Whether it’s for a new years resolution, more energy, vitamins or just better health in general, adding more leafy greens to the menu is always a good idea. Spinach and Kale are in the spotlight lately with salads, breakfast bowls, smoothies, “Buddha Bowls”, omelets and more. But, you shouldn’t be eating these leafy greens unless you’re also having a healthy fat at the same meal. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on a big chunk of the nutrition you were looking for. But how and why should you do this? Find out with this article.
What is a fat soluble vitamin?
A fat soluble vitamin is a healthy organic compound that your body can only absorb if a fat is present at the same time the vitamin is consumed. Only a lipid can dissolve (and make useful) the vitamins A, D, E and K. It is the small intestine’s job to absorb these vitamins in their lipid droplets as they pass through it along with other foods. The vitamins are then either stored in the tissue of the body, or used to do their job in various body functions. Spinach, kale and other leafy greens are a great source of these fat soluble essential compounds.
So where’s the problem?
If there isn’t a lipid present in the small intestine along with these vitamins, they’ll just be ignored by the body and won’t do you any good. Having a spinach salad with no fats at all at dinner, and then eating a dessert with fats later won’t help. The spinach enters the intestine first, and without fat where it breaks down, the vitamins aren’t absorbed.
This used to combated with salad dressings like the traditional oil and vinegar dressing. However, these days you’ll run into two extremes of dressing; the low fat/non fat variety, and the restaurant type where it has way too many fats, sugars or other additives that make the salad not worth its while. The other issue is inside of smoothies, bowls, and greens at breakfast. Unless they’re in an omelet, there’s unlikely to be a fat on the table at the same time. A smoothie with kale, banana, pineapple and rice milk is common… but where’s that healthy fat? It’s just missing.
Healthy fats and vitamins working together for you:
Now that you know how fat soluble vitamins work, you’ll want to work on getting some healthy fat into the meal at the same time. Of course, not all fats are created equal. There’s the nasty ‘trans fat’ you hear about in the news, plus monounsaturated fats, animal fats, hydrogenated oils, unhydrogenated oils, plant fats, omega 3s, omega 6s, middle-chain triglycerides and fish oils… the list just goes on and on.
But, choosing the right type of fat is important for good absorption and good health. Of course, trans-fats are no good, so what’s a healthy, easy and versatile one to choose? Plant sourced lipids are a good place to start. Unlike hydrogenated oils they may not be all that shelf stable or long lasting, but neither is fresh fruit and nobody seems to mind. Good sources of these include nuts, nut-butters, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, cacao nibs and tahini.
The solution is delicious (and easy!)
If you’re setting out to have a salad, consider making your own dressing. It’s often as easy as pour, shake to mix & then use. Also consider crunching up your salad with sunflower seeds, chia seeds, or nuts instead of croutons. Each seed and nut has healthy omega 3 oils, protein and a great taste and texture for the salad. Include olive oil: preferably cold press / first press. Olive oil is rich with just the kind of healthy fats needed for the great vitamins in a healthy salad. Omega 3 and 6 oils, when they are in balance, help form healthy skin membranes (for young looking skin), contribute to brain health, and help nourish hair follicles. An olive oil based salad dressing with healthy seeds in it like chia, used over a baby-spinach salad & topped with crunchy nuts is a healthy and tasty way to get started.
Do you want to try a make at home dressing?
This recipe is super simple to start you off right.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dry chia seeds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Simply combine all ingredients in a lidded container and shake to mix. You’re now ready for salad!
When you mix up quick dressings at home, you don’t get preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, and you get just the taste you want. The internet is a wealth of easy dressing recipes, just a search away.
How about those breakfast bowls?
Don’t like salad? That’s OK, there’s a fun, fruity way to get your greens… without even tasting them! The answer here is the smoothie or breakfast bowl. When you blend kale with pineapple and banana… you don’t even taste it. (Kale is notoriously a little bit bitter and tough, not everybody’s going to enjoy eating the leaves, no matter what you top them with) However, nobody wants olive oil in the blender & coconut oil will just make it greasy.
You can let nut butter be one of your answers here. A swirl of natural peanut butter (skip that high fructose corn syrup stuff), or a spoon full of almond-butter is super in chocolate or berry smoothies. Naturally, any smoothie or bowl can be topped with nuts to add crunch and the healthy fats you need as well. But what if you’ve got a bowl where nut butter just won’t work?
The sweet or savory omega-3 oil solution seed
The problem (if it could even be called that) with the other healthy fats on the list is either the texture (oily oils!) or the taste (no one wants a walnut in their pineapple). So, what if you could have something with calcium, magnesium, b-vitamins, omega 3 healthy oils, antioxidants, complete plant protein AND two kinds of fiber… that didn’t change the taste of the food?
You’d really be in business for healthier eating… and you’d have the chia seed on your side. Chia seeds are tiny, so they’ll blend or mix into almost anything. They also don’t have a flavor, so you’ll never taste them… but they do contain that whole list of benefits seen above, and more. They’re perfect for adding to any smoothie or bowl because they don’t alter the flavor. They’re great for savory salad dressings, soups and sandwiches too because they’re as easy to use as ‘sprinkle it in’. When you have chia, you don’t have to worry about getting the healthy fats into any flavor of green smoothie or bowl.
With this knowledge, you can now enjoy your greens more and enjoy more nutrition from them as well. By choosing the right kinds of fats and exploring more flavor options your spinach and kale can go well beyond the salad and you’ll know you’re always getting all the available vitamins and minerals. Eating better every day doesn’t have to be difficult, and when you’re feeling the results, it’s easy to want to keep going. Seek out the combinations you love and easy sources of omega 3s & you’ll be on the way to better health.