Collard greens hold a revered place in the hearts and on the tables of every true Southerner, but they have such remarkable qualities, that they’re the type of food everybody should get the goods on. Native to the Mediterranean, these unassuming greens were one of the easily transported foods that made it to England and France before the Common Era. They were mentioned not only by 17th century American colonists (where they may have already have been growing wild before they arrived), but also in the historical accounts of ancient Greek and Romans, who got the vegetable from medieval Celts traveling into Europe.
Collard greens are one of several cruciferous vegetables, along with broccoli and cabbage. Sometimes, kale and collard green references were interchangeable, whether the leaves were lighter or darker, or the leaves flat or curly. To be specific, they look a bit like non-heading cabbage heads, with large, medium to dark green leaves, prominent veins, and a flavor that’s a bit stronger than spinach. While they grow in many areas of the country year round, they proliferate in warmer climates.
Smaller collard greens leaves are more tender and sweet. They can be boiled, braised, and sautéed. There are more than a thousand steamed collard green recipes. Luckily, that's the style which nets the most nutrients. The "mess o’ greens" you've heard about usually involved cooking them to death, and that's not the way to gain the optimal nutritional value, plus they begin taking on a slightly sulfurous odor.
Steaming until they're soft but still bright green is best. Beyond salt and pepper, try mixing them with black eyed peas and rice, in minestrone or other soup recipes, as a spring roll ingredient or with a simple dressing made from lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, half a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, and coarsely chopped sunflower seeds.
Health Benefits of Collard Greens
Low in calories, collard greens go way out of their way to prove how good they are for you in the rich amounts of vitamins and minerals they provide. First, they provide more than your daily allotment of vitamins K and A, 1,045 percent and 308 percent of the daily required recommendation, respectively, for strong bones, inhibited neuron damage, sharp eyesight, and mucous membrane protection.
And if that's not enough, collard greens also provide 58 percent of the vitamin C, 44 percent of the folate, 41 percent of the manganese, and 27 percent of the calcium needed on a daily basis. What's incredible is that the nutrients don't stop there. Impressive amounts of vitamin B6, magnesium, riboflavin, and iron are part of the bargain, offering more nutritional benefits than the average plant-based food.
One of the most amazing things about collard greens is that they can actually lower your cholesterol when you eat them – more than any other crucifer, which beats out kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. The key is its ability to bind to bile acids in the digestive system, which makes it easier for them to exit the body.
Foods experts say that including 1 ½ cups of cruciferous vegetables such as collard greens in your diet two to three times a week increases your nutritional profile. More than that – and more often than that – is even better.
Four little-heard-of glucosinolates found in collard greens -- glucoraphanin, sinigrin, gluconasturtiin, and glucotropaeolin -- can convert to an isothiocyanate that supports the body's ability to fight off inflammatory toxins and help lower cancer risks.
One medical report explained it this way: carcinogens are the chemicals that cause cancer, and isothiocyanates stop them cold by inhibiting their ability to activate – they counteract the toxic effects of carcinogens already activated and expedite the removal of carcinogens from the body.1 Cancer prevention most closely associated with eating collard greens includes cancer of the lung, bladder, prostate, breast, colon, and ovaries.
Collard Greens Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Collard Greens
Researchers started with the premise that bile acid binding capacity is related to lowering the cholesterol potential of foods, which results in utilization of cholesterol to synthesize bile acid and reduced fat absorption. Secondary bile acids have been associated with increased risk of cancer, and the potential related to lowered heart disease and cancer risks. How cooking would influence in vitro bile acid binding of various vegetables was investigated, with the result that steam cooking significantly improved the in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, even more than other Brassica vegetables.
The report concluded that including steam-cooked collard greens, kale, mustard greens, etc., in the daily diet would lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.2
In another study, scientists found that higher intakes of cruciferous and carotenoid-rich vegetables, collard greens specifically, may reduce risk of breast cancer.3
Collard Greens Healthy Recipes:
Enlightened Collard Greens
|3-4 large handfuls of collard greens
||2-3 Tbsp. coconut oil
||1 medium Vidalia or sweet onion, finely chopped
||2 tsp. dried chili peppers
|1 clove chopped garlic
||Salt & pepper to taste
||½ cup vegetable stock
||¼ cup white wine
Wash the collard greens, pat them dry, and chop them to about one-half inch.
In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil, add the onions, chile peppers and garlic. Cook until the onion softens and the garlic is golden – about 5 minutes.
Add the collard greens, salt and pepper and stir for about 2 minutes. When they begin to soften, add the white wine and vegetable stock. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes or until the collards are tender-crisp.
Collard Greens Fun Facts
While collard greens may have been available when the colonists arrived, the cooking style that turned them into a "mess o’ greens" came from African slaves. They're slow-cooked down to a juice, which turns to gravy (a.k.a. "pot likker"), sometimes with a little help from ham hocks or pig jowls. This preparation turned into a dish that the South still craves, and is still served in most restaurants and plantation homes south of the Mason-Dixon. In fact, collard greens became the official vegetable of South Carolina on June 2, 2011, enacted by Senate Bill No. 823 (S823).
Tons of nutrition and practically no calories to speak of - 46, to be exact. What's not to like about collard greens? Luckily the flavor is more than your daily allotment of vitamins K and A, and is a great source of folate, manganese, and calcium.