Alberta Cancer Foundation

Coming Up Greens

Eating the daily recommended amount of vegetables and fruit reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Vegetables and fruit are lower in energy density, meaning they have a low amount of energy (calories) per unit of food. For example, 20 stalks of celery have the same amount of calories as half a chocolate bar. Not only are vegetables and fruits packed with nutrients, they also help us to feel fuller.

Green vegetables are recommended to improve your intake of folate, important for women who are pregnant or are considering pregnancy, and in children and adults for avoiding anemia. Your bones love green leafy vegetables for the vitamin K, which may improve bone density in people with osteoporosis. Leafy greens can also benefit your eyesight because they have two plant chemicals, lutein and zeaxanthin, which may protect your peepers from age-related macular degeneration. Really, it’s difficult to find a reason not to eat more green vegetables.

Most adults need seven to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Canada’s Food Guide makes specific recommendations about choosing one dark green and dark orange vegetable daily. So, in the spirit of the season, here are the ABCs (arugula, broccoli, chard) of adding more green to your plate.

A is for Arugula
Arugula is a green leafy vegetable that has a distinct, spicy flavour. Use it raw in mixed garden salads or cooked tossed with pasta or risotto. Other leafy greens that pack a lot of nutrients include spinach, kale and mustard greens. But use delicate arugula and spinach quickly because they spoil sooner than kale or mustard greens. A serving of the leafy greens is half a cup (125 mL) cooked or one cup (250 mL) raw. If you are adjusting to the taste of a new leafy green, add arugula, kale or spinach to whatever lettuce you are already using for a salad. You can also chop these greens finely and add to soups, stews or sauces. Try a green smoothie with some raw spinach, fresh or frozen blueberries and cold water. It can be a refreshing and nutritious drink.

B is for Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts belong to a powerful family of good greens called cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables have high concentrations of chemicals called glucosinolates. (These affect the way your body processes blood thinners – check with your doctor.) They also are among the lowest-calorie vegetables. The unfortunate thing is that many people report that these are not their favourite vegetables. Try broccoli chopped in smaller pieces as a pizza topping, to pasta sauce, in stir fries with a drizzle of sesame oil or as a filling for omelets. Grate Brussels sprouts and add to soups and stews. Or combine cooked Brussels sprouts with walnut halves and goat cheese as a side dish.

C is for Cabbage and Chard
These are nutritious, inexpensive green vegetables. Cabbage, also a cruciferous vegetable, keeps for a long time in your refrigerator. Beyond using it for coleslaw you could also sauté it with onions and serve over brown rice. Use cabbage leaves to wrap your next taco or burrito or add shredded cabbage to sandwiches as a change from lettuce.

Chard, or Swiss chard, is commonly found in Alberta’s backyard gardens. It is a tall leafy green vegetable that has a thick, crunchy, white, red or yellow stalk. Both the stalks and the leaves are edible. Trim the bottom end of the stalk. Sometimes the stalks are fibrous; if so, discard the tough parts. Separate the leaves from the stalks and chop the stalks. To add it to your meals, stir fry Swiss chard with oil, garlic and seasoning you enjoy, substitute Swiss chard where you would normally use spinach and add to omelets or frittatas.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.

TOP TIP: Are you getting enough? Half your plate should be covered by veggies and/or fruit, a quarter with whole grain products and a quarter with meat or meat substitutes. Pour a glass of milk and you’re set!