A cool-temperature crop, collard greens may be one of the more obscure leafy veggies in some parts of the world, but in others – the American South in particular – it’s been a staple for generations. Broad and relatively smooth with deep green coloring, collard green leaves can grow as high as three to four feet , so harvesting enough for dinner shouldn’t take long!
From the cruciferous family of vegetables (sometimes referred to as a “brassica”), collard greens, as well as its cousin kale and mustard greens, come in a leafy variety. Also crucifers, broccoli, and cauliflower produce florets and stems, while rutabagas, radishes, and turnips are root veggies with similar nutritive advantages.
When buying collard greens at the grocery store, they’re best between November and April. You want to find them with firm, crisp leaves with no yellowing. Choose organic whenever possible. When growing them yourself, cut the leaves about four inches from the ground. Note that after cutting, they’ll continue to grow for later harvest.
Store leaf vegetables in a plastic bag with as much of the air released as possible, and place them in the crisper section of your refrigerator to keep for up to five days. If you wash them, blot them dry– and even wrap them – with paper or cotton towels to prevent mildew.
Did You Know?
- Collard greens bring a number of cancer-fighting nutrients to the table: vitamin K to resist inflammation, glucosinolates to rid your body of toxins and enzyme-releasing myrosinase.
- Cruciferous vegetables like collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and turnips have more vitamin A carotenoids, folic acid, and dietary fiber than any other food group.
- Steamed for just five minutes, simple collard greens blended with a homemade Mediterranean dressing and tasty options make this dish versatile as well as delicious.
Best of the Best Benefits of Collard Greens
These leafy greens rank in the top four vegetables providing vitamin K1 – a whopping 1,045 percent of the daily value – which aids your body in two ways: First, it provides a healthy level of blood clotting activity that involves a delicate balance of proteins only this vitamin can give.
Second, it offers bone support. Bone cells called osteoclasts rely on a two-part mechanism to help prevent mineral loss. One part of the mechanism extracts minerals from your bones to use in other parts of your body when necessary, while the other part keeps them from taking too much. Vitamin K works to keep the two in balance.
Another aspect of vitamin K is that it works with omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, to battle inflammation. While the vitamin K regulates the inflammatory response, the omega-3s form the cornerstone for some of the most important anti-inflammatory messaging molecules in your body.
As a further three-pronged approach, collard greens contain glucosinolates called glucobrassicin that can convert into an isothiocyanate molecule called indole-3-carbinol, or I3C, a compound with the ability to activate and prevent an inflammatory response at its earliest stage.2
Individuals of every age might appreciate the fact that another benefit of Vitamin K is its ability to limit neuronal damage in the brains of Alzheimer'spatients.3
Collard greens also contain four specific phytonutrients – caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol – that lower oxidative stress in your cells. . Factors like air pollution, second-hand smoke and even poor eating habits can be harmful to your body; eating fresh vegetables like collard greens not only helps negate those factors, it helps fight cancer even further.
Other phytonutrients in collard greens, specifically diindolylmethane and sulforaphane, have been clinically proven to combat breast, prostate, ovarian, cervical, and colon cancer cells, help prevent their growth and even help prevent them from forming in the first place.4
‘And That’s Not All…’
Collard greens are an excellent source of dietary fiber, once known by our great grandparents as “ruffage.” Ingesting naturally high-fiber foods like these can not only help control your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and prevent constipation, but may inhibit colon cancer.
A Medical News Today article5 noted:
“Collard greens and other green vegetables that contain high amounts of chlorophyll have been shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature. If you tend to like your grilled foods charred, make sure to pair them with green vegetables to help negate these effects.”
Many different foods contain the nutrients to make you healthier by eating just one serving, and collard greens fit this bill. Here’s another way: When the sulfur-containing leaves are broken down by chopping or chewing, glucosinolates release the enzyme myrosinase which break down cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. Research notes this compound to be particularly effective against lung and esophageal cancers, as well as cancers of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.6
Besides providing necessary folates to augment DNA synthesis and help prevent neural tube defects in babies, these greens are also an excellent source of vitamin A and carotenoids like lutein, carotenes, zeaxanthin and crypto-xanthin, which also contain antioxidants. Vitamin A in collard greens also aids in maintaining healthy skin, mucous membranes, and healthy vision.
More Reasons to Eat Collard Greens
Experts recommend that you not only eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and mustard greens “often,” but that collard greens specifically should have a regular place in your lunch and dinner repertoire on a fairly regular basis.
Why collard greens? To quote the George Mateljan Foundation:
“In a recent study, steamed collard greens outshined steamed kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage in terms of its ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract. When this bile acid binding takes place, it is easier for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body's cholesterol level. It's worth noting that steamed collards show much greater bile acid binding ability than raw collards.”
At the same time, because of the odiferous break-down of these sulfur compounds, you want to make sure you don’t steam your collard greens too long.
For the best collard greens flavor and texture, choose slightly smaller leaves than the toughest outer layer. For the optimum nutritional benefits from the aforementioned enzyme-releasing myrosinase, allow these leafy greens to sit for at least five minutes after chopping.
It’s the versatility in serving options that make fresh foods – like lettuce, for instance – so popular. By adding flavor-enhancing ingredients, you can work your collard greens repertoire in much the same way. The George Mateljan Foundation7 recommends a delicious, nutritious serving technique that’s also quick and convenient:
- 1 pound collard greens, chopped
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 medium garlic clove, pressed or chopped
- 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1-½ TBS sunflower seeds
- ½ red onion, sliced (add to steamer with collard greens)
- 6 kalamata olives, sliced
- 3 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 5 drops organic soy sauce
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- Rinse the greens in cold water.
- Place two inches of water into a steamer pot and bring to a rapid boil.
- Cut the leaves into half-inch slices, turn to cut crosswise, and chop the stems into quarter-inch pieces. Sprinkle on the lemon juice (another way to activate the enzymes) and allow to sit for a minimum of five minutes.
- Press or finely chop the garlic and allow it to sit for 5 minutes, as well.
- Add your greens and garlic to the steamer and steam for no more than five minutes.
- Transfer to a large bowl and, while they’re hot, toss with the remaining ingredients.
Sources and References