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Thursday, June 14, 2018 12:04 am

Eat your greens

Hippocrates had it figured out back in 431 B.C. when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Now, new research gives us additional reasons to eat our veggies beyond what we’ve all known intuitively for years – that eating green vegetables is good not just for your overall health, but helps to keep your mind sharp as well.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers found a strong association between consumption of leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, spinach and broccoli, and reduced cognitive decline. In the study, seniors who ate at least one serving per day of leafy green veggies, which amounts to about one half cup of cooked greens or one cup of raw greens, experienced less cognitive decline than those who did not regularly eat greens.

This particular study followed 960 participants, ranging in age from 58-99 years, none of whom had dementia, for just under five years. Participants in the study underwent annual cognitive assessments and were asked to keep track of lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking. The study found that those who ate the most greens (about 1.3 servings per day) displayed a reduced rate in cognitive decline that was equivalent to being 11 years younger in age.  

Many factors contribute to aging well, and while this study does not prove that a diet rich in leafy greens will keep your mind sharp as you age, it does show a very strong association between eating greens and long-term mental clarity. Certainly we can feel confident that eating a well-rounded diet rich in plants and lean proteins, along with regular exercise, helps everyone be the best version of themselves.  

Luckily, the days of boiled spinach are well behind us. Incorporating leafy green vegetables into your daily diet has never been easier or more delicious. Greens are one of the first things to show up at local markets and are available until the end of the growing season (or longer, if you’re lucky enough to know a farmer with a greenhouse). Additionally, bags of fresh salad mixes are available washed and ready to go in most grocery stores, giving shoppers myriad choices beyond romaine and iceberg lettuce. It’s easy to get in your daily serving of greens when you throw a handful of baby kale or spinach into your morning scrambled eggs, or whip up a quick salad for lunch or a light dinner. Add hearty summer greens to nutritious soups that can be frozen and ready to enjoy for months to come.

Power pesto

This dynamic and peppery pesto packs a hefty nutritional punch, thanks to nutrient-rich greens and herbs and protein-packed nuts. Use it to top grilled meat or fish, or toss with cooked whole-wheat pasta, halved cherry tomatoes and a can of rinsed cannellini beans for a nutritionally complete, make-ahead meal.  

• 2 cloves garlic
• 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds or walnuts (optional)
• juice and zest of one lemon
• 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
• 1 cup spinach leaves
• 1 cup arugula or stemmed kale
• 1/2 cup basil leaves
• ½ cup parsley leaves
• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
• salt and black pepper to taste

Combine garlic cloves, nuts (if using) and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan, spinach, arugula or kale, basil and parsley to the bowl. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a thin stream until fully incorporated and the greens are pulverized. Taste for seasoning. The pesto can be used immediately or frozen in zip-top freezer bags for up to 3 months.

Tuscan kale, sausage and white bean soup
• 1 pound lean Italian sausage
• 1 onion, diced
• 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 2 stalks celery, diced
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
• 1 pound stemmed kale, cut into ½-inch strips (other hearty greens like collards and Swiss chard can be used)
• 2 cans low-sodium cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed    
• 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
• 2 quarts homemade or low-sodium broth
• ½ cup heavy cream (optional)
• Parsley and Parmesan cheese, to serve

Brown the sausage in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium high heat. Drain excess grease if necessary, then add onion, garlic, celery, carrot, salt and red pepper. Continue to cook until vegetables are slightly softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the kale, beans, broth and vinegar or lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until greens are tender. Finally add the cream (if using), and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Garnish with chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese, if using. This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes beautifully.
 
Contact Ashley Meyer at Ashley@realcuisine.net.

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