Since childhood, we've been bombarded by parents, teachers, advertisements and even cartoons (yes, I'm looking at you, Popeye) telling us to eat our greens — "They're good for you!" Although true, we rarely dig much deeper into what "good for you" really means. Little do many of us know that some fantastic nutrients are hiding in green parts of our veggies — parts that often end up in our trash bin. From carrot tops to beet leaves, these "secret greens" are a fabulous addition to your next meal.
Greens, in general, are powerful sources of nutrients — your parents (and Popeye) weren't wrong. Greens are great sources of folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin K, calcium and magnesium. It's true that they're good for your bones and your body. But, like any other food, you can add to their benefits by varying the types of greens you're putting into your body. By making use of the secret greens that come along with your veggies like carrots or beets, you get to add more nutritional variety to your diet while incorporating new flavors into your foods.
Carrot tops are an earthy, complex green that pack more vitamin C than their root (the carrot), as well as lots of potassium and other phytonutrients. Similarly, beet greens are a powerful source of antioxidants, vitamin K and copper. Both of these "secret greens" have superpowers that are completely separate from their normally consumed root counterparts.
Since greens grow above ground on top of sandy soil that their roots are best suited to, they may contain higher levels of pesticides. To get the most out of your secret greens, buy organic when possible and make sure to wash well with lukewarm water and veggie wash (or diluted castile soap).
Leafy greens and roots often contain a chemical known as oxalic acid. Oxalic acid, when consumed in small amounts as part of a balanced diet, is normally harmless but is known to cause stomach irritation and kidney problems when consumed in excess.
How to Use It
There are many great ways to incorporate these unique greens into your diet. Carrot greens have an earthy, unsurprisingly carrot-like flavor. These greens can be finely chopped and added to salsas, stir-fries, and many other dishes. An Argentinian-style carrot top chimichurri sauce (finely chopped carrot greens, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and salt) is fast, simple, and adds a big punch of flavor to sandwiches, burgers, and more.
Beet leaves are a sweeter green leaf and have a flavor not unlike chard. They're great simply sautéed with some garlic and balance beautifully with an alfredo pasta. Even better, wash well and toss with your favorite salad greens to add a new twist to your salads.
Stacey Aggarwal received a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Washington. She writes about biology, health and nutrition while running a lavender farm in North Idaho.