Eating more green, leafy vegetables is always a good idea, no matter what diet you are encouraged to follow, and including more in your Paleo diet is no exception. A well formulated nutrition protocol that includes lots of greens can do so much more than simply improve the numbers on the scale. Adding these nutrient-dense foods into your diet may also help address the health of your entire body — physically and mentally.
Most medical professionals, nutritionists, dietitians, coaches, and trainers will agree that there are no foods healthier for your entire immune, digestive, and cardiovascular system than eating the right types of vegetables. These essential foods encourage the best lifestyle habits by changing your taste buds to crave more natural and nutrient dense foods that are often overshadowed by the effects of a low quality, highly processed diet.
Types Of Leafy Greens
Leafy greens can be defined as any plant leaves eaten as vegetables. There are so many better-for-you greens out there that are so much more interesting than the boring iceberg greens. Think outside the simple restaurant salad bar.
There are over a thousand known varieties of leafy greens. Some popular types include greens like chard, kale, spinach, and collard greens are packed full of vitamins A, C, E and K as well as magnesium, zinc, calcium, and potassium to help support a healthy immune system while also packing in a healthy dose of fiber to support the gut. Some other options to try could be
- Beet greens
- Dandelion greens
- Lettuces (including romaine, red leaf, green leaf, oak, iceberg, butterhead, and summer crisp)
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
Nutrients in Leafy Greens
Animal products include some of the most nutrient-dense foods available. They are the best (and often only) source of vitamin A (retinol), DHA/EPA, and vitamin B12, as well as lesser-known nutrients like choline, creatine, and carnosine. Although you might have heard that animal foods provide all the micronutrients a person needs, a diet devoid of vegetables and other plants will likely be a little low in certain necessary nutrients.
Nutritionally, leafy greens have diverse micronutrient and phytonutrient profiles. They all tend to be low in calories and high in fiber, folate, manganese, carotenoids, and vitamin K1 (which is involved in photosynthesis, making it particularly high in plant leaves!).
Betaine – a nutrient vital for liver support. The best source is spinach.
Potassium – an important electrolyte and regulator of blood pressure. The best sources are avocados, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and bananas. Meat does contain potassium in its juices but these are often lost in the cooking process.
Magnesium – is crucial for many physiological functions. Once again, the best sources are leafy greens like spinach and chard.
Fermentable fiber – The best sources are found in the leaves of plants.
Eating greens also provides you with
Calcium – a Paleo Diet eliminates dairy and leafy greens are your best source of Paleo friendly calcium. (For more on Paleo calcium sources, read on here)
Manganese – important for antioxidant functions. Unless you are eating truly nose-to-tail, including drinking blood/meat juice, and eating hoof, fur, and tail, your best source of manganese is leafy greens!
Folate - important for general health, not simply a supplement for expectant mothers. Although liver is a rich source of folate, if you shun greens you are most likely lacking this vital nutrient.
Phytonutrients - adding some leafy greens to your plate will give you healthy servings of phytonutrients, including lutein, nitrate, kaempferol, and quercetin.
Many of the nutrients in vegetables are only absorbed if eaten along with fat. Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins and if you are not eating enough fat, you are not benefitting properly from all the plants you are eating.
Read more on the benefits of fats and get our fat guide here>>>>>
Eating Your Greens
If you find incorporating more greens regularly into your meals tricky or challenging—especially if taste and is unappealing to you (or a member of your household) fear not as there are many easy and tasty ways to get more into your Paleo diet to help you feel and look your best.
Learn To Love Them
Yes, you can train your taste buds. Sweet treats might always taste better to you than kale, but removing overly sweet foods and baked goods from your Paleo diet (even the Paleo compliant ones), will allow you to appreciate the taste of freshness in the rest of your food, including your greens. Be patient with the process, taking it as slow as you need to.
Start with the greens you already like or can at least tolerate. Try adding more of them into the meal rotation more often. Use them raw in one dish and cooked in another. Chop them finely in one meal and use large chunks for dipping at snack time. Note your favorites.
Next visit your local farmer’s market or quality produce store and choose one or two new, seasonal options. Start with just a little of each new thing. Get plenty of inspiration from your favorite cookbooks (we have a great option for you here) and online recipes
Note: This strategy works well for getting picky eaters to eat or even try more greens too.
No time to cook? Get delivery. Check out this week’s menu (and the greens included in your choices) here >>>>>
Cook Your Greens Correctly
Any vegetable, including your greens, that has been overcooked or boiled for hours will taste awful. Good cookbooks, cooking magazines, online resources and even cooking shows often give more detailed recipe instructions or ingredient guides, which can be helpful. That said, you may prefer many greens raw. Learn, experiment and stay open-minded.
Change up your Salads
Think beyond iceberg or Romaine and experiment with better greens. Baby spinach, a spring mix or frisée, for example, have more flavor than iceberg but are still pretty tame. Butterhead varieties and endive are a few of the mildest leaves. For more flavor, try dandelion and other ‘weed’ greens, radicchio, or a peppery arugula. Shred some red cabbage or throw a few kale leaves in there to mix it up. While buying whole heads or loose stock leaves gives you the freshest (and usually cheapest) option, consider trying pre-packaged mixed greens to test out what you like the most.
Sneak Them In
The longer things cook, the more the flavors become blended into something wholly new and rich. Use this principle to your advantage. Add finely shredded greens to your favorite chili, stew, or soup recipe. Mash some root vegetables and fold in some baby spinach and serve it with garlic butter. Add greens to your favorite meat sauce or as a layer in your Paleo casseroles or add them to your meatballs or burgers.
Add even more greens in the following ways:
Sauté them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook some chopped garlic and red pepper flakes in the hot oil before adding the vegetables, or finish them with a squeeze of citrus juice or vinegar for extra flavor. Bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens and swiss chard are popular choices. Sautéed dark green vegetables can be added to pasta, lasagna, omelets or frittatas, casseroles and meatballs.
Add them to soup during the last few minutes of cooking. Bok choy, kale, swiss chard and spinach are popular leafy green choices. A large handful will melt down to nearly nothing. Rappini is also a nice addition.
Use dark leafy greens as wraps. Collard greens, butter lettuce and romaine leaves work well as wraps. Try filling a collard green leaf with Paleo mayonnaise, shredded carrots, cucumber, tomato, olives and some cooked protein and roll it like a burrito for a filling and nutrient-packed lunch.
Blend them into smoothies. You can add a cup or two of mild leafy greens such as spinach or kale to your smoothie. Keep in mind that your digestive tract is best adapted to foods rather than liquid calories, which is why you may not feel as satisfied from calories in liquid form. That’s why smoothies are best as an occasional treat.
Make a pesto sauce. Basil pesto is the most well-known variety, but a pesto can be made with any dark green vegetable. Using a food processor or blender, blend 4 cups of greens of your choice (or a mix of different greens) with 1 garlic clove and ½ cup nuts until finely chopped. Next, stream in olive oil while continuing to process the pesto until it is the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add some nutritional yeast for a Paleo friendly ‘cheesy’ punch.
Adding more greens to your diet means you’ll benefit from the entire spectrum of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and more. There’s no reason not to start right now. When it comes to eating more greens, your options are really endless. Even if you make just one meal a day a little more green, you’ll be doing both your body and mind a massive favor.