Number four in your Daily Dozen of must eat foods, is cruciferous veggies, but since I wrote about these in a column in November, I will go straight to number five, which is greens. Popeye certainly had it right when he said he got his strength from eating spinach. Dark-green leafy vegetables are the healthiest foods we can eat, providing the most nutrition per calorie of any whole food.
Dr Greger recommends eating two serves from this group every day, with a serving size being one cup of raw greens or half a cup of cooked greens. Only about one in twenty-five people are getting a dozen serves a month, when we should all be getting over a dozen a week! One important warning though! If you are taking warfarin, you should gradually increase your intake of greens under your doctor’s supervision. This is because you will get a whole lot of fresh vitamin K from eating more greens which will make your blood more likely to clot if you don’t also increase your warfarin dose.
Of all the food groups analyzed by Harvard researchers, greens are associated with the strongest protection against major chronic diseases. Just eating one extra serve a day reduces the risk for both heart attack and stroke by about twenty percent. Eating more greens also helps regenerate the antioxidant CoQ10. This may be particularly important for people taking cholesterol lowering statin drugs, since these interfere with CoQ10 production.
Some of the greens that are good to eat daily are arugula, beet greens, collard greens, all colours of kale, young salad greens, spinach and swiss chard. Many people have difficulties making greens taste good. Kale is fibrous and tastes like grass, right? Overcooked greens are slimy and give people flashbacks to their school cafeteria days. By adding some sweetness to your salads in the form of a balsamic glaze or figs or apples can help fool your tastebuds. Another easy way to get your greens is to put them into smoothies with fruit. Starting with a two to one ratio, such as one banana, one cup of berries and one cup of packed baby spinach will usually suit most peoples’ tastebuds.
Mint is easy to grow, especially in the Okanagan in summer and adding it to fruit salads, or even oatmeal counts towards your daily ration of greens. Pairing your green salads with healthy sources of fat that you like, such as avocados, nuts and seeds will make them taste better and enhance the nutrient absorption. It can be as simple as adding a creamy tahini dressing to your salad, adding walnuts to your pesto or sprinkling sesame seeds onto sautéed kale.
Researchers have shown by adding a source of fat to a healthy salad of spinach, romaine, carrots and tomatoes, the carotenoid phytonutrients in the blood rise over the next eight hours. With a fat free dressing, this absorption was minimal, almost as if the salad had not been eaten at all. Adding a tasty condiment containing vinegar to your salad, not only makes you more likely to eat more salads but also reduces the blood sugar spike after a meal and also can help with modest weight loss when taken daily.