Leafy greens

Leafy greens are filled with health benefits for spring — and all the other seasons, too.

We all know that March marks the beginning of the spring season, but it’s also National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Go Further With Food.”

The popular color this month is green, most likely due to both the spring season and St. Patrick’s Day, so let’s focus on green leafy vegetables and how to make them go further for our diets.

When buying leafy greens, look for firm, crisp leaves that are free of damage.

When properly contained (e.g., wrapped loosely in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag), greens typically last in refrigerated storage for five days.

When buying prepackaged greens in the grocery store, be sure to read the bag to determine how they were washed prior to packaging. If the packaging indicates that the greens were thoroughly washed and are ready to eat, then they do not need any further washing prior to consumption; in fact, re-washing can result in accidental contamination.

If the greens require washing, remove leaves and layers using clean hands and tepid water to remove any dirt and grit. Dry the greens by blotting with paper towels or using a salad spinner.

Based on the strength of their flavor, leafy greens can be categorized as mild or savory, with spinach being a mild green and mustard greens being a savory green.

Examples of common leafy greens include dark lettuces (e.g., leaf, butterhead and romaine), spinach, kale, arugula, collard greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, turnip greens, escarole, curly endive, chervil, beet greens, bok choy and rapini (note: iceberg lettuce is not a dark leafy green).

Greens are a great way to add vitamins A, C and K to our diets, as well as other vitamins and minerals.

Kale, for example, also contains magnesium, calcium and iron.

Romaine lettuce, which is a good source of folate, contains five to six times more vitamin C and five to 10 times more vitamin A than iceberg lettuce. Dark leafy greens are also a great way to add fiber to our diets.

Some ways to add more dark leafy greens to meals include sauteing or blanching them (10 seconds in boiling water and 10 seconds in ice water) to add to soups, stews, quiches, pizzas, pasta sauces and stir-fries; baking them into chips; or mixing them into salads.

Cooking flavorful savory greens in a broth will more evenly disperse their flavor. When incorporating savory greens into a salad, be sure to pair them with a mild dressing to help dampen their flavor.

Stacy Reed is an educator with Penn State Extension in Lancaster, specializing in food safety and nutrition.

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