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By Anya Kaats

Top Nutrient Dense Greens

best Greens that are Nutrient DenseIt’s hard to talk about healthy food these days without mentioning leafy greens. Kale, spinach, collards… we’ve all heard of them, but why are they so good for us and how do we integrate them into our diet? For those of you that shop at Whole Foods Market, you might have noticed some signage in the store referencing something called the “ANDI” score. ANDI is short for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index and was developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman to measure nutrient density. The formula rates foods on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 1000 (highest) with the equation Health = Nutrients ÷ Calories. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities. The higher nutrients and lower calories a food contains, the higher it will rank on the list. So how do we know that leafy greens are good for us? Well, the only foods to rank between about 520-1000 on the ANDI score are leafy greens. Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Collard Greens, Kale, Swiss Chard and Watercress rank in at 1000, the highest possible score. Bok Choy is 865, Chinese/Napa Cabbage is 714, Spinach is 707 and Arugula is 604. Other foods like Radishes, Turnips, Basil and Cilantro also rate pretty highly, but absolutely nothing compares to the nutrient density of leafy greens. In short, if you want the most bang for your buck (most nutrients and lowest calories), you definitely want to opt for leafy greens. The second part of the equation is knowing how to use them and how to vary your creations so that you don’t overdue it on green smoothies and salads. Below you will find some delectable suggestions for 7 of the most nutrient dense plants on earth…
  1. Mustard Greens. Mustard Greens are definitely one of the more bitter leafy greens out there. The longer you cook it for, the sweeter it will become. It’s also smart to pair it with sweeter, smoother ingredients to even out the flavor profile or with intense spices to help tone down the flavor of the green. We love this Spicy Mustard Green Pesto from The Nourished Kitchen.
  2. Collard Greens. One of my all time favorite dishes is classic Southern Greens. I’ve been known to eat only this for an entire meal. The combination of the slow cooked, nutrient-dense buttery greens with delicious, (organic & nitrate-free) bacon and red pepper flakes makes this dish irresistible. Especially on a chilly day or as a side to homemade BBQ. This recipe from Meatified is both easy and delicious, full of nutrients and good fats like coconut oil.
  3. Kale is so versatile that it’s hard to pick just one recipe. For that reason, here are two of my favorites. Like Mustard Greens, kale can be a bit bitter. The trick, like with most greens, is that the longer you cook them, the sweeter they will become. It’s also smart to pair greens with sweet/earthy ingredients to level out the flavor. One of my all time favorite comfort foods is Creamed Kale from The Primal Blueprint. If you don’t eat dairy, no problem, you can sub the butter/ghee for a cooking oil of your choice and substitute the heavy cream for coconut milk! Another one of my favorite kale recipes is for Kale and Avocado salad. I first tried this at Whole Foods and loved it so much that I went online to find the recipe. It looks like I wasn’t the only one trying to recreate it. Check out this recipe from Spatoola.
  4. Bok Choy. Bok Choy seems to be something many of us are afraid to buy. A lot of us didn’t eat it growing up and we’re not quite sure what to do with it. For a lot of us, the only time we’ve had it is as part of a dish at an Asian restaurant. But wouldn’t it be fun to bring those Asian flavors into your own kitchen? I am obsessed with this Beef “Noodle” Soup from Civilized Caveman Cooking. It uses zoodles (made from zucchini) instead of classic noodles paired with beef, bok choy, shitake mushrooms and other goodies for a delectable, comforting & nutrient-dense dish.
  5. Napa Cabbage. Napa cabbage is another veggie most people are unfamiliar with. For me, I stay away from gluten and grains and therefore don’t eat any type of bread, cracker, etc. I am always looking for new and healthy ways to wrap up my food so that I can still enjoy the convenience of sandwiches, wraps, spring rolls, etc… just without the bread. The leaves of Napa Cabbage are very sturdy, making them a great alternative for the traditional “wrap”. These Napa Cabbage Spring Rolls are to die for.
  6. Spinach is one of the most versatile greens out there. You can use it as a salad base, toss it in smoothies, omelets, sauté it with some olive oil and lemon juice… the options are limitless. Because of its mild flavor, I love sneaking spinach into as many dishes as I can. One of my favorite recipes to add spinach to is noodle-less lasagna like this one for Butternut Squash Lasagna from the Paleo Test Kitchen. Not a fan of this recipe? You can sneak spinach into just about any lasagna recipe out there.
  7. Okay, so I promised I wasn’t going to give any smoothie or salad recipes but it’s pretty hard to talk about arugula without mentioning salad. In fact, arugula is my all time favorite green to use as a salad base and is the base of my all time favorite salad. The salad is so easy to make that you don’t even need a recipe. Simply top raw arugula with fresh raspberries, crumbled pecans, goat cheese and grilled chicken breast. Top with oil and balsamic vinegar and voila! The sweetness of the raspberries and goat cheese pair perfectly with the semi-bitter greens. Don’t eat cheese? No problem. Simply sub the goat cheese for avocado and feel free to go meat-free by omitting the chicken!
One last thing to remember when eating leafy greens is that while all of them rank highly on ANDI, each of them contain different micronutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is important to vary your green consumption so that you are getting access to a variety of nutrients, not just the ones found in spinach or kale. Hopefully the recipes above will help you get started. Enjoy! Anya Kaats & Suja Juice