This seems so obvious now.
As a child, growing up in the Midwest, I ate a lot of meat and potatoes. In fact, there is a family legend that says as a two-year-old, I ate an entire T-bone steak in one sitting. But I digress.
In our family, Sunday dinners were steak and salad, and of course a baked potato—well, if you can call iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers a salad. If we were lucky, someone had given us some homegrown tomatoes. But the lettuce was always from Kroger, and it was almost always wilted.
Flash-forward to the West Coast, where my family relocated when I was about 13, and you find me munching on spinach. I moved up to the leafy green in my 20s when I was a vegetarian and making salad lunches for my office job. Before food prep was a thing, I had containers of chopped veggies and greens so I could throw together a healthy lunch in no time. When I say greens here, I mean spinach and leaf lettuce, which both seemed exotic and colorful compared to my iceberg days.
At some point in my 30s, I became a little more adventurous. I tried a kale salad and fell in love. Kale was dark green, hearty, and multifunctional. After that, I tried any greens I found, from beet greens and dandelion to all colors of chard. Raw, cooked, blended into a smoothie—you name it, I tried it. But I always come back to spinach and kale as my favorites, and I eat them every day.
As many of us know, greens have many health benefits. Here’s a quick recap:
>> Greens are high in fiber and sulfur, so they are great for digestion and detoxification.
>> They are a great source of iron, which helps with healthy blood, proper liver function, and more.
>> Kale especially is full of vitamin K, which can help to prevent certain cancers, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
>> Many greens are high in vitamin A, which is good for vision, skin, and preventing lung and oral cavity cancers.
>> The vitamin C in greens is great for anti-aging and immunity.
>> Greens contain antioxidants, which protect our cells and help prevent certain cancers.
>> Greens are anti-inflammatory, especially kale.
>> Kale is especially high in calcium, which helps the bones and other functions in the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
With all those reasons in mind, need I say more? Put them on your plate! Find a few different types of greens you like and find ways to get them in your body.
Now, for the plot twist: recently, I found out that eating too much of any one kind of green could potentially have some unwanted side effects. As it turns out, it’s important to rotate your greens. In addition to the list above, greens also have a few ingredients that could cause a few issues:
>> Alkaloids are naturally occurring, nitrogen-rich compounds that are mostly basic. Some notable alkaloids are morphine, strychnine, ephedrine, and nicotine. A concentration of alkaloids in the body can cause digestive issues or intolerance. Greens with lower alkaloid content are lettuces, herbs, and arugula. Celery and asparagus are low in alkaloids too.
>> Oxalates are a natural substance that bind to calcium in the stomach and intestines. This can prevent proper calcium absorption and lead to kidney stones. Greens with higher oxalate levels are spinach, chard, parsley, and beet greens. Kale, lettuces, arugula, and herbs (except parsley).
>> Goitrogens are substances found in many foods that can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid. This can cause hypothyroidism or other autoimmune issues. Greens low in goitrogens are lettuces, herbs, spinach, collards, and chard.
This is a lot of information, and it is just the top layer. Don’t get bogged down in the details and science of it all. Simply start by eating more greens, try to mix them up, and have fun with it.
Here’s a yummy recipe to get you started:
Robyn’s Awesome Kale Salad—adapted from Superfood Kale Salad recipe by Liana Werner Gray
Serves 4 to 6
1 bunch organic curly or green kale
2-3 tbsp oil—I use organic, cold-pressed sunflower or sesame, but whatever healthy oil you like best
1-2 tsp Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
1-3 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
1 ripe avocado—tastes and works best if it is really ripe and soft
1-2 tsp garlic powder and/or raw garlic if you like it
2-3 tbsp nutritional yeast (those of us who love this stuff like to call it Nooch)
Himalayan salt or another mineral-rich salt
2-3 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds (or roasted if you prefer) or sunflower seeds
1-2 tbsp hemp seeds (or sesame, flax, or possibly even chia)
If your kale is not organic (Why would you buy it? Well, if you must…), wash it and dry it. Otherwise, just dry it a bit. If it’s too wet, the healthy, yummy oil (otherwise known as love in liquid form) won’t stick to the leaves as well. Tear the leafy parts off the bigger stem parts until the pieces are bite-sized, similar to making a Caesar salad.
Pour about a tablespoon of oil over the leaves and toss well, then about another tablespoon and toss again. I like to do everything twice with this salad, in halves. Once there is a light coating of oil, add the Liquid Aminos slowly, and be careful since it is salty. Next, add the vinegar to taste. You just want a little zing here…or a big zing if you’re feeling really zingy. I digress…
Next is the avocado: smash up half of what you’re using and begin to toss it into your kale. Some people really like to get into this part and use their hands. I only do this if two things are in order: my fingernails are very, very short and I am the only one who is going to eat the salad. Otherwise, I use two spoons and toss, toss, toss like there is no tomorrow, smooshing the avocado into the leaves as best I can. Some small chunks of avocado may remain, and that is okay.
Once the leaves are coated, sprinkle a light layer of garlic powder, toss and repeat. Same with salt and pepper. Then add about one tablespoon of nutritional yeast (Nooch!) and toss. Toss is the keyword in this recipe. Repeat again, as noted above. At this point, it should have a nice coating of yumminess.
Lastly, add a few pumpkin and hemp seeds, and you know what to do…toss! And repeat.
You can chill this for a bit if you like, but it is ready now. If you happen to have any leftovers, eat them by the next day or it will be too wilted to really enjoy.
This salad rocks for so many reasons. Kale is alkalizing and high in all kinds of good vitamins, minerals, and fiber (see above). The oils are all super healthy for you, the vinegar is cleansing and alkalizing, the Nooch is high in B12, which is great for vegans, and the seeds are high in protein and other good stuff too.