If there’s one thing I can’t recommend enough to my patients, it’s leafy bitter greens like kale, swiss chard, and collard greens.
In fact, one of my favorite expressions is: “More bitter, more better.”
The dark green bitterness in these vegetables contain amazing levels of polyphenols which, as you know, give you long-lasting energy, improve your digestion & metabolism, and keep you healthy as you age.
Even better, they’re packed with fiber to fill you up fast – and they even help curb hunger. In fact, another one of my favorite sayings is…
“If you eat dark green, you WILL become lean!”
In my opinion, they’re one of the most perfect foods. But there’s just one problem: they’re bitter.
Now, I love the taste of bitter greens… but I’m in the minority. A lot of people struggle with the sharp flavor, including many of my patients.
So today I want to share a simple guide to make even the most bitter greens more palatable – even exciting!
First step: make sure you know your greens. They may look similar, but each type of green on the market tastes slightly different and can be used in different ways.
So, here are four of the most common types of polyphenol-packed bitter greens and a quick recipe for each that makes them taste great!
Possibly the most common of the bitter greens, Kale is fairly mild in flavor and it’s delicious both raw or cooked. Any way you look at it, kale really is one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
This nutritional rockstar is an amazing source of antioxidant vitamins C, K, and A. Kale’s also got a great deal of calcium, folate, and potassium. And there are lots of varieties of kale to choose from – Curly Kale, Dino Kale, Red Russian Kale, Chinese Kale etc. – so it’s easy to taste-test and find your fave.
Just make sure to remove the fibrous stems before cooking!
Recipe: Slice kale leaves thinly and add to a bowl. Add a generous pour of extra-virgin olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt and rub salt/oil mixture into the leaves, massaging thoroughly. Finish the salad with a splash of lemon juice, red wine vinegar and chopped avocado.
TIP: Greens grow in sandy soil, so be sure to double-rinse your greens in cool, flowing water to get that grit out.
2) Swiss Chard
Chard tastes like a cross between kale and cabbage. It can be eaten raw, but it’s best when cooked. Of course, Swiss chard is just scrummy when sauteed, and it’s easily recognized by its deep red stalks and veins.
It’s an excellent source of vitamins A and C, which help to stimulate and improve the immune system. Swiss chard is also known to help reduce inflammation and help maintain proper blood sugar levels.
Eat the stems for extra fiber and crunch — they’re delicious!
Recipe: Thinly slice leaves and stems and set aside. Heat olive oil and garlic in a large saucepan, cook until garlic is fragrant. Add chopped pecans and toast, then add chard and cook until wilted. Finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Tip: If these greens are too bitter for you, make sure to add plenty of healthy fat, like extra virgin olive oil. It really cuts the bitterness… and tastes great!
3) Mustard Greens
This southern staple is curly-leafed and has a peppery bite. Eat them cooked, and make sure to remove the stems first.
Recipe: Tear leaves into bite sized pieces, removing stems. Add to a large pot with sliced onions, red wine vinegar, chicken stock, and sliced garlic. Cook covered for 1-2 hours over low heat until tender.
TIP: Another great way to add flavor and cut bitterness is with something acidic, like vinegar or even a squeeze of lemon juice!
4) Collard Greens
If you’ve ever spent time in the south, you’ve had collard greens… but you can actually eat them raw, and they’re a lot more nutritious this way. Though collard greens are sometimes mistaken for kale, they’re a bit heartier and, therefore, a little chewier.
With their wide, sturdy leaves, collard greens also make a great bread substitute if you’d like to turn your favorite sandwich into a wrap. Also, the vitamins and minerals in collard greens can help support bone strength and increase physical energy.
Since the leaves are so broad, these relatively mild greens actually make great wraps — instead of tortillas. Just remove the tough stems if you’re eating them raw.
Recipe: Trim stem off leaves, and place in bowl of warm water with lemon juice. Let soak for 10 minutes, then dry and slice down the center stem to make leaves easy to wrap. Fill with avocado, the protein of your choice, pickled onions, and a drizzle of lime juice, and wrap like a burrito.
Tip: Raw greens are delicious — and SO full of nutrients. Consider shredding greens like a salad, using them as a wrap, or subbing them into your favorite slaw.
Now, it’s true. You’ve likely been told to eat your greens since you were a kid. Nutritionists, doctors, and mothers the world over all seem to know the same amazing truth about greens … they’re awesome for your health.
But why are leafy greens so good for you?
Well, again, let me just mention the cardinal rule of choosing which greens to put on your plate …
More bitter, more better.
Sure, everyone knows you need to eat your veggies, but the bitter, leafy ones really are the best. Not only are these vegetables nutrient-dense, they’re also a vital source of antioxidants.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends you eat 2 ½ to 3 cups of dark green veggies every day.1 And it turns out, leafy bitter greens like kale, swiss chard, and collard greens can work wonders for your health.
In what ways? Well, you can watch my video by clicking on the following (or copying and pasting it into your browser), or you can continue reading below:
1. They boost energy – Bitter greens contain amazing levels of polyphenols, which give you long-lasting energy, improve your digestion, and keep you healthy as you age. They’re also really helpful when it comes to supporting brain function and slowing cognitive decline.2,3
2. They curb hunger – They’re packed with fiber to fill you up fast and promote a healthy metabolism. Furthermore, they contain thylakoids – little sac-like membranes in the leaves which help suppress hunger.4
3. They’re rich in antioxidants – Bitter greens contain health-boosting antioxidants like flavonoids and carotenoids, which are crucial for fighting free radical damage.5
4. They’re full of vital nutrients – They contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, K, B, & E, which helps promote full-body health.
There’s really no arguing with the facts … bitter greens are simply one of the best foods you can eat to help improve your health because they’re full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
But what if just you don’t like greens?
Well, first of all, when was the last time you actually tried greens?
If you’re basing your experience of greens on your mom’s old recipes from 19-whatever, it’s time to give them another shot.There’s a lot more you can do with greens than just steam them.
Whether you add them to an omega-3 egg scramble, blend them in a smoothie, or sautee them with garlic, mushrooms, and other Plant Paradox-approved veggies, there are so many excellent ways to get your greens – without the bitter flavor.
Spruce up your greens!
There are a few tried-and-true ways to flavor up your greens, too. Check out these tasty tips –
1. Blanch your greens
You can blanch your leafy greens or even blanch greens like broccoli rabe for cold salads. And when you use salted water first, it can add a delicious flavor. Basically, blanching helps leach out some of the bitterness, and it works great with hearty greens. Not only that, you’ll be amazed at how vibrant your greens look – it’ll only make them more enticing.
2. Boldly go where no seasoning has gone before
You can temper the bitterness of most greens with other flavors, spices, and natural sweeteners. For instance, sautee bitter greens with pastured meats, boost the flavor with a burst of fresh garlic, toss in some spices like cayenne or turmeric, or even add a sweetness with some coconut oil or in-season berries.
Contrasting the bitterness of your favorite greens will help balance your flavors and add to the taste of your greens. Seasoning is also a great way to add variety to your meals.
3. Salt it up!
Turns out, salt is your bitter greens’ best friend. And that’s true whether or not you cook them. You really can mellow out the bitterness with a sprinkle of salt. Even if you’re not cooking your greens, a little bit of salt goes a long way. Try a salad dressed in a little extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with some salt and pepper. It’s really all you need.
5. Braise them.
For heartier greens with a bitter bite – like collards, kale, and mustard greens – think about braising. Braising is essentially the act of lightly frying your food and then stewing it slowly in a closed container. It’s delicious! Not only will this slow-cooking cut the bitterness of your greens in half, but it will also help to soften the toughness of the leaves.
So if you haven’t been a huge fan of bitter greens in the past, I strongly encourage you to try one of the four recipes above… even better, try all of them – you’re sure to find something you love.
Whatever you do, don’t skip your bitter greens! They’re chock full of polyphenols and they’re just too important. And always remember my two favorite sayings:
“More Bitter, more better.”
“If you eat dark green, you WILL become lean!”
Don’t forget to share this article with your friends and loved ones… look for the social media links at the top and bottom of the page. And, of course, please leave me some comments below!
And, whatever you do, make your mom (and me) very proud – don’t skip your bitter greens! They’re just too important. My own mother might not believe me if I told her that bitter green salads have become one of my all-time favorite foods. She tried so hard to get me to eat my greens when I was a kid. If only I knew then what I know now.
Anyway, once you start to incorporate them into your diet, you’ll actually begin to crave them.
Looking out for you,
Article updated on August 24th, 2017.