We’ve all been told to eat our vegetables. But not all vegetables are alike, and some are better for you than others. Many leafy green vegetables rank high in nutrient density, which basically means eating them gets you the most bang for your buck health-wise. While most people understand the difference between fat, carbohydrates and protein, the concept of nutrient density is relatively new.
“You eat food because it tastes good but also for the nutrient value,” said Michele Keane-Duncan, a nutritional chef and health coach living in Gypsum. “Nutrient density is basically asking, ‘What is the most nutrients I can get for my calories?’”
For example, a 100-calorie serving of bok choy contains about 775 milligrams of calcium. A 100-calorie serving of milk (1 percent fat) contains roughly 300 milligrams of calcium. In order to get your recommended daily amount (for most adults) of 1,000 milligrams calcium, you’d have to consume more than twice the number of calories by drinking milk than eating bok choy.
“We all think milk is our best source of calcium,” Keane-Duncan said. “When you actually look at the nutritional science, why would (we) think that? That’s why I try to concentrate more on greens because I can get a lot more benefits for the calories.”
Anytime the word “low calorie” is muttered, one can be sure there’s a new food craze to follow. Lately, leafy greens have taken the stage, with many going krazy for kale, bananas for bok choy, ecstatic for spinach and cuckoo for collards. Keane-Duncan said what’s great about leafy greens is it’s nearly impossible to overdo it.
“You can never eat too many greens,” Keane-Duncan said. “They’re so easily digestible, (that you) should eat as much as you can. Eat them at every meal and add them to everything.”
Getting your greens in
If you want to increase your greens intake, there are a variety of ways to eat them beyond snarfing down a salad at every meal. Keane-Duncan said a simple trick to get more greens is to add spinach, kale or even collards to a smoothie. In the morning she likes to make what she calls a “mojito,” with almond milk, a little vanilla, a lot of spinach and some mint and lime juice, which hides the spinach flavor so you don’t taste it. Another option is to add some leafy greens to your scrambled eggs or omelet.
Keane-Duncan said when you heat up greens, either through sauteing, baking or boiling them in a broth for soup, this does slightly decrease their nutritional value.
“Raw is where you get the most vitamins,” Keane-Duncan said. “(With soup) a lot of the nutrients come out, but they stay in the soup, (so) you do lose some nutrients, but not a lot.”
If you want to keep those nutrient numbers high, massaging greens like kale can help soften the texture and make them more palatable. First, cut the ribs (or inside stem) from the kale. Then, using either avocado or oil, roll the kale with your fingers for about 10 minutes. One can also massage other types of greens this way.
For collard greens, Keane-Duncan suggests making collard rolls, which you can stuff with whatever you’d like, such as brown rice, quinoa, tofu or turkey. Steaming the collards will wilt them a bit, making them ready for wrapping.
One can also use greens when grilling. Keane-Duncan said if you place spinach on top of a burger (beef or veggie) when it’s almost cooked, the leaves will wilt and meld into the meat. Because most greens are light on flavor, using them won’t change the taste of any recipe very much.
“If you have a dish you normally like, throw some greens in it,” Keane-Duncan said.
Breaking the ‘peas and carrots habit’
Although not a leafy green, cauliflower is quickly climbing the ranks in the contest for healthiest veggie. In the May 24 issue of Newsweek, an article titled “Move Over Broccoli, Cauliflower is the Newest Superfood” claims recent studies have shown cauliflower to be richer in vitamins than other vegetables in the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage and kale.
The cauliflower craze has now moved beyond the home kitchen and into local restaurants. David Walford, executive chef and owner of Splendido at the Chateau in Beaver Creek, doesn’t believe that any vegetable is a “superfood,” but said certain vegetables do tend to go in and out of style.
“I’ve cooked kale and cauliflower my whole life,” Walford said. “I don’t see vegetables as trendy. Vegetables have been around way before us, and we keep rediscovering vegetables (because) we get bored with what we’re eating.”
Walford suggests branching out beyond white cauliflower and trying the orange, green or purple variety. In addition to sauteing and boiling, Walford said not many people know that you can bake a whole head of cauliflower in the oven. Just brush it with olive oil or butter, sprinkle it with spices of your choice and the result is a nice, golden brown color that still retains some of its crunch.
Walford said when it comes to any vegetable, trendy or not, few people experiment with them as much as they could.
“You have to be like a chef and say, ‘Today I’m going to saute this, tomorrow I’m going to roast it (and) the next day I’m going to make a salad out of it,” Walford said.
Walford said people are finally “breaking out of their peas and carrots habit” and exploring the other, and healthier, options in the produce aisle.
“People are trendy,” Walford said. “Vegetables are just sitting there waiting to be eaten, wondering why we don’t eat them more often.”
With so many ways to roast, bake, massage, blend, chop, boil and saute both leafy greens and other vegetables, it’s getting harder for people to say they don’t like to eat them at all. Now if only we could get the kids to like them more than dessert.