Whether it’s running to work, installing solar panels or recycling, it’s important that more of us live a little greener. The same goes for your diet. With a wide assortment of nutrients, runners ought to colour their plates more often with leafy greens. Kale, arugula, chard and other greens are nutritional powerhouses that are versatile in the kitchen and enrich dishes with earthy flavours. Step out of your romaine and spinach comfort zone, and try chopping, sauteing, blending or steaming any one of these standout citizens of the produce department.

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard has large, crinkled leaves with fleshy, ribbed stems. There are two primary varieties on store shelves: One with coloured stems and veins, sometimes called rainbow chard, and another with white stems. Chard is generally milder tasting than many other dark greens such as collards and kale. Among its many nutritional highlights are three times the daily quota of vitamin K in just a mere cup serving. On top of its well known role in proper blood clotting, vitamin K helps improve bone strength and Dutch researchers recently determined that high intakes can help reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving insulin sensitivity.

Roll this: Cut the leaves from their stems, steam briefly and use to roll up your favourite burrito ingredients such as black beans and shredded cheese.

Kale

A functional and popular leafy green, kale possesses a wide range of vital nutrients including huge amounts of vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health recently determined that a diet rich in the antioxidant vitamin C may keep upper respiratory tract infections at bay – a boost to runners who can be prone to getting the sniffles during periods of heavy training. Many people find raw kale too bitter, but once cooked, its flavour becomes more subdued. Massaging them with oil and acid such as vinegar can also help tenderize the greens and quiet the bitter taste without cooking.

Rub this: In a large bowl, combine 1 very finely chopped bunch of kale, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Using your hands, gently massage all the ingredients together. Add other desired toppings like avocado, sliced carrot and toasted nuts.

Mustard Greens

As the name implies, these are leaves of the plant which produces mustard seeds. This green giant is brimming with beta-carotene, which the the body can convert into vitamin A, improving eyesight, bone health and immune functioning. A single chopped cup also contains about a quarter of the daily dose of folate, a B vitamin shown to offer protection against various cancers. Peppery and slightly bitter, most people enjoy mustard greens that have been cooked.

Saute this: Add 1 bunch chopped mustard greens to a large skillet along with sesame oil, soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger; saute until wilted and serve as a base for cooked fish.

Collard Greens

This southern staple has large, leathery leaves, each branching from a thick central stem. Their flavour is somewhat mild, but the tough texture calls for longer cooking times. The leaves are packed with vitamin C, folate, beta-carotene, vitamin K and lutein. The latter is an antioxidant that helps protect our eyes from the damaging effects of UV rays. And like other greens, collards are exceptionally low in calories – 11 calories per cup serving.

Boil this: In a large pot of boiling water, blanch collard greens until tender. Chop the greens and toss with cooked pasta, cooked chicken, salt, red chilli flakes and grated Parmesan cheese.
Arugula

A member of the mustard family, arugula has a pungent, peppery flavour that can really spice up salads, sandwiches and pizza. You’ll often find it in the grocery store in plastic containers alongside baby spinach. Arugula has some of the highest nitrate levels of any leafy green. Swedish scientists recently found that people who took in higher amounts of nitrate consumed less oxygen while exercising meaning their muscles worked more efficiently. Nitrates are used to make nitric oxide, which increases blood flow and therefore enhances performance.

Blend this: Make a peppery pesto by mixing arugula leaves with extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice and grated Parmesan cheese. Use the pesto for sandwiches and pasta dishes.

Rapini

Also called broccoli rabe, this cousin of broccoli has thin stalks, serrated leaves and some stems with clusters of floral bubs. Loaded with beta-carotene and vitamin K, rapini is also abundant in glucosinolates which are converted in the body into anti-cancer compounds.

All the parts of rapini are edible – the stems, the leaves, the buds and even the flowers. Rapini has an assertive taste that mellows with cooking such as blanching, stir-frying and braising.

Stir-fry this: In a large skillet, stir-fry chopped rapini with sliced carrots, sliced red bell pepper and diced firm tofu. Season with an Asian-inspired sauce and serve over brown rice.

Bok Choy

Bok choy has pale crunchy stalks with soft, mild tasting dark green leaves. This Asian green delivers laudable amounts of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, folate and potassium. Essential in maintaining fluid balance, athletes involved in hard exercise may require larger quantities of potassium-rich foods since some of this electrolyte is lost in sweet. A diet rich in potassium has also shown to reduce blood pressure numbers by helping counteract the effects of sodium. To prepare bok choy Chinese style, first cook the crunchy stems, adding the faster cooking leafy portions only at the last minute.

Steam this: Steam bok choy leaves and stalks until tender and serve with a miso dressing made with miso paste, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Escarole

Escarole has wide, succulent stems and leaves that look more crumpled than curly. The leaves are less bitter than other endive members. As more layers of the head are peeled back, the leaves continue to lighten in shade and become milder in flavour. Similar to other greens, escarole provides a source of dietary fibre. High intakes of fibre – about 30 grams per day for men and 25 grams for women – may reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by up to 60 per cent, according to 2011 findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Escarole can be enjoyed both cooked and raw.

Simmer this: Add 1 head of chopped escarole to a white bean and broth soup and simmer for 5 minutes, or until tender.

Matthew Kadey, MSc., RD, is an Ontario-based dietician, nutrition writer and recipe developer. Find him at mattkadey.ca or mufftinmania.com.

Spiced Chickpea Cashew Soup with Greens

Serves: 4

1 cup unsalted cashews

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)

1/2 teaspoon paprika, preferably smoked

1 large carrot, sliced thinly

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup apple cider

2 15 oz. cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

1/2 bunch kale or 4 cups Swiss chard, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Cilantro

Directions: Place cashews in a bowl, cover with water and soak for about 2 hours. In a large saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds; heat 1 minute. Stir in ginger, fennel seeds, paprika, carrot, red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste; cook 2 minutes. Pour in broth, cider, chickpeas (reserve 3/4 cup), and sage. Bring to a boil, reduced heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Stir in greens and heat 1 minute.

Drain cashews and place them in a blender container along with reserved chickpeas and just enough water to barely cover the contents. Blend until smooth. Stir cashew chickpea cream into soup along with the lemon juice; heat 2 minutes. Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro and black pepper.

Nutrition Information (per serving)

Calories 438

Protein 14 g

Fat 18 g (3 g saturated)

Carbohydrate 59 g

Fibre 9 g

Sodium  514 mg

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