By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Greens, greens, and more greens! That’s what’s in season right now here in the Northeast. We think greens are pretty great, so we’re highlighting some of the great greens that are in-season and how you can use them in your everyday life.
Green leafy vegetables are overall a good source of vitamins A and C, folate, and when cooked, iron. Greens also tend to be lower in calories and higher in fiber, so eating a portion of greens may help to keep you feeling fuller for longer as well; (dark) greens also contain a small amount of protein, typically higher amounts than other fruits and vegetables.
Depending on the type and its pigmentation of the green, green leafy vegetables can be a good source of antioxidants and other important minerals and phytonutrients. To get the most nutritional benefit, it’s important to vary the variety of greens you’re eating, blending and juicing.
Here our top 8 in-season greens you should be eating, blending, and juicing:
1. Red/Green Leaf Lettuce: This light and fluffy lettuce make for a great summer salad; they’re also great when added to a juice or to a smoothie because they don’t have an overwhelming taste. Red and green leaf lettuces can range in pigmentation from light to dark and generally (as with all greens and most fruits and vegetables) the darker the pigmentation the more nutrients they contain. These lettuces contain beta carotene (that is converted to vitamin A), vitamin K that helps with the formation of blood clots, and a small amount of B vtiamins — thiamin (B1) and riboflavin (B3) and B6.
Best uses: fresh (raw) in a summer salad, in smoothies and juices.
2. Spinach: Spinach is an all-time favorite because it is nutrient-dense, tasty, and versatile. Spinach tends to be darker in color, which indicates it contains more nutrients. Dark and fresh spinach contains an abundance of nutrients such as eye-healthy lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene, vitamins A and C, folate that plays an important role in red blood cell formation, manganese, and a small amount of bone-healthy calcium.
3. Mizuna: A new green to me that appeared recently in my Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) box, it’s also called Japanese mustard green and comes in 16 varieties. It’s also dark green and offers a slightly spicy flavor, sharper than spinach or any of the lettuces. Mizuna is a source of vitamins A and C, magnesium, and a small amount of B vitamins and iron. The iron becomes more available to the body when cooked, and when served with citrus (so add a squeeze of lemon).
Best uses: Sauteed with other greens, as part of a salad, as a complement to cooked pasta or quinoa, juiced (in moderation) as adding too much can alter the taste of the juice.
4. Bok choy: Commonly found in Asian cuisine and also known as Chinese cabbage, it’s usually found cooked as part of a stir fry or steamed on its own. Bok choy is a rich source of nutrients- and per 1 cup cooked contains the following: about 175 mg heart-healthy potassium, about 75 mg bone-healthy calcium, and also contains other electrolytes such as magnesium and sodium in addition to minerals zinc and iron. Like other green leafy vegetables, bok choy contains fiber, folate, vitamins A and C and is also low in calories.
Best uses: As part of a cooked stir fry or steamed.
5. Frisee endive: Frisee is lighter in pigment and has smaller leaves than some other greens. It has a tasty, mild yet slightly bitter flavor and makes for a nice texture addition to a mixed greens salad. Frisee is also known as curly endive and is part of the chicory family that also includes escarole, radicchio (all types), and dandelion greens. Frisee and other members of the chicory family do best as part of a summer salad, and when mixed with other types of greens makes for a flavorful main course or side dish salad. Frisee, like other greens, is a source of vitamins A and C, and folate, and is due to its curly and somewhat wild texture, contains more fiber than some other greens.
Best uses: As part of a salad with other greens.
6. Swiss Chard (Silverbeet): Swiss chard is both tasty and a nutritional powerhouse. Swiss chard is rich in electrolytes sodium, magnesium and potassium (1 cup cooked contains about 960 mg of potassium) and (per 1 cup cooked) contains about 10% recommended daily amount of bone-healthy calcium. Due to its rich dark color, swiss chard is also a source of antioxidants and iron and like other greens, contains vitamins A and C and folate. Due to its rich source of electrolytes, adding swiss chard to a juice pre or post-exercise can help to boost those lost through sweat.
Best uses: Boiled, stir fried or steamed with fresh garlic, added into a juice.
7. Romaine Lettuce (Cos): A tasty and versatile green, romaine has a mild flavor and can be used in a variety of ways; for example in smoothies, juices, grilled, on sandwiches or as part of a salad. Romaine is medium/dark green in color and is therefore rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants as well as vitamins A and C and fiber. The darker the green pigmentation in romaine, the more antioxidants.
A note on oxalic acid:
Juicing a variety of greens (and produce) is greatly beneficial for overall health. However, when health issues such as kidney stones need to be considered, it’s important to be mindful of juicing certain greens and produce that are high in oxalic acid as increased intake may increase risk for formation of kidney stones. The following greens and other vegetables are considered to be high in oxalic acid and should be limited to 1-2 times per week, especially when juicing and with an increased risk of kidney stones:
To substitute any of the produce listed above, vary different types of greens not on the list above. If kidney issues do not pertain, it’s always important to remember to vary the types, colors, and varieties of fruits and vegetables to reap the most nutritional benefit.