I always tell people: There is a whole wide world of tasty greens out there! Fill your plate with these low-calorie, low-carbohydrate nutrient powerhouses. If you’re like many of my clients, you might shy away from including leafy greens into your meal plan, thinking their flavors are too strong or bitter. Fear not! Leafy greens have different flavors, so if you don’t like one, there are plenty more to try. And who knows, you might just find that starting with mild greens like baby spinach gives you the confidence to branch out to stronger, more pungent leaves like mustard greens.
Perhaps the mildest tasting leaf is iceberg lettuce, which has an undeserved reputation of being devoid of nutrition. Sure, other leafy vegetables are more nutritionally dense, with ample vitamins A and C, folate and more. But iceberg lettuce does offer a healthy dose of vitamin K, along with smidgens of other nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. Butter, romaine, red leaf lettuces, and spinach are slightly stronger flavored, but still mellow enough for most people. Chicory, escarole, and radicchio have more bite, and arugula and watercress taste slightly peppery or mustard-like. If they’re too strong for you, mix them with your favorite mild greens. Most lettuce varieties are available year-round in large supermarkets. Be sure to hit your local farmer’s market to pick up tender baby greens with a delicious sweet flavor. Better yet, plant some in your backyard or in a container garden. (Read more about the pleasures of gardening and eating locally here.)
There are at least as many varieties of cooking greens as salad greens, and of course, many find a place in either a salad bowl or a cooking pot. The mildest cooking greens are spinach, Swiss chard, and collards. Many people describe kale as similar to collards but more strongly flavored. Dandelion greens are slightly bitter. Turnip and mustard greens also have a strong flavor with some bite. I find adding a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice during cooking tones down the strong flavor a bit. Broccoli rabe and rapini can be quite bitter. Blanching (a quick dip in boiling water and then cooling in an ice bath) before continuing to cook mellows the vegetable. These are all available year-round, except for Swiss chard, which will be missing from the supermarket during winter. Collards, kale, dandelion, turnip, and mustard greens peak in the colder months. Beet greens are at their best in the summer and fall, and spring is the best time for spinach. (Read more about when different fruits and vegetables are in season.)
I prefer to wash greens in a multi-tasking salad spinner, as it’s good for both cleaning and drying. Save the thick stalks from Swiss chard, and cook them as you would celery or asparagus. Discard stems from other greens. Sauté greens in a large pan with a little olive or canola oil and fresh garlic. Steam or blanch bitter greens before sautéing. To make greens especially tender, braise them by adding a little broth after sautéing and cook for another ten minutes or until the liquid evaporates.
Salads, of course
Minimize the stronger flavors of kale and arugula by finely chopping them and mixing them in with your favorite milder salad greens. Once you get used to the strong flavors, add more and in larger pieces. Eventually, you might find you’ll crave a kale, arugula or Swiss chard salad! Serve tender greens such as dandelion with a warm dressing to wilt the leaves.
Green your smoothie
Blend a handful of baby spinach along with an equal amount frozen fruit and a cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt. You’ll get more green color than green flavor at first. Then become a little more daring with two handfuls, then three. Eventually, add kale, beet greens and others.
Mix them into family favorites
Add a little sautéed spinach or kale to scrambled eggs. Slip Swiss chard between the layers of lasagna. Toss a few torn turnip greens with onions and potatoes before roasting.
Slip into soups
Wilt spinach into soup after taking the pot off of the heat. Or add chopped kale or another hearty green for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Simply snack on it
Greens may not be the first thing you think of when grabbing a snack, but kale chips are trendy! Toss washed and torn kale with olive oil and seasonings such as salt, garlic or paprika. Spread a single layer on a baking sheet and cook at 275 degrees F until crispy (20 – 30 minutes), turning the chips once, halfway through baking.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience