however, steaming, microwaving, or stir frying do not result in significant loss. Along with other brassica vegetables, kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and decrease absorption of dietary fat. Steaming significantly increases these bile acid binding properties.”
This is an easily overlooked vegetable when shopping, yet contains a tremendous amount of nutritional value as spinach and Kale. My favorite way to prepare Swiss Chard is sautéed with Onions, Olive Oil and Garlic.
“Swiss chard is high in vitamins A, K and C, with a 175 g serving containing 214%, 716%, and 53%, respectively, of the recommended daily value. It is also rich in minerals, dietary fiber and protein.. All parts of the chard plant contain oxalic acid.”
So get started today and try working these three dark leafy greens into your weekly diet. Research fun ways to prepare these vegetables on smchl.com, that will allow your kids to enjoy them and make dark leafy greens a regular part of their diet.