MS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS
Rachel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She works as a nutrition and wellness coach with focuses on infant and maternal nutrition, mindful eating, and weight loss.
Half of what we eat daily should be non-starchy vegetables and fruit. For optimal nutrition, eating a variety of produce is key.
Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits ensures we are getting a full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, by eating the rainbow you’re also supporting your baby’s lifetime taste preferences for produce, including the super healthy but more strongly flavored dark green varieties.
Dark green is an important vegetable color that is often overlooked. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of Americans do not meet the recommended intake of dark green vegetables. Dark green vegetables include:
Health benefits of dark green vegetables
Like all non-starchy vegetables,dark green vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. High-fiber foods promote the feeling of fullness and help lower cholesterol by binding it in the gastrointestinal tract and “escorting” it out with bowel movements. They also help promote bowel movement regularity and help manage constipation, a common side effect of pregnancy.
Also, high-fiber foods help control blood sugar by slowing the absorption of their naturally occurring sugars into the blood stream. Blood sugar control is especially important for women with or at risk for gestational diabetes.
Dark green vegetables are good sources of vitamins A, C, K and the B-vitamin folate, as well as the minerals iron and calcium.
Consuming a small amount of healthy fat — such as olive oil or avocado — with dark green vegetables helps the body absorb these nutrients.
How much dark greens should you eat?
Half of what we eat should be a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Of this, it is recommended that each week we eat a minimum of 1 1/2 cups of dark green vegetables. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup.
Here are examples of what the recommended weekly minimum looks like:
If you are substituting dark green vegetables for high-calorie foods, especially processed foods, more dark greens is even better.
Make half of what you eat non-starchy vegetables and fruit
Of this, make sure a minimum of 1 1/2 cups weekly is dark green vegetables. More is better! One cup is the equivalent of 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens.
Consume dark green vegetables with a small amount of healthy fat to improve nutrient absorption
Examples include adding ¼ avocado in your spinach salad or sautéing your greens in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
Purchase dark green vegetables fresh or frozen
Organic frozen spinach and broccoli are high-quality ingredients and particularly useful to keep on hand for quick additions to frittatas, stir fries and soups or as sides.
Enjoy a variety of dark green vegetables using a range of preparations, raw or cooked
Keep in mind that no one particular dark green vegetable is healthier than another.
When deciding how to prepare a dark green vegetable, try a small bite of it raw after you wash it
If the vegetable is tender and mild or just a little bit spicy (such as mesclun lettuce or arugula), add it raw to a salad.
If the vegetable is tender and extra spicy (such as mustard and dandelion greens) or tough (such as collards and kale), consider blanching, stir-frying or sautéing it. Once it’s cooked, you can use it in a multitude of ways (see below for ideas).
Don’t throw away your vegetable tops!
Did you know you can reduce your food waste and get the health benefits of dark green vegetables by using the tops of carrots, radishes, beets and other root vegetables? You can sauté them, add them to soups or chop them into salads and green juices.
Try these ideas for simple ways to add dark green vegetables into your daily diet
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