In nutrition school, we were learning about the importance of green vegetables and how they help maintain your internal rainforest. I love that analogy because I too have seen the dramatic increase in health by incorporating greens into my daily life. When I was living in NYC a few years ago, I fell victim to a high carb, saturated fat, and protein diet. Breakfast sandwiches, deli sandwiches, pasta, white bread, you name it.. whatever was convenient “on-the-go” as I came up for air between corporate meetings in the city throughout the day. I felt sluggish, tired and my brain was cloudy. I just wasn’t feeling at my peak potential. It wasn’t until my brother bought me a NutriBullet one Christmas that I started to have a green smoothie every morning before heading out to work. My body felt cleaner, my energy levels skyrocketed, and my brain was operating at its peak potential. One of my favorite nutritionists, Kimberly Snyder, author of “The Beauty Detox” talks about her glowing green smoothie and how it has transformed many of her clients lives. By swapping this in to your diet every morning before eating anything else, you are priming your body and organs to cleanse the toxins from the day before. You are also keeping the “cogs in the wheel clean.” What I mean by that is that traditional American foods – white sugar, white flour, meats, dairy tend to pile up in our digestive system which cause bloating, constipation, premature aging, poor skin, and a slew of other health problems. Greens flush this blockage out and continue to keep your body running like a well oiled Ferarri. You are also helping to keep your body “alkaline” – which means you are regulating your body’s ph helping to stave off disease caused by a highly acidic diet most Americans consume (meats, cheeses, coffee, bread, etc). Lastly, one of my favorite Eastern medicine theories is that greens are the “lungs of the earth,” helping to oxygenate and clean the air we breathe. By eating them we are taking on this “Qi” energy, and once consumed, they largely benefit our internal respiratory functions, as this is their primary function in nature. To prepare greens, there are many different ways to cook them – sauté , steam, bake, but my favorite is a light boil as this helps greens “plump” before serving. Below are a few of the top greens and how I like to incorporate into our daily diet:
One of the world’s healthiest foods, kale remains a nutritional powerhouse and has too many health benefits to list. Dr Furhman, advocate of the “Nutritarian” Diet ranks Kale at the top of the list with other cruciferous vegetables to help give our bodies nutrient dense calories and help stave off cancer and infection. High in vitamins A, C and K, folate which is key for brain development and for pregnant women, packed with fiber and chlorophyll. My acupuncturist even said that kale smoothies 3-4 times a week are said to help reverse and prevent white hair. Traditional kale and my favorite Tuscan or “dinosaur kale,” which my dad says is growing in popularity. I love making kale chips with Tuscan kale as well. Very simple – all you do is de-rib the kale, lay evenly on a lined baking sheet, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt, bake for 10 minutes in the oven and voila, delicious kale chips. I serve them as an appetizer or side dish to main meals. Kale salads are also a wildly popular dish at many restaurants given the “kale craze” in the last decade. My brother and I made one in Cape Cod this summer with some other leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, and an olive oil lemon vinaigrette. Simply delicious (get the free recipe in Recipes section).
Spinach is one of my favorite greens, another superfood loaded with nutrients. In my house, we go through 2-3 large bags of baby spinach a week. We love in smoothies, as a dinner side sauteed in garlic and olive oil, folded into omelettes, salads, and in the winter, I add it to soups at the very end to boost the nutritional content of an Italian wedding soup or even simple chicken soup or pastina (Italian staple). Some doctors say that cooked spinach gives us more nutrition than raw because heat reduces the oxalate content which is said to be detrimental to our health in large quantities. Frozen is convenient when you need it in a pinch, but I always prefer fresh as the flavor is stronger.
Another popular cruciferous green, high in vitamin C, A, folate and potassium, there is a very high chance this graces most American’s dinner tables as a popular side, casserole, or pasta dish. Broccoli looks like “mini veggie trees” and if you pick up a bunch at the grocery store and smell deeply, it smells fresh like the forest. A truly remarkable vegetable, and delicious. I like to lightly steam or blanche in the morning to have with my eggs. You can also boil, sauté steam or eat raw, and this can be a great snack mid day or accompaniment to lunch or dinner.
Parsley is one of my favorite herbs. Rich in chlorophyll and vitamins C, A and folate, this can be added to smoothies, chicken cutlets, soups, a garnish on many popular dishes. Parsley also has important oils like “myristin” which help with digestion, inhibit tumor formation and neutralize certain types of carcinogens (particularly smoke and pollution). A blood purifier, parsley helps to neutralize internal body odors. Be sure to cut the leaves before adding to dishes to release essential oils. Being of 100% Italian descent, parsley is a staple in our culture and chances are it’s in 80% of the dishes I make on a regular basis. You’ll see it reappear in many of the recipes that I share with you!
I prefer romaine lettuce to iceberg or bibb lettuce because of its packed with more nutrients and health benefits. Vitamin C, beta-carotene and fiber help to battle cholesterol, keep our arteries clean, and remove bile salts from our system. For that reason, this is a heart healthy green. I love romaine in simple green garden salads, caesar salads, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, and in our family, we love romaine hearts drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt dipped in a fresh hummus for a mid afternoon snack.