For me, kale is so 2012.
I’m over it, and it’s not because I spent the last few days of my dietetic internship swimming through mounds of kale. It’s because everyone just became OBSESSED with this dark leafy green.
photo courtesy of Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal on flickr
Don’t get me wrong. I still love some kale chips and a nice kale salad doused in dressing but there are so many other dark leafy greens out there that we are missing! As a whole, we follow trends too closely. Kale was an unknown weed to most people a few years ago, and now you can find it on the menu at most restaurants. Our other green leafy friends are feeling left out. All green leafy vegetables can enhance our diet. The powerful antioxidants in greens help to keep our cells healthy, while the fiber keeps our digestive system running smoothly and the potassium regulates our blood pressure. Because of the high fiber and water content, greens have minimal impact on the waistline.
Take arugula for example. With it’s rich peppery taste, arugula becomes a wonderful addition to any meal while providing 10% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin A and 28% DV of vitamin K with only 4 calories per cup. Lets not forget our good friend spinach. Spinach, along with mustard greens, collard greens, and broccoli are excellent sources of nitrates. According to a 2011 article in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, vegetables with high amounts of nitrates can increase nitric oxide availability in the blood when consumed. This is especially useful for athletes because it decreases the oxygen cost of exercise and improves endurance, although timing is key (check out #2 below for more details!)
So here are 4 easy ways for you to add more greens (THAT ARE NOT KALE) into your life:
Spice Up Your Pesto Typically, pesto contains basil, olive oil, cheese, and pine nuts as a base. Adding other leafy greens to your pesto such as spinach or arugula can enhance the nutrient content of your meal, as well as create whole new flavors. Try my arugula basil pesto for dinner!
Green Machine Like I said before, timing of greens with nitrates is key to reap the benefit from them during your endurance training. The best way is to eat nitrate-rich veggies a couple hours before training. Try my favorite green smoothie recipe. It contains spinach, but also antioxidant packed blueberries and strawberries to fight inflammation. My recommendation is to add ½ plain or flavored greek yogurt for a protein punch.
Stir-fries Simply adding dark leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy, broccoli, or shredded cabbage can boost the nutritional value of your stir-fry. But, a 2010 article in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology also found that cooking dark leafy greens, especially stir-frying them with small amounts of oil, increased the bioavailability of beta-carotene, a provitamin A carotenoid. New research also suggests that carotenoids, found in all greens, can help to make our skin appear more youthful and attractive.
Great Toppings One of my favorite pizzas from a restaurant I used to work at is topped with arugula just before serving. This is a creative and easy way to use leafy greens in everyday meals. Try topping your next sandwich, wrap, or even pizza with a hearty helping of fresh greens.
I hope these tips encourage you to branch out of the kale craze. What other creative ways do you use greens?