Healthy Eating

Let These Greens Be Your Lucky Charms to Health

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Green grub on St. Patrick’s Day is a given. And while Americans typically associate the Irish holiday with a bright green brew, that dyed beer isn’t winning any nutrition awards. Add fatty corned beef on the side, and you have a recipe for heartburn! But there are healthier ways to green up this holiday, and ‘tis the season since it falls during National Nutrition Month.

“Leafy greens are loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and folate,” says Julie Fromm, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health System. And for a bonus, chlorophyll, a powerful disease-fighting nutrient, is what gives green produce its color.

So instead of skipping your annual pint of green beer, just save room for one (or more!) of Fromm’s six lucky charms:

  1. Mustard Greens: They’re one of the most nutritious leafy greens on the block, packed with vitamin A, vitamin K and powerful plant nutrients. They also have a signature peppery flavor punch. Include them in salads, smoothies and soups, scramble them into eggs or mix them with pork or bacon (preferably the turkey variety) for a side dish.
  1. Swiss Chard: Related to beets and spinach but with a taste that falls somewhere in between, Swiss chard contains a unique mix of plant nutrients. Its colorful stalks and leaves are concentrated in disease-fighting chemicals, and unlike other greens, you can eat them. Sauté it with garlic and olive oil, serve it over polenta or grits or mix it into a frittata along with Parmesan and Swiss cheeses.
  1. Kale: Packed with vitamins A, K and C, as well as calcium, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and a hit of Omega-3 fatty acids, kale is a nutritional powerhouse that can be tossed into salads and pasta, added to pizzas or included into soups and stews. You can also make kale pesto or take out the blender to mix up a refreshing cup of Shrek juice.
  1. Turnip Greens: With an impressive range of nutrients—including vitamins K, A, C and calcium—turnip greens actually pass greens like kale and collards in terms of nutritional benefits. Since they’re among the bitterest greens in the produce section, they are rarely eaten raw. However, you can sauté turnip greens with oil and lemon, add them to stuffing, casseroles, quiche and stews or mix them with spinach for a vegetarian lasagna.
  1. Collard Greens: Best known in southern-style cooking, collard greens are closely related to kale and cabbage in terms of nutrients and health benefits. They cook up similarly, too, and are a great complement to meat and fish dishes.
  1. Cabbage: Whether you eat it raw, toss it into a salad or simmer it in a pot with stew or corned beef, cabbage is a St. Patrick’s Day staple. It’s rich in vitamins A, K and C, calcium and fiber. It also has a distinctive flavor and crunch. A bonus: It’s almost always on sale come mid-March. (Here’s a recipe for Braised Cabbage with Onion Trio you can try.)

Each of these greens adds a healthy dose of disease-fighting nutrients to your plate—and they taste delicious in almost any cider-based recipe (like corned beef!), too. So there’s no reason not to indulge in these tasty veggies!

A bonus: Many of the greens listed above taste great when baked into chips for a St. Paddy’s Day starter. Rinse, dry and tear the greens into bite-sized pieces and arrange them on a baking sheet. Spritz with a little oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and then bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees. And voila! Festive eats for all.

You can also read more nutrition advice in our EatWell section, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.

Julie Fromm, R.D., is a community dietitian with Henry Ford Health System’s Generation With Promise program, which focuses on empowering youth and families in the community to increase their consumption of healthy foods and physical activity and balance caloric intake.