The Greens Guide

The definitive guide

If there’s one essential in my diet, it’s leafy greens. The consensus among doctors and scientists is that there’s little that compares to the nutritional value of organic, raw greens. A diet full of them can ease or reverse just about any health condition, not to mention make your skin glow and waistline shrink (just ask Michelle Pfeiffer and many other stunning A-listers).

Raw, organic leafy greens are loaded with fiber and water — fiber scrubs and loosens up stuck toxins while water washes those toxins away. They’re also packed with vitamins, minerals, and plant-based substances that can protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. The wide variety of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds found in leafy greens are nearly impossible to get in any other food.

Plant chemicals (called phytochemicals) reduce inflammation, eliminate carcinogens, regulate the rate at which your cells reproduce (important when it comes to the reproduction of mutated and cancerous cells), and eliminate old cells. You can’t watch any morning news program without hearing the latest scientific research showing that people who eat more greens have…

  1. Lower risks of stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
  2. Lower risks of certain types of cancer and digestive problems.
  3. Reduced risk of kidney stones and osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  4. Lower biomarkers for oxidative stress — an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to detoxify their harmful effects.
  5. Higher cognitive test scores. (Load up on kale before that big presentation!)

This handy guide to leafy greens will help you up your daily intake. And no, you won’t have to commit to a salad-only diet. Dig in to discover which greens take the top nutrition prize and how to prepare, store, and enjoy the wide variety that’s available:

Top 10 Leafy Greens

Make sure you’re getting at least a few servings of each, weekly. The more, the better!

1. Kale

This nutrition powerhouse is everything you want in a leafy green. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and bone-boosting K, folate, and potassium. Plus, a normal serving of kale packs more calcium than a glass of milk.

2. Collards

Collards are similar in nutrition to kale, but they have a heartier and chewier texture and a stronger cabbage-like taste. And recent research shows this staple of Southern cuisine may be even better at lowering cholesterol than broccoli and spinach. I love using collard leaves to make wraps. The wide leaves are a perfect swap for tortillas.

3. Turnip Greens

More tender than other greens, turnip greens are sharp-flavored and loaded with vitamins A, C, and K and calcium. Just one cup of turnip greens provides 20% of your daily requirement for vitamin B6.

4. Swiss Chard

Look out for eye-popping red, yellow, orange, or white stalks — a sure sign of freshness. Swiss chard has a beet-like taste and soft texture, and since it weighs in at only 15 calories per ½ cup, eat up! It’s an excellent source of vitamins A and C and delivers more than 20% of your daily requirements for iron.

5. Spinach

Popeye was onto something… Weighing in at only 20 calories per serving, spinach is packed with vitamins A and C and folate. Spinach is also rich in iron, which helps transport blood around the body to keep muscles working efficiently. As with Swiss chard, mild heat (keep it below 104 degrees) reduces spinach’s oxalate content, allowing its calcium to be more easily absorbed and used by the body. In fact, just the mild heat generated from juicing and blending these greens into juices and smoothies are great options if you need to boost your calcium intake or if you are prone to kidney stones. Remember that cooking above 104 degrees destroys valuable enzymes and much of the food’s nutrient profile.

6. Mustard Greens

Mustard greens have a similar nutrition profile to turnip greens and collards. They have a peppery taste, but their spiciness can be toned down by adding an acid, like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.

7. Bok Choy

Also known as Chinese cabbage or pak choi, bok choy is a mild, slightly sweet cousin of cabbage that is a super source of calcium because it’s low in oxalate — that compound we talked about with Swiss chard and spinach that can block absorption of the mineral. Bok Choy also has 25 kinds of cancer-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols.

8. Watercress

With its variety of uses and subtle peppery flavor, watercress packs a healthy punch of vision-protecting carotenoids and compounds that may inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumors. It is also a major source of Vitamins A, C, and K, B-complex vitamins, manganese, and calcium.

9. Arugula

A powerful aphrodisiac in Ancient Rome, arugula will definitely add some zest to your salads, pizzas, and pasta dishes. Arugula is loaded with detoxifying enzymes and is high in fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron, magnesium, folate, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese — all of which are vital for your body, from brain and liver functioning to skin health.

10. Escarole

A variety of endive, escarole boasts a crisp texture and robust flavor. Its inner leaves are sweet, while the outer, mature leaves deliver quite a kick to the taste buds. At just 8 calories per uncooked cup, this nutrition superstar supplies fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, B-complex vitamins (which help boost your metabolism), manganese (which regulates blood sugar, metabolizes carbohydrates, and absorbs calcium), helps with vision, and is even being shown to inhibit the growth of certain cancerous cells.

How to Store Your Greens

As soon as you get home from the grocery, follow this plan of action to make your leaves last longer:

STEP 1: Trim

Chop off the stems and throw away any leaves that are brown or bruised.

STEP 2: Wash

For heartier leaves like kale, collards, and chard, fill your sink with cold water. Place your greens in the cold water. Swish vigorously to loosen the dirt and then scoop out the leaves. (The dirt will sink to the bottom.) For delicate leaves, like watercress or bok choy, simply rinse the leaves carefully under lightly running water.

STEP 3: Dry

Spread a single layer of leaves on a non-bleached paper towel. Roll up the towel and place it in a plastic produce bag from the grocery or a Ziploc, keeping the leaves from touching the plastic. Alternatively, you could store them in a glass container.

STEP 4: Refrigerate

Store greens in the crisper drawer, away from fruit. Certain fruits, like apples, pears, and avocados, emit ethylene, a gas that can cause your greens to spoil. Have fun experimenting with different greens and the flavor and texture they can add to your next meal, salad, soup, juice, or smoothie.