The science of eating (and enjoying) your greens

Updated: Feb 9


One of the most frequent dietary recommendations I make for my patients is "add at least 1 big serving of greens per day to your diet". I frequently get looks of horror, crinkled noses, or blank stares. For most folks, cooking greens is a lost art. Eating greens is so uncommon now, that I had one "helpful" grocery store employee tell me "honey, you don't eat kale! It's a garnish!"

(sigh)

You have probably heard “eat your greens” most of your life. Your grandmother, your doctor, your nutritionist, and your naturopath have all said it. The health benefits of dark leafy greens are undeniable. They are full of fiber, folate, and a multitude of other nutrients that help us detox, fight cancer, make energy and more.


The problem: hearty, dark leafy greens (kale, collards, chard, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens) are tough, fibrous and bitter. Most people have tried to either eat these raw (bitter and jaw breaking), or had them presented as a slimy mush (either canned, frozen or over-cooked).


How to make dark leafy greens not just palatable but delicious


There is a secret to cooking these amazing, healthy foods. They need a combination of flavors to provide the right chemicals to transform them into something not just more edible, but delicious and actually more nutritious.


You need an oil, an acid and salt at minimum to make greens yield their nutrients and taste good.

Which oils, which acids, the source of salt are entirely up to you. You can be as creative as your imagination will allow. With the optional addition of sweet and savory flavors, this creates the potential for a whole world of taste and flavor options. I have eaten greens in the American South, the American Pacific Northwest, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. All were completely different and all were delicious. The common thread was the presence of an acid, and oil and a salt.


Acid neutralizes the bitter components (allowing for better nutrient absorption). The oil, salt, acid combo also helps break down the fiber and cell walls, making the greens MUCH easier to chew and, again, easier for our body to extract nutrients from.


Here are some combinations to get you started:


Preparation:

  • Wash and roughly dry greens

  • De-stem (cut or tear out thick, hard stems)

  • Cut / tear greens into desired size (1-2 inch squares, or thin ribbon like slices, etc)

  • Heat skillet (medium), add oil, then savory component, then greens, then the salty, sour, then the sweet

  • Total time on the stove is usually under 3 min. Don’t overcook. Cook just long enough to wilt the greens to about ½ of their original volume.


Raw Kale salads:

  • Folate (the main nutrient we want to get out of our leafy greens) is actually fairly fragile, and is damaged by cooking. One way to enjoy greens while preserving that all-important folate is to use chemistry to wilt the greens into a cooked-like state without using heat.

  • The key here is to massage the oil, salt and acid into the fresh raw leaves until they are wilted.

  • Then you can toss the wilted leaves with any combination of fruit, nuts, seeds, protein and dressing that you desire.

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