Southern comfort food and vegetables may seem diametrically opposed. In spite of my best friend’s insistence to the contrary, the carbacious and starchy sweet potato should not, in fact, be counted as a vegetable in your diet (even if it is a root vegetable). But there is one staple of southern cuisine and barbecues and the like that is both healthy and craveable. Enter the collard green, the cruciferous vegetable that is not only a staple in stick-to-your-ribs cooking, but also good for your body.
The collard green belongs to the same family as kale, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. But while the nutritional benefits of many of these vegetables are the same, the humble collard green takes the cake in terms of economics. A 2011 study from the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that collards are cheaper than others in the cruciferous vegetables in the United States.
“Collard greens are extremely nutrient-rich, contributing ample amounts of vitamins A, K, B-6 and C, calcium, iron, and magnesium,” Rachel Lustgarten, a dietician specializing in nutrition at Weill Cornell Medicine tells Prevention.com. “Health benefits of collards include lowered cancer risk and improved heart health.”
As healthy as collard greens are in their simplest form, dousing them in bacon grease surely mitigates their positive side effects. While you probably don’t want to serve collard greens raw (they’re too fibrous and chewy for that), there are plenty of other healthy serving options that don’t include a salad preparation. “Limit additions such as butter and oil while cooking and experiment with garlic, red pepper flakes, and onion,” suggests Lustgarten.
Boiling or steaming collards will preserve the most nutrients, and you can save your collards from boredom and bad taste by adding plenty of herbs and spices to the mix. A dash of pepper and a squeeze of lemon also goes a long way in brightening up the vegetable.
Braising is also a common preparation, often with apple cider vinegar and a fatty meat like bacon, though that protein is replaceable with a leaner cut of ham or canadian bacon, both of which make for a healthier alternative. And given the significant health benefits of the collard green in its pure form, you may want to keep this vegetable as untarnished as possible. Lustgarten suggests steaming the greens in less than 10 minutes to best retain nutrients.
1. Collard greens may lower blood cholesterol.
Studies have suggested that eating collard greens lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol levels, known as the “bad” cholesterol. Thanks to the high fiber content in the vegetable, collards have a beneficial effect on both both blood pressure and cholesterol, which improves overall heart health.
2. Collard greens may reduce cancer risk.
According to research, cruciferous vegetables help reduce the risk of cancer thanks to certain sulfur-rich compounds called glucosinolates. Scientists believe that these compounds prevent or delay cancer cells at various stages of development. A 2017 study involving nearly 3,000 people suggests that cruciferous vegetables lower the risk of breast cancer. However, to maximize the positive effects of the greens, it seems necessary to preserve the glucosinolates, which means that certain cooking methods (like steaming) are preferable.
3. Collard greens may improve bone health.
Collards contain a good amount of vitamin K, which research suggests may lower the risk of osteoporosis and bone breakage. A single cup of boiled collard greens contains 770 micrograms of this crucial vitamin, which is far more than the recommended daily minimum consumption of 90 mcg for women and 120 mcg for men.
4. Collard greens may improve liver health.
“Collards are high in fiber, which helps us feel full during a meal and aids in digestion,” Lustgarten notes. “Fiber intake is also associated with decreased risk of stroke and diabetes.” Fiber is believed to reduce inflammation and levels of glucose among type 1 diabetes patients, and also maintain healthy insulin and lipid levels among those with type 2 diabetes.
5. Collard greens may help with digestion.
Another benefit of the collards’ fibrous nature is related to digestion. After all, fiber is often recommended in preventing or helping with constipation and improving regularity, and given the high fiber and water content of collard greens, it’s no wonder that this vegetable is often recommended for those who have trouble going.
6. Collard greens may improve your aesthetics.
If you’re looking for healthier, shinier hair, don’t rub collard green oil into your hair, but do consume collard greens for their vitamin A content. Vitamin A is related to your body’s production of sebum, which not only helps to keep your immune system and eyes healthy, but also your skin and your hair.
Collards are also rich in vitamin C, which is critical for collagen production, again important to your hair, skin, and nails. And if that’s not enough, collards contain iron as well, which is important to staving off anemia, as well as hair loss.
7. Collard greens can help you sleep better.
Thanks to the choline content in collard greens, you may be able to sleep and function more effectively if you maintain a diet that is high in the vegetable. The neurotransmitter choline aids in boosting your mood, improving your sleep, and maintaining your memory.
Choline also contains folate, which has been tested as a potential treatment for depression.
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