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These Tasty Recipes Can Help You Get Lean With Greens

Chef Babette Davis, 73, knows that leafy greens help her keep fit. Get her tasty recipes. Plus: a registered dietician nutritionist shares how to get the most nutrients.

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Chef Babette poses with leafy greens
Photographs by Nathalie Gordon; Food Styling: Chris Tucker
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Do you enjoy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens or Swiss chard? How do you prepare them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Chef Babette Davis, the 73-year-old fitness enthusiast who reaches more than 315,000 followers on Instagram @chefbabette, knows all about leafy greens. And her menu at Stuff I Eat—the plant-based restaurant in Inglewood, California, where she is co-owner and head chef—reflects that.

Her savory breakfast burrito, for instance, boasts yellow polenta (aka grits), cottage-fried potatoes, walnuts, quinoa sausage, guacamole, minced kale, and more, all wrapped up in a whole-wheat tortilla with (peep this) a mixed green salad on the side. Or you can order her organic soul food sampler plate including favorites like yams, vegan mac ‘n cheese, black-eyed peas, potato salad, a cornbread muffin, and (wait for it) kale greens.

Umm…is anyone else hungry?

As Davis continues vibrantly into her seventies—her core strong, and her arms powerful enough to carry boxes of greens, potatoes, and all the things—her restaurant’s food reflects her life. So because she continues to be a wonderful role model of what healthy living can make possible, we talked to her about her appreciation of leafy greens. And how we can incorporate more of them, in a flavorful way, into our diets, too.

Health benefits of leafy greens

But before we get into the dish from Davis, let’s home in on why it’s a good idea to graze on these veggies.

Chef Babette preparing asmoothie
Nathalie Gordon

  • They have health promoting compounds called phytonutrients that can help with promoting better vision, reducing inflammation, and even supporting hormone balance, says Vanessa King, MS, RDN, CDCES, NBC-HWC, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, with these compounds including lutein, antioxidants and flavonoids.
  • Plus, “overall there is a link to having more vegetables and reducing your risk of many chronic diseases, such as stroke and heart disease and even being protected against certain cancers,“ King says.
  • They’re also “a rich combination of vitamins A, B, K [and] several of those B vitamins—that’s including the folate and potassium,” says King, noting greens offer “a really great way to fill in those nutrient gaps for things like fiber and folate.” And, “as a general rule, the darker the green, the more nutrients it contains,” Harvard Health Publishing notes.

Tips for weight loss and weight management

Another big benefit relates to weight loss and management. Here, we’ll go back to Davis. “I can put on something that I’ve had 10 years, and it still fits the same,” she tells us.

“Because I nourish myself the way that I do now, I don’t even weigh myself,” she says. “I know that, when I’m in the gym five days a week, I’m building some muscle. That’s going to weigh—so I’m not getting ready to trip on a number. But how am I looking and how are my clothes fitting?”

As Davis notes, nourishment and physical activity go together. So, it’s great that she has both.

“We lose muscle mass as we age due to lifestyle and biological factors, such as hormones,” King explains. “One reason we lose lean mass is simply that as we age, we become more sedentary. We move less and burn less calories, but don’t necessarily eat less. Those excess calories become fat.”

But leafy greens contain nutrients that support our metabolism, King notes, adding that “nitrates in leafy greens can contribute to muscle strength when eaten frequently.”

So here’s what else to know about preparing and eating leafy greens if you have weight management or weight loss goals. (Note: There’s one precaution. If you’re taking blood thinners like Warfarin, Coumadin, or Dicoumarol, eat leafy greens in moderation because they’re high in vitamin K, which has blood-thinning properties, says King. You don’t need to avoid them, she explains, but don’t “suddenly” double or triple your consumption without talking to your health care provider, and let your doctor know if you want to eat more.)

Chef Babette preparing a leafy green meal with portioned ingredients
Photograph by Nathalie Gordon; Food Styling: Chris Tucker

Know the proper servings. “If you’re aiming for 2,000 calories a day, we want you to have two and a half cups of vegetables per day,” King says. But because leafy greens are fluffy and not dense, one serving of leafy greens actually is two cups of raw greens, says King. Meanwhile, one cup of cooked (and shrunken) greens is one serving.

Add leafy greens in juicing or smoothies. “I juice a lot of greens,” Davis says.I have to make my juices palatable, or I’m really lousy at drinking them,” she adds. “I don’t want 32 ounces of wheatgrass. I really do not.” (We love her honesty.) So adding organic pineapple helps her feed her sweet tooth.

Don’t overcook them. Boiling greens is traditional and, when she makes them this way, Davis cooks hers with “onions and garlic and a little liquid smoke.” But vitamins can break down when cooking greens for a really long time, King says. Davis explains: “If you want to still hold on to some of the nutrients in the greens, then I would chop them finely, and I would just kind of put them in the skillet and stir-fry them a little bit.” Lighter cooking methods also include steaming, King adds.

Have more salads. And you don’t have to limit them to lunch. Davis’s breakfast plate, for instance, also comes with a mixed green salad.

Eat more greens on the side. Just don’t add heavy sauces. “[Leafy greens] don’t have any cholesterol. They’re going to be part of a heart-healthy diet,” says King. “If you’re having them with a steak or a heavier main protein dish or a main dish, you can have a smaller portion of that main heavy dish and have more of a lighter leafy vegetable side, which is still going to make you feel full with the fiber, but also be the lower-calorie [option],” she says.

Add greens into other dishes. Remember Davis’s breakfast burrito with minced kale? Mixing in healthy greens can help you “add that volume that also helps you to feel full and stop eating,” King says, adding that fiber from these so-called “broom foods” help to sweep your intestines and help with digestion. If heart health or cholesterol is a concern, also be careful of adding sodium and saturated fat, King adds.

Exclusive recipes from Chef Babette Davis

Curly Kale Over Quinoa

Curly Kale Over Quinoa
Photographed by Nathalie Gordon; Food Stylist: Chris Tucker

1 cup chopped curly kale
1 cup diced red onion
1 zucchini sliced in spears and sliced in half
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 tbsp liquid aminos
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp chipotle powder

Put a small amount of olive oil in a (cast iron) skillet. Heat oil, and add veggies and seasoning. Sauté until slightly tender. Serve over cooked red quinoa.

Green Goddess Smoothie

Green Goddess Smoothie
Photograph by Nathalie Gordon; Food Stylist: Chris Tucker

First juice the following ingredients in a juicer:
4 bunches cilantro
6 green apples
2 lemons
1 bunch kale
1 cup ginger juice

Then combine in a blender:
2 cups of the prepared juice
4 cups frozen mango
2 tablespoons spirulina (a blue-green algae supplement)

Blend all ingredients until creamy and serve.

Do you enjoy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, beet greens or Swiss chard? How do you prepare them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health