Monday, September 27, 2010

Dads Need To Eat More Greens

We know that a diet higher in vegetables, especially raw vegetables, is good for all Americans. But eating leafy greens may be particularly good for dads.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), over-consumption of milk products in America may be connected with the high incidents of prostate cancer that we have here.

"Prostate cancer is one of the most common malignancies worldwide, with an estimated 400,000 new cases diagnosed annually," writes Dr. Neal D. Barnard, M.D. in a PCRM fact sheet. The fact sheet concludes: "... [S]everal lines of evidence indicate that consumption of dairy products is associated with increased risk of prostate cancer incidence and mortality. Avoidance of these products may offer a means of reducing risk of this common illness."

So what should men eat instead?

Green leafy vegetables!

Any nutritionist will tell you that one key to good health is to eat a high intake of green leafies, especially dark ones that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

However, if all you’re bringing home from the supermarket is iceberg lettuce, you may need to revisit the salad aisle.

While crisp, light green iceberg lettuce is a beloved food for many Americans, it’s actually the least healthy of the greens, and better left at home. Iceberg lettuce does have fiber, and some vitamin A. But Ruth Yaron, author of the bestselling book, "Super Baby Food," calls it a “nutritional waste of time,” and urges Americans to consider darker, tastier greens.

Unlike iceberg lettuce, most dark green leafies are high in iron, the mineral that is found in the largest quantities in the blood. Common knowledge that women need to have a diet high in iron, fewer people know that men need to make sure they get enough iron as well. Iron is responsible for producing the blood’s hemoglobin and also for oxygenating red blood cells.

According to the National Anemia Action Council, at least 3.4 million Americans suffer from anemia, an iron deficiency. About 20% are women, and about 50% are children.

Squeezing lemon juice or other citrus on greens, or eating them with fish, also helps the body absorb iron more efficiently.

But for those of us who do not know our arugula from our mustard greens, how do we decide which green to pluck off the vegetable shelf?

Arugula: For the novice green leaf eater, beware: arugula is surprisingly spicy. Some describe this flavorful green as “nutty.” It has a sharp crisp flavor, a palate pleaser to those who like unusual tastes. Use in the place of spinach or lettuce. Arugula can also be cooked and added to pasta sauces or other dishes. But if you’re interested in getting the most nutrients for your leaf, eat it raw.

Chicory: You’ll often find chicory in gourmet salad mixtures, which may be the best way to eat it. Like arugula, chicory has a bitter flavor. In WWII when coffee was in short supply, the roots of chicory were dried and added to coffee to stretch it. In New Orleans, it’s remained a chosen taste ever since. Rich in vitamins K, C, and calcium, chicory is also good in soups and sauces.

Collard greens: Popular in the South where every supermarket stocks these gigantic leaves, collard greens are dark in color and the leaves are tough. Best steamed or boiled, try not to overcook them (Southerners tend to cook most of the flavor—and the nutrients—out of collard greens and serve them drowning in butter as a side dish. Not the healthiest way to eat these flavorful leaves.) They are rich in vitamin A and calcium, as well as fiber and other nutrients.

Dandelion greens: While Italian-Americans love dandelion greens (also called cardoons), they’re not as popular with the mainstream American palate. Rich in vitamin A and calcium, dandelion greens have a delightfully bitter taste. If you don’t go for bitter, try sautéing them in lemon juice, butter, salt, and vinegar to cut the flavor. Best served over homemade Italian pasta or with cannellini beans.

Kale: Kale’s a champion among green leafy vegetables. It has a strong taste, and its leaves are tough (though baby and adult leaves can be eaten raw, some people prefer to cook them) but it’s so packed with nutritional perfection that this is a leaf you should not pass up. Cultivating a liking for the strong flavor of kale means a pay off in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, and potassium. Try dinosaur kale (it looks scaly, hence the name) or purple kale (yep, it’s purple).

Mustard greens: These greens are spicy even “hot.” Like their fellow leaf friends, mustard greens are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. To maximize their nutritional content, eat them raw in a salad mixture. They also add a nice flavor to soup.

Spinach: Most of us know spinach though we might not be in the habit of eating it. But it’s worth the work to cultivate a taste for this iron-packed, vitamin rich leaf. Rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron, spinach should be added to any salad you serve. If, like some people, you find spinach to be more earthy than sweet, try baby spinach (that really expensive stuff served by the leaf in pricey restaurants) for a more mitigated taste.

Swiss chard: chard is actually a type of beet that has been developed for its large yummy leaves and edible stalks instead of for its roots. It’s rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium and can be eaten raw or cooked in a stirfry.

As greens become cool (this is not just a nutrition enhancer, eating greens will soon be a fashion statement as well), more unusual varieties are cropping up.

Look for tot soi (a baby Asian green), mizuna, cress, garlic greens, Korean spinach, New Zealand spinach, purslane, trevisse, radicchio, brocolli rapini, and mâche.

You may take a shine to one of these greens, and your body (and your kids) will thank you.