Everything you need to know about leafy green vegetables

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Anyone who keeps an eye on current vegan nutritional advice and debate will surely have come across the phrase ‘leafy green vegetables’. In this post, I’ll consider what constitutes a leafy green, why they are so important for our diets and what this means for vegans living in France.

Leafy green vegetables
Image by analogicus from Pixabay

Why are leafy greens so good for us?

For  a start, as we all know, despite what the carnists would have us believe, vegetables contain protein. Not as much as legumes, soy and nuts maybe, but nevertheless spinach comes in tops at 2.6 grams per half cup (3.8g for frozen) and broccoli is not far behind at 2.3 grams. And, leafy greens are also a good source of calcium, although here it’s best to err in favour of low oxalate veg like kale, collards, broccoli and turnip greens. [Too much high-oxalate veg like spinach, chard and rhubarb can affect the absorption of calcium.] Other vitamins and minerals provided by your daily green veg are vitamins C and K, and folate.

Healthwise, the virtues of leafy greens range from reducing obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure to helping fight diabetes. In a 2018 study published in Neurology, one serving a day was shown to slow cognitive decline in older participants.

How many leafy green vegetables are there?

This Healthline article counts at least 13 different leafy green vegetables: kale, microgreens, collard greens (loose-leaf small kale and spring greens), spinach, cabbage – white, green and purple, beet greens, watercress, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, rocket, endive, bok/pak choy and turnip greens. Add in broccoli – not strictly ‘leafy’ – and there’s a choice of 14. But can we get this wide choice here in France?

Where to buy your greens

When I first started researching this post I wasn’t overly optimistic about what we could buy easily in France. Looking at this list, I could only find four on sale fresh in our local supermarket. But it was time to think a bit wider. Spinach is usually available fresh, at least in winter and spring, and if not there are usually several offerings available in the frozen section; these seem to work just as well as fresh in most recipes. Cabbage is also a winter staple, but watch the pricing here. The last time I bought a supermarket red cabbage (priced per kg, rather than per piece) it was €3.86 (they are usually cheaper in Grand Frais).

Rocket can usually be found in the pre-washed (deja lavé) bags in the chilled cabinets, alongside lettuce. In winter and early spring, endive – a French favourite – is available just about everywhere. There’s a guy who comes to our local market who sells nothing but endives, and very good they are too. I’d totally discounted ‘beet greens’ but, of course, if you buy beetroot or turnips with their ‘tops’ on, then you can rinse these leaves and use them in salads and stews.

Other more unusual (for France) leafy greens can be tracked down in Grand Frais, if you are lucky enough to have one within a reasonable distance, including kale, loose ‘jeune pousse’ leaves, watercress and often oriental and Asian greens.

An extra for the list

France can add its own favourite to the list: blette. From the beetroot family, this is a type of chard. The nearest equivalent being swiss chard. Blette has been grown in France since the Middle Ages and there are numerous traditional recipes for blette, including a pie – Tourte de blette – which hails from Provence. Blette is usually available all the year round, although its traditional season is May to October.

Green veg vocab

Beetrootla betterave
Broccolile broccoli
Cabbagele chou
Endivel’endive
Kalele chou-kale
Rocket (arugula) la roquette
Romaine letteucela laitue romaine
Spinachl’épinard
spring greensles jeunes pousses
swiss chardla blette
turniple navet
watercressle cresson

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