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People have been eating leafy greens since prehistoric times. But it wasn't until the first Africans arrived in North America in the early 1600s that America got its first real tastes of dark green leafy vegetables, which they grew for themselves and their families. So, over the years, cooked greens developed into a traditional African American food. Ultimately, they became essential in Southern regional diets and are now enjoyed nationwide.
Dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of nutrition. Salad greens, kale and spinach are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, and broccoli, bok choy and mustard are also rich in many of the B-vitamins. These vegetables also contain an abundance of carotenoids-antioxidants that protect cells and play roles in blocking the early stages of cancer. They also contain high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Furthermore, greens have very little carbohydrates, sodium and cholesterol. Shape.com
Yeah, that's right, you can eat the greens from these pretty weeds and they're packed with health benefits to boot. "Dandelion is a rich source of fiber and vitamin A, C, K, and B," says New York-based dietitian Lisa Moskovitz. These bitter earthy greens are particularly delicious in hearty soups and fall salads. (Learn more about why Dandelions (Root, Leaves, and All) Deserve the Superfood Spotlight.)
"While not as sweet as the beet bulb, beet greens are still full of nutritional value including vitamin C, vitamin A, and up to 4 grams of belly-filling fiber per cup," says Moskovitz. Sautée beet greens like you would spinach or kale, with a little fresh garlic and olive oil. Or try one of these 10 Unbeetable Beet Greens Recipes.
Like beets, turnips are good for more than their roots. Their greens are packed with vitamin A and calcium, and one cooked cup of turnip greens has just 29 calories. They are great as baked "chips"-just toss with a little olive oil and salt and bake at 375° for four to five minutes.
There's nothing fresher than adding light, slightly bitter arugula to a recipe. "This Mediterranean green offers up tons of nutrients similar to most other leafy veggies, including vitamin A, C, and K," says Moskovitz. Arugula's unique flavor easily livens up any dish. Try it with sauteed shrimp and cherry tomatoes. It also makes a great pizza topping. (Skip the delivery: Try these 10 Healthy Pizzas to Make at Home.)
This flavorful Southern staple delivers big with vitamins A, C, and K-all essential for keeping your heart healthy-and in one cooked cup of collards, you score more than 7 grams of fiber at only 63 calories. Ditch the bread and use this hearty green to wrap your favorite turkey burger-it's a low-carb alternative, says Moskovitz.
Swiss chard is juicier than other greens and milder than red chard. Filled with antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and K, this fibrous green improves bone and heart health, and builds a strong immune system. Blend it into your favorite green smoothie or chop and toss with egg whites for a breakfast scramble. (What more smoothie ideas? Check out these 10 Super Greens to Add to Smoothies and Juices.)
Raw mustard greens can be a little bitter, but are a great source of fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K. To balance out the spiciness, steam the greens and mix with one cup of ricotta. Then, bake the mixture at 425° for 12 minutes-you'll have a healthy, warm dip that's much better than anything you'll find at the market.
Classic romaine clocks at just 8 calories per cup but still sneaks in a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K, according to Moskovitz. Spice up your #saddesksalad with these Healthy Hacks for a Better Lunchtime Salad.
With less than 25 calories per cup, plenty of vitamins, and a good source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, Moskovitz says cabbage deserves another look. Try steaming green (or red!) cabbage or you can even make your own sauerkraut.
Iceberg lettuce is mostly water and doesn't have much in the way of nutritional value, says Moskovitz. Still, iceberg is almost calorie-free, which makes it a smart option in salads if you want to use more high-fat toppings like cheddar cheese or walnuts but want to prevent calorie overload.
Mesclun, a mix of mild tasting baby greens, is low in calories but high in nutrients, including iron and calcium. Try swapping it for romaine as the bed of your next salad and toss with fresh cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds for an especially satisfying lunch.
This bitter but tasty red leaf has just 9 calories per cup but is high in antioxidants, as well as iron and magnesium. Chop to put in salads, or use the full leaves to create "boats" for cheese or light dips. Even better, grill the whole leaves to mellow out the bold spiciness a bit. (See How to Eat: Radicchio.)
This delicate, peppery little green is an excellent source of nitrates, which can lower blood pressure and perhaps even improve athletic performance. "Watercress is considered a superfood for all its health wonders, including fighting against cancers and other degenerative diseases," says Moskovitz. Fresh-flavored watercress can easily be snuck into tomato sauce or your favorite pesto recipe-just finely chop the leaves before mixing.
This Asian variety of cabbage is a lighter flavor than its red or green relatives. Plus, it has a healthy helping of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. Try this green with steamed or stir-fried with a bit of olive oil and soy.
Known for its smooth, buttery taste, butterhead lettuce is low in calories and fat, but not nutritional value, says Moskovitz. Sweet-tasting butterhead lettuce is a good source of antioxidants and bone-building phosphorous. Because of its thick, hearty leaves, this variety makes a great bread replacement for wraps and sandwiches.