Lately, I have had a few folks seeking optimal health complain about having to eat so much kale; anyone else out there tired of sauteed kale of kale chips? I have just the antidote for you: Collard Greens!
Growing up in the New York City suburbs delayed my discovery of one of my favorite green foods, collard greens. As a child – much to the delight of my parents – I loved spinach, and, as with my childhood hero, Popeye, I derived strength and stamina from the spinach I enjoyed. As an adult I have come to similarly benefit by including collard greens regularly in my diet.
Collards are leafy green vegetables that belong to the Brassica family, which also includes cabbage, kale, broccoli and mustard, and are also known as cole or cruciferous vegetables. While this family of vegetables share many attributes, they all have their own distinctive qualities. As one of the non head-forming (acephalic) members of the Brassica family, Collards’ unique appearance features dark blue green leaves that are smooth in texture and relatively broad. They lack the frilled edges that are present in their cousin, kale.
Like kale, cauliflower and broccoli, collards are descendents of the wild cabbage, a vegetable thought to have been consumed as a food since prehistoric times originating in Asia Minor. From there collards spread into Europe, introduced by groups of Celtic wanderers around 600 B.C. Collards have been cultivated since the days of the Greek and Roman civilizations.
A longtime staple of the Southern United States since the 1600s, collard greens, unlike their stronger-tasting relatives kale and mustard greens, have a very mild, almost sweet and smoky flavor. In our region, they are available almost year round and taste their best and sweetest after the first frost – especially from January through April – and have a more pronounced bitter taste, as the weather turns hot.
Most of the studies of foods in this category focus on kale and cabbage, but collards are often lumped together with them and regaled for their health benefits. Researchers have found that collards along with other cruciferous vegetables are standouts in their roles in cancer prevention. Collards support our bodies’ detoxification processes, protect us with antioxidant rich nutrients, and support reduced inflammation: All requirements for preventing cancer. Among the cancer types that collards protect us from are: bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate and ovarian cancer.
Constituents of collard greens, called glucosinolates, are responsible for their cancer-fighting abilities and are also responsible for the bitter flavor of many of this family of vegetables. Their anti-inflammatory properties are particularly supportive of cardiovascular system health. Collard greens also support our digestive systems by supplying 5 grams of fiber per 1 cup serving. The sulphur compounds in collard greens protect the integrity of our stomach lining, and help protect us from ulcer causing organisms such as H. Pylori.
Collards may have the greatest cholesterol lowering potential among the commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables. According to a comprehensive study, steamed collard greens out performed steamed kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts and cabbage in its ability to bind bile acids in the digestive system. These bound bile acids, which are made from cholesterol, are excreted from our bodies with a resulting lowering of cholesterol levels. The studies also suggest that the bile acid binding ability of the collards is increased greatly by steaming them rather than consuming them raw.
Supplying four core anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and Vitamin E, the antioxidant support provided by collard greens extends far beyond the conventional nutrients into the realm of health supporting phytonutrients such as caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol. This broad-spectrum antioxidant support helps lower the risk of oxidative stress in our cells. Chronic oxidative stress, from the presence of overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules is a risk factor for development of most cancer types.
You can enhance the antioxidant ”punch” of these healthy greens by serving them with healthy fats such as butter, coconut and avocado and olive oils. To reduce the sulphur smell (and increase health benefits) that emanates from over-cooked collards and other Brassica family members, cook them for a shorter time, not longer than five minutes, cut the collard leaves into 1/2-inch slices, and the stems into 1/4-inch pieces.
Let them sit for five minutes after you cut them to enhance the antioxidant value. Even though they have been harvested they are still ”alive,” and chopping or cutting them triggers a ”protective” reaction that greatly increases those antioxidant properties from which we benefit.
For those of you on a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, you don’t have to give up wraps. Try this at home: Take a good-sized collard leaf, blanch for a few seconds in hot water, then dip in cold water before patting dry. You now have the tastiest and most nutrient dense wrap! Try this the next time you’re craving that tuna sandwich. You’re welcome!
For more information on this and other health-related topics, come in to see me at the Eugene Natural Grocers store. We offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions, so call 541-345-3300. Find our store’s schedule of free classes at naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/