Just about everyone needs to eat more greens.
Even you, healthy eater.
Because according to Dr. Michael Greger, only 1 in 25 Americans eats 12 servings of greens per month.
Which at first sounds kind of good, to think you’re that one person in 25 who gets a gold star.
But get this. Twelve servings per month is only a quarter of the amount Dr. Greger says we should be eating for optimal health. He recommends that many servings per week — an amount that very, very few people actually get.
Greens are packed with nutrients, and low in calories. So on the ANDI scale, which measures nutrients per calorie (remember the scores that used to be posted all over Whole Foods salad bars), greens top the charts.
Another good reason to eat greens: many greens also fall into the class of cruciferous vegetables (kale, collards, and mustard greens, to name a few), which provide large amounts of cancer-fighting isothiocyanates (ITC’s) like sulphorophane. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in population studies, cruciferous veggies appear to be about twice as protective as other vegetables against disease.
But enough with that. We all know greens are incredibly healthy (it’s one of very few things almost everyone in the nutrition field agrees on), and we need to eat more of them.
So how we can get more greens?
7 Ways to Eat More Greens
1. Start a daily salad habit.
Most people don’t mind salads, especially when you’ve got a dressing you’re digging.
So how can we eat more of them?
For me, it’s two ways.
First, you can make a giant salad with beans (I like chickpeas, myself) your default lunch. Make a tasty oil-free dressing, then make salad easy: keep two kinds of greens in on hand — one mild and one more bitter (like dandelion greens or cabbage) — and combine them in equal parts. If you like, put it in a wrap.
If you want to add other veggies, great. But like all habits, the easier this one is to do, the more likely you’ll stick with it. And if all you did was get a giant handful of two different greens plus a serving of beans for lunch each day… well, you’d be doing alright in my book (and Dr. Greger’s, for that matter).
If lunchtime salad isn’t your thing, my favorite trick for getting my family (and myself) to eat a salad with dinner is to prepare the salad first, and put it on the table while you’re making the rest of the dinner, so that everyone will want to eat while they smell the rest of the food cooking.
Otherwise, far too often, we tend not to eat much salad, because we want to get to hot, tastier food that comes out at the same time.
2. Blend greens into your smoothie.
Even if green smoothies aren’t your thing, you can still get a serving of fresh greens in your morning smoothie.
Spinach is my favorite for its ability to slip unnoticed past my taste buds. But baby kale is surprisingly hard to detect as well, and it has the added bonus of being cruciferous.
Thinking again about habit formation, you want to start with a very small amount, and only gradually increase the greens as you get used to the slightly different taste of your smoothie.
One more trick to cut down on waste: when the greens in your fridge (you know, the ones you’re making those salads with?) are just about to go bad, throw them in the freezer, and then use the frozen ones in your smoothie.
3. At dinner time, think “grain, green, and bean.”
Let’s face it: with the busy lives most of us lead, greens don’t make it onto the dinner plate very often.
It’s not that we don’t like them… it’s just that it’s so easy to NOT make them. Very few dinners depend on the greens, so when we get busy, the greens are the first food to go.
Enter my favorite simple meal planning strategy: a grain, a green, and a bean.
When you don’t know what to make, just thinking in these terms as you glance through your fridge and pantry should help you see meal ideas where previously there were none.
But a grain, a green, and a bean doesn’t have to just be a big bowl of mush.
Consider these far more interesting dinner choices:
- Chickpea and pasta soup with kale
- Spicy tempeh tacos topped with lettuce or cabbage
- Stir fry with tofu, bok choy, and brown rice
- Fire-roasted tomato pasta with chickpeas and arugula (note: I first posted recipe before I was vegan; now I’d omit the cheese)
- Rice bowl with black beans and spinach, topped with peanut sauce
Yep, they’re all non-mushy examples of a grain, a green, and a bean. (Okay, maybe the last one is mushy. Still good though!)
4. Make greens the main event.
Sure, a grain, a green, and a bean will get you a small serving of greens most nights. But every now and then, eat a lot of greens, by making a dinner that features greens front and center.
A few of my favorites:
- Saag paneer, an Indian dish based on spinach (tofu replaces the cheese cubes in tasty vegan versions)
- Espinacas con garbanzos, a Spanish spinach-and-chickpea dish loaded with smoky paprika flavor
- Sauteed beet greens with white beans or chickpeas, plus a little bit of orecchiette pasta (a typical dish in Puglia, Italy)
Like a lot of people, I wouldn’t like to eat a greens-first meal every night, but once every week or two, a big pile of greens on my plate (usually with lots of lemon juice) hits the spot.
5. Find a side dish you love.
Like I said, when life gets busy, we tend to omit the greens in favor of getting something (anything!) that’s vegan on the table. Preferably something the kids won’t fuss about.
But what if you had just one, go-to side dish — based on greens — that you loved, and you knew you could whip up reliably and quickly?
Then you could add it to any quick weeknight pre-soccer-practice dinner, to give the whole family a hit of greens, and feel like you’re not failing at parenthood.
In my house, we’ve got four of these standbys — and they all happen to be cruciferous:
- Simple steamed broccoli (not technically a leafy green, but you know, desperate times…)
- Sautéed broccoli rabe (blanch it in boiling water just until it’s bright green, then sauté with garlic and crushed pepper — and we use all the bitter leaves!)
- Air-fried brussels sprouts (I like to toss them in oil, salt, and pepper, but even just plain turns out great with a little drizzle of balsamic glaze at the table)
- “Brazilian” collard greens
That last one is my favorite. I don’t know if they’re really Brazilian, but somehow my kids got the idea that they’re the favorite food of a Brazilian soccer player, so we went with it.
Here’s how we make (so-called) Brazilian collards:
- Remove the ribs from collard greens and wash the leaves and dry them well. Then roll the leaves together like a thick cigar, and slice them as thin as you possibly can — like 1/8-inch or even smaller, a chiffonade.
- Get a large pan really hot. I like to use cast iron, but any big, sturdy pan should work. You don’t want to overcrowd the greens, because you want them to caramelize a little, rather than to steam in their own liquid when they’re too crowded. If it’s two crowded, cook them in two batches.
- Toss in the shredded greens, along with a little bit of oil. Move them around with a wooden spoon, but let them sit for a few seconds here and there so they get a little color.
- When they’re tender, move the greens to the side of the pan and add a little bit of oil, a minced clove of garlic, and some crushed red pepper to the pan. When the garlic is fragrant, stir it into the greens.
- Add salt and lemon juice to taste, and enjoy!
6. Juice them.
Yes, I know.
Juicing greens isn’t the same as eating greens. You don’t get all the fiber, and it’s easy to go overboard on the juice and get too much sugar (especially if you’re juicing fruits).
And the truth is, juicing leafy greens is tough, just because the yield is low. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it.
I used to be kind of anti-juicing (“It’s not a whole food!”), but now I find it a really nice way to get a bunch of nutrients from veggies that I normally wouldn’t eat when I’m busy. And so for you, maybe juicing veggies could do the same.
I’ve been drinking vegetable juice as my first meal of the day, around noon, as a way to come off a nightly intermittent fast, and usually, the only leafy greens I use are leftover parsley or mint that we might have from dinner the night before. It contributes a little flavor and some nutrients, even if the volume just isn’t all that much. (I do use lots of celery and cucumber, though, so even though they’re not leafy, at least they’re green!)
If you’re willing to invest in a masticating juicer, you’ll get more from the greens you juice, and in this case, you’d be able to get a ton of nutrients in a glass. Add some carrots, beets, or a small piece of apple if you can’t handle the flavor of greens alone.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you get some whole greens in your diet too, but in my opinion, the extra nutrients from the juice are a good thing, so long as you can drink them without adding a lot of sugar (aka fruit juice) to mask the taste.
7. When all else fails (and maybe even when it doesn’t)… use a greens powder.
All of the above methods can work. They’re all simple, but none is truly “easy,” because it’s just not that easy to eat our greens.
Or rather, because it’s so easy to NOT eat our greens.
And so I’ve decided that the smartest choice at this phase in my life — when my priorities are longevity and sports performance, for both of which greens are immensely helpful — is to try to do those things and to have a fallback.
And that fallback is a greens powder — a daily scoop I can add to my smoothie (or, if I’m traveling, to a glass of lemon water) — to know that I’m doing a whole lot better than when I’m not getting any greens at all.
But the fact is I’ve never taken a greens powder consistently. And what it comes down to is that I’ve never really believed they provide enough nutrition to be worth it.
Sure, they provide a whole slew of superfood-sounding ingredients, but they don’t usually disclose the amounts of the individual ingredients used, and because of that, it’s very hard to imagine they’re using the greens in the amounts that are scientifically shown to be beneficial.
In other words, for me, 50+ superfood ingredients in minuscule amounts isn’t as good as five in amounts that have been scientifically demonstrated to be effective.
So that was the mission I gave to our team at Complement:
Create a greens powder in the Complement style (i.e., ultra-pure, nothing to hide, so we can be completely transparent about what’s in it) with science-backed amounts of greens in each serving — amounts that the evidence clearly shows have a positive on your health, so that I can know I’m not throwing my money away, but instead, making a positive investment in my health.
Our greens powder won’t be a “proprietary blend” (also known as “we don’t want to tell you exactly the amounts of ingredients we use because we use so little of the good ones”) of 197 superfood nutrients, mushroom complexes and goji powder and all of that nonsense.
Instead, it’s just five nutrient-packed greens — barley grass, spinach, moringa, chlorella, and broccoli sprouts — with the amounts printed right on the package.
All in a daily scoop, in serving sizes that science clearly tells us are beneficial — so we can sleep a little better when life gets busy, knowing we’re getting our greens (actually, sleep is one of the benefits!).
So that’s been our project for the past few months, and I’m excited to announce that next week we’ll be offering the brand new Complement greens solution for pre-order.
If you’re on our email list, I’ll be in touch with some more details soon.
Until then, you’ve got six other ways to get those greens!