Some of our students are new to a plant based diet, and only familiar with lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. In case you’re among them, here’s a rundown of some more “sophisticated” greens that can turbo-charge your health and vitality.
The hardy greens include kale (Russian red, curly, dinosaur/lacinato), collard greens, green and red cabbage and Brussels sprouts. The bitter greens include turnip, mustard and dandelion greens. Both hardy greens and bitter greens are nutritional powerhouses.
There’s only one problem. Many greens — especially spinach, chard, and collard greens — contain high levels of oxalic acid.
When oxalic acid and calcium are contained in the same food, it binds to the calcium and forms less soluble salts known as oxalates. This interferes with absorption. It has the same affect on iron, sodium, magnesium, and potassium, when it’s contained in the same food. The more oxalic acid, the more interference.
To find out which foods contain high, medium, and low levels of oxalic acid, click here:
So how do you release calcium and other minerals?
To release the minerals, you need to break down the cell walls. You can do that by cooking them. Or – when it comes to raw greens – you can chew them very thoroughly or blend them.
Are Greens Better Eaten Raw Or Cooked?
Certainly lettuce, celery, and cucumbers are best eaten raw. But when it comes to hardy and bitter greens, there are two schools of thought.
Raw greens contain the enzymes and heat-sensitive vitamins of the living plant. However, it’s crucial to chew them very thoroughly or blend them.
People with sensitive digestive tracts find some greens easier to digest when steamed or added to soups or stews. (This is definitely true of Brussels sprouts!) Likewise, cooking mellows the flavor. This is a big benefit for folks who aren’t used to the bitter taste of greens yet. They can usually eat and enjoy more greens at a time.
A third benefit is that cooking ruptures the cell walls, making the minerals easy to digest (even for people who don’t chew meticulously).
But be aware that prolonged cooking can destroy the enzymes and water-soluble vitamins. So be sure not to overcook! Greens are done when they’re bright green and tender. If you already have an acquired taste for greens, you can steam or blanche the veggies to minimize the loss of nutrients.
Here’s a quick list of appropriate cooking times when boiling:
Arugula: 3 minutes
Bok choy & Chinese cabbage: 3 minutes
Brussels sprouts: 5 minutes
Cabbage (green and red): 5 minutes
Chard and beet greens: 3 to 4 minutes
Collard greens: 6 or 7 minutes
Dandelion greens: 5 minutes
Kale: 5 minutes
Mustard greens: 5 minutes
Spinach: 30 seconds
Turnip Greens: 5 minutes
Soft greens such as bok choy and Chinese cabbage, sometimes with a small amount of arugula or watercress, are great with sauces or in raw or pressed salads.
Other soft greens such as chard, beet greens and spinach contain oxalic acid that can be diminished up to 15% by cooking. All these greens can be dressed with the same toppings you’d include on a raw salad.
It’s true that when vegetables are boiled, some of their nutrients are released into the cooking water. The solution?
Since the nutrients stay in the water, you can drink the liquid, which in most cases is sweet tasting after it’s had time to cool. It’s called the “sweet vegetable drink” in macrobiotic healing. Alternatively, you can let the liquid cool, and then feed it to your house plants.
 The Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health, 2nd Edition, Robert Ronzio, PhD, 2005, Checkmark Books, p513.
 Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encylopedia, Penguin Books, 1999, p.xx
 The George Mateljan Foundation, The World’s Healthiest Foods,
Tags: Bitter Greens, Bitter Taste, Brussels Sprouts, Celery, Cell Walls, Chard, Collard Greens, Dandelion, Dandelion Greens, Digestive Tracts, Kale, Lettuce, Meredith Mccarty, Mustard Greens, Powerhouses, Red Cabbage, Rundown, Soluble Salts, Spinach, Stews, Turbo Charge