When Is Your Greens Enough?

The time to cook your greens is when you can, not when you want to, says a new study.

“We need to make our greens more palatable to a wider audience,” says Katherine Hildebrandt, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Michigan State University.

Hildebrandt’s research on cooking and cooking greens finds that in the U.S., cooking and eating green foods can be “more satisfying” and are “much more nutritious than when eaten alone.”

“Cooking is the easiest way to increase the nutrient content of your food, but it’s also the easiest to overeat,” she says.

“It’s a great way to have a nice, healthy meal.”

HildeBrandt conducted a survey on the health and nutritional value of cooking and preparing green foods and found that the number of Americans who ate green foods in their diets increased by more than 4 percent from 2007 to 2016.

While green food consumption is growing, it’s still a small fraction of Americans’ overall intake.

HildeBrandts findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, add to a growing body of evidence that cooking and green eating can help us “live longer, have better health and lower our risks for chronic disease.”

But while green eating has been gaining momentum in the last few years, the studies and data are not conclusive.

Hiltbrandt says there’s a “misunderstanding of what the research really shows” about green food and cooking.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence,” she explains.

“And that doesn’t really prove anything.

It’s hard to prove anything.”

Hiltbrandts study suggests that the key to cooking your greens at home is to “use a few ingredients that you know you can trust.”

These include: Collard greens from a store, kale from your local garden, and parsnips from your pantry.

Hillebrandt also points out that it’s important to cook the greens at high temperatures, and that this “should be done in the kitchen with a slow-cooker, rather than in a pot.”

Hillebrandtzt recommends cooking the greens in a small skillet and sautee them with a drizzle of olive oil, garlic, onions and herbs.

“In a pot, you can cook them a lot quicker,” she adds.

“You can even cook them in a blender and have a little bit of the sauce floating in there.”

In the study, the study participants also ate a variety of green and red vegetables, including collard, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, cauliflower and carrots.

“When I was doing the study I was looking at people who were vegans or vegetarians who had a lot more greens in their diet,” says Hildebertts coauthor J.P. Neely.

“They were eating kale, collard and collard green, kale-cabbage soup, kale soup and kale soup salad.”

For Hildebundts study, her team also looked at the health impacts of cooking with fresh herbs, garlic and spices.

“For me, the most important part was to find the most delicious, nutrient-dense and healthy food that was available to me,” she notes.

“I was always looking for things that would make the greens more appealing to me and that made them easier to cook.”

Hildebandt notes that the best way to cook greens is to use them in the same manner you cook other foods, such as meat.

“Green vegetables are the best food to eat when you have time and want to eat,” she suggests.

“The main thing to do is not over-cook them.

If you want the greens to be tender, the best thing to cook them with is a little salt, pepper and garlic.”

She adds that there’s no need to cook green foods more often than you would in a normal diet.

“If you cook them often enough, they will start to taste better,” she cautions.

“But the main thing is to cook in the slowest way possible.”

For more information about green eating, including a detailed list of food items and how to prepare them, visit the U of M’s Green Food Resource Center.

A version of this story appears in the July/August 2018 issue of The American Scholar magazine.

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