Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are an easy ingredient to add to a wide variety of recipes in order to punch up the nutritional value of the dish. They can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, or wraps, added to stir fries, stews, sauces, and more, or lightly steamed and eaten as a side dish. A diet that includes lots of leafy greens contributes to heart health, lower blood pressure, weight management, and helps prevent mental decline. 1
Collard greens are a good source of folate, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and they have the most Vitamin K of any leafy green. 2 Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health and is essential for proper blood clotting. 3 Collard greens have a bitter, earthy taste that can be enjoyed raw but are often preferred cooked because the flavor is sweetened and mellowed.
Kale is popular for both its dense nutritional content and its bitter, savory flavor that complements a variety of other flavor profiles. Kale contains the antioxidants beta-carotene and lutein, which reduce the risk of diseases associated with oxidative stress such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, and cardiovascular disease. 4 Kale is also a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese, and Vitamins A, C, and K1. 5
Spinach has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that makes it a popular raw addition to salads and smoothies. It can also be cooked into sauces, soups, curries, stir fries, and other savory dishes. Spinach is a good source of Vitamins A and K, manganese, and contains a high level of folate. 6 Folate intake is especially important for people who are pregnant because it is crucial for red blood cell production and the prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy. 7
Collard and Sunflower Seed Pesto
In the quest to stay healthy this winter, there is no substitute for providing your immune defenses with a well-stocked toolkit. Vitamins A, D, E, and zinc are among the tools that let our systems function optimally. Deficiency of any can lead to increased risk of catching the cold or flu. Fortunately, we get most of these tools from eating a varied and nutritious diet. One place to start is those famous dark leafy greens. The following recipe will get you started in giving your immune system the raw materials it needs to thrive this winter.
Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University.
- 1 bunch collard greens or other leafy greens (de-stemmed)
- 1⁄2 cup raw sunflower seeds
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for finish)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- black pepper, freshly ground (to taste)
Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat. Stir the seeds every few minutes until they begin to color, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Prepare the collard greens by cutting away the center rib. Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Add the collards and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and transfer cooked collards to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
In a food processor, combine toasted seeds, garlic, salt, and Parmesan. Process the mixture into fine, uniform crumbs. Remove collards from water and squeeze dry. Add collards and the lemon juice to the food processor. Process until combined.
Serve pesto over pasta, in wraps or sandwiches, or on bruschetta.
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