Lettuce, a type of leafy green, is one of the most commonly eaten veggies in the United States. Leafy greens can be either dark or light in color and include types such as spinach, romaine, kale, escarole, and endive. Mesclun, a mix of young salad greens, offers a variety of different types, such as arugula, frisée and radicchio, but the exact mix might vary.
Dark-green leafy greens offer plenty of the antioxidant beta carotene, which helps to form vitamin A in the body and may help lower the risk for certain diseases. The darker the leaves, the more nutrient-rich the lettuce. For example, romaine has nine times more vitamin A than iceberg lettuce. Some greens deliver folate, potassium and dietary fiber, too. Greens supply lutein, which contributes to good vision and may help protect your eyes from macular degeneration, and they provide vitamin K, which plays a role in blood clotting and bone health.
A small addition of fat can help with the absorption of certain nutrients. Check the Nutrition Fact Label or choose dressings made with oils more often, because they provide unsaturated fat, which is considered to be healthier than cream-based dressings.
Perk up your salad-making with more flavor, color and texture by mixing in different greens.
- For a peppery flavor try arugula or watercress.
- For leaves that aren't green try red-and-white radicchio.
- For flavor with a "bite" try chicory or escarole.
- For a mild flavor and delicate green color try mâche, Boston or Bibb lettuce.
- For a deep-green color try spinach.
- For a crisp texture try romaine
Many leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and collard greens, also are well suited for cooking. Try sautéing them in a little oil, then season with spices, such as garlic and just a little salt and pepper. When cooked, greens can shrink down by half, so this is important to consider when planning meals.
Greens also can be added to soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes. For example, baby spinach leaves add a nice flavor and color when folded into an omelet. They also can be added toward the end when making a homemade soup. Kale can be baked into chips, which makes for a great tasting, healthy snack.
Look for different types of leafy greens at your local grocery store or farmers market. Keep them refrigerated and be sure to wash and dry the leaves thoroughly before using. Enjoy within a few days, as the leaves are likely to wilt or spoil if stored beyond that time frame.