More Greens, Please: Here's to Eating Fresh Daily in 2016

Leafy vegetables offer the most nutrients. Here's how to get more in your daily routine.

Looking for a quick way to improve your overall health in 2016? Pile on the greens. Dark green leafy vegetables are packed with folate and fiber and can help protect you from diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

With our increasingly busy lives, eating fresh can seem difficult, and we end up choosing what's avaliable—to the detriment of our energy levels and waistlines.

In 2014, writer Christine Arel realized she had gained weight after over-indulging in the local cuisine while attending college in Haiwaii. She decided it was time for a lifestyle change and started her blog No Gojis, No Glory to hold herself accountable. "The name was a way of saying that getting healthy starts with your food, and without proper nutrition, you can't achieve optimal health," she says.

After more than a year of blogging and eating right, she's down 30 pounds and full of energy—and greens. "It wasn't easy in the beginning, so I get creative," Arel says. One trick to eating healthier was blanching collard greens and using them in place of tortilla wraps. She also traded potato chips for homemade kale chips when the craving for a salty snack hit. One of the smartest ways to get her greens was a juicy turkey burger: "Turkey can get dry pretty quickly," says Arel, "so I put spinach in my burger patties. It keeps them moist, and you get extra nutrients."

Drink to Your Health

“We’re lucky to live in a time in which people are really aware that there is a connection between what you eat and how you feel,” says Andrea Talley, owner of GreenLid, a San Francisco restaurant that specializes in smoothies, salads and wraps. “I want to disrupt the fast-food industry by providing nutrient-dense, quick, casual options.” You can start each day like a champion with a powerful blend. “Dark leafy greens are the most nutritious vegetables,” Talley shares. “Add spinach to your smoothie. The flavor is supermild, and you can combine it with any fruit.” To save time, use a foodie favorite: mason jars. Fill one up with 60 percent greens; add your choice of fruit; and top it off with chia seeds, raw oats, or nuts to make it all heartier. In the morning, put the whole contents of the jar in the blender along with milk or water, give it a whir, pour the mix back in the jar and take it with you. “Like trees, greens convert energy from the sun and create oxygen. So greens are the healthiest things you can consume.”

Spruce Up Your Sides

My Life Runs on Food blogger Saundra Weathers recognizes that salads can be less than filling. "A lot of people get bored with salad because they don't keep it balanced with other ingredients," she says. "When you're building a salad, don't forget your protein and carbs." Tossing in some brown rice, quinoa or barley with your arugula will move it from a side to a main dish.

You can also take leafy greens from a Sunday dinner favorite to a quick weekday dish by preparing them Brazilian-style. “Pile a few leaves on top of one another, roll them like a cigar and cut them into 1⁄4-inch slices,” Weathers says. “Heat oil in a skillet, add seasoning and sauté the greens.” And of course there is the traditional preparation of kale and other big greens (stewed and sopped) that would make Big Mama proud. “I still crave a bowl of southern-style collard greens,” says Weathers. “I like mine with turkey and corn bread.” The Department of Agriculture recommends we get at least 2 cups of vegetables a day. From breakfast on the go to brunch with the girls, here’s to a fab year filled with greens.

This feature was originally published in the January 2016 issue of ESSENCE.

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