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The four healthiest green vegetables

Sarah Wassner Flynn is a New York City-based writer. She's contributed to magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, National Geographic Kids, Runner's World, Women's Health, Prevention and MetroSports New York. She is also the author of The Book of ...

EAT GREEN FOR YOUR HEALTH

Whether or not you have Irish in your blood, chances are you still sport a bit of green on St. Patrick's Day. And why limit the look just to your clothes? Work in some of these good-for-you greens into your daily diet and bless your health with the luck ‘o the Irish year round.

Sure, you may have turned up your nose and pushed your plate away when your mom presented you with a heap of Brussels sprouts as a kid. But what you did not know at the time is that green veggies — especially the leafy kind like spinach, turnips, and even Brussels sprouts — are amazing sources of disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, here is a handy guide to the healthiest — but more obscure — leafy greens out there, and just what kind of healthy punch they pack.

KALE

Though not technically green (its coloring skews to bluish or purple), kale is closely-linked to cabbage with its finely-curled, plume-like leaves and earthy flavor.

Healthy Bites: One cup of kale provides a daily dosage of vitamins A, K and C, while its nutrients have been linked to decreasing the occurrence of a variety of cancers, including breast, colon, and ovarian cancers.

Prep Tips: Sauté your kale with onions and garlic for a tasty side dish flavored with olive oil or lemon juice, or mix raw baby leaves with other greens in salads.

Recipe: Southwestern Quinoa with Kale

BROCCOLI RABE

Also known as rapini, this leafy, veggie is a popular ticket in Italian cooking because of its flavorful, robust taste. Rabe gets its name from its florets (which resemble standard broccoli), but is actually more closely related to the turnip.

Healthy Bites: Like kale, rabe is also known to fight off certain cancers, thanks to its rich amounts of phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant chemicals). A 3 1/2-ounce serving of broccoli rabe provides more than half your daily requirement of vitamins A and C, and serves as a great source of folate (which protects against birth defects and heart disease), fiber, and calcium.

Prep Tips: A bit on the bitter side, you can soften the taste of broccoli rabe by boiling it and then sautéing it in olive oil.

Recipe: Quick and Easy Stromboli with Broccoli Rabe

SWISS CHARD

With leaves similar to spinach and a thick, crunchy stalk, Swiss chard is an offshoot of the beet family. Its slightly salty, bitter taste makes it a nutrient-packed substitute for spinach.

Healthy Bites: Low in fat and high in fiber, one cup of cooked chard provides about 22 percent of your daily dosage of iron and 36 percent of vitamin C. Eating this leafy green is also a great way to pack in protein, calcium, folic acid, and potassium. And the generous amount of vitamin K in each bit of chard keeps your bones healthy and strong, too.

Prep Tips: Though you can enjoy it raw in salads or in sandwiches, you will get more nutrients and flavor by cooking chard. You can serve it simply shredded and braised or boiled, or add it to any dish you would normally serve with cooked spinach.

Recipe: Curried Red Lentil and Swiss Chard Stew

BOK CHOY

An Asian specialty, you usually find bok choy in a stir-fry, though this veggie — with its thick, white stalks and dark green leaves -- can also be added to salads, soups or eaten solo (steam first).

Healthy Bites: A half-cup of cooked bok choy is about 20 calories, but offers a whopping 144 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and 74 percent of vitamin C. Its leaves and stalks are also stocked with calcium, magnesium, potassium and folate.

Prep Tips: Similar to cabbage, bok choy remains crisp, even when cooked to a tender stage (which is why it is great for a stir-fry). Chop up the leaves and steam or boil, then add seasonings like soy sauce, ginger or hot pepper. You can also eat the slightly-sweet and crunchy stalks raw.

Recipe: Citrus Shrimp and Baby Bok Choy

When shopping for any greens, remember that the darker they are, the healthier they'll be for you. And for more information on all of the leafy greens in your grocery store, check out these links.

Whole Foods' Guide to Leafy Greens

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Site for Fruits and Veggies


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