Leafy greens are some of the healthiest foods around, offering essential vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in a low-calorie package. But some leafy greens are healthier than others, so make sure you’re choosing wisely when you go to the grocery store or farmer’s market. This article gives you the healthiest leafy greens that you can start consuming today.
What are leafy greens?
Leafy greens refer to any plant with leaves and stems that are eaten as vegetables. Some leafy greens can be light, while others are dark green.
Dark greens are always considered the best since dark color indicates high antioxidant levels. The lighter versions still contain some antioxidants but are more of an excellent fiber source.
Health Benefits of Leafy Greens
- They are rich in cancer-fighting compounds
- Aid digestion
- Improves cognitive function
- They may help maintain a healthy weight
- Regulates glucose levels
- Protects your eyes and vision
- Lower blood pressure and promote heart health
Healthiest Leafy Greens to Consume
Kale is one of nature’s superfoods, brimming with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s easy to prepare in a wide variety of dishes—from hot to cold, sweet to savory—making it a versatile choice for any meal of the day. See How To Grow Kale?
One cup of kale contains only 33 calories but provides almost 5 grams of fiber, which can help keep you feeling full longer. In addition to being a good source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), kale also contains vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
Kale is an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that may play a role in eye health. Research has shown that eating foods rich in these nutrients may reduce your risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration. Plus, kale contains kaempferol, another antioxidant compound that may play a role in reducing inflammation throughout your body.
A cup of chopped raw kale provides about
- Calories: 35.5
- Protein: 2.2 gram
- Fiber: 1.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 10302 IU, or 47 percent of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 80.4 mg, or 134 percent of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 547 mcg, or 684 percent of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 19.4 mcg, or 5 percent of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.5 mg, or 26 percent of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 90.5 mg, 9 percent of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 299 mg, or 9 percent of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 22.8 mg, or 6 percent of the daily recommendation
- Iron: 1.1 mg, or 6 percent of the daily recommendation
Kale also offers some amounts of vitamins B1, B2, and B3.
The best part? You don’t have to cook kale before enjoying its many benefits; try adding chopped kale leaves to salads, soups, or smoothies. If you want to add some flavor without adding extra calories, consider using lemon juice and sea salt instead of dressing on your next salad made with kale. Lemon juice is especially delicious paired with kale!
However, it’s best consumed raw as cooking may lose some of the nutrients. Thai Kale Salad.
2. Collard greens
Collard greens are cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens with multiple health benefits. They fight cancer, improve digestive health, offer detox benefits, and are one of the best sources of vitamin A, C, and K, and soluble fiber. They also contain vitamin B6 and minerals including calcium, magnesium, and choline.
Collards are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and can help lower blood pressure. These greens also provide a good amount of dietary fiber—about 4 grams per cooked cup—and an impressive list of antioxidants, including zeaxanthin, lutein, and beta-carotene.
In addition, collards contain folate, another B vitamin that’s important for heart health. With 36 calories in one cup of cooked collard greens, they make for a great low-carb diet.
A cup of cooked collard greens provides
- Calories: 49.4
- Protein: 4.0 gram
- Fiber: 5.3 grams
- Vitamin A: 15416 IU, or 308 percent of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin E: 1.7 mg, or 8 percent of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 34.6 mg, or 58 percent of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 836 mcg, or 1045 percent of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 177 mcg, or 44 percent of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.8 mg, or 41 percent of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 266 mg, 27 percent of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 220 mg, or 6 percent of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 38.0 mg, or 10 percent of the daily recommendation
- Iron: 2.2 mg, or 12 percent of the daily recommendation
You can enjoy collard greens in salads, wraps, or sandwiches. They can also be boiled, braised, sautéed, or included in soups and stews. See, Gomen, Vegan Instant Pot Collard Greens, Vegan collard greens.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense greens available. It contains high levels of vitamin K, A, and folate. Spinach is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin—two carotenoids that are thought to protect against age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness). If you don’t want to eat raw spinach, sauté it with onions or garlic for extra flavor and nutrition. See How To Grow Spinach?
And if you’re not into leafy greens, remember that dark green veggies like spinach have more nutrients per calorie than any other food group! As such, you can eat more of them without going overboard on calories.
The easiest way to add spinach to your diet is by making smoothies: just throw some frozen berries, mangoes, and ice cubes into your blender and some plant-based yogurt and milk. For an added protein punch, throw in some nuts.
One cup of raw spinach provides
- Calories: 6.9
- Protein: 0.9 gram
- Fiber: 0.7 grams
- Vitamin A: 2813 IU, or 56% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 8.4 mg, or 14% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 145 mcg, or 181% of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 58.2 mcg, or 15% of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.3 mg, or 13% of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 29.7 mg, 3% of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 167 mg, or 5% of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 23.7 mg, or 3% of the daily recommendation
- Iron: 0.8 mg, or 5% of the daily recommendation
However, according to USDA, cooked spinach contains more concentrated nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamin A, and vitamin K compared to the raw version. See Spinach Pakora, Sauteed Frozen Spinach, Vegan Spinach Soup.
Cabbage is another leafy green belonging to the same family as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
It’s rich in glucosinate, a compound with anti-cancer properties. Glucosinates also exhibit characteristics similar to those of an antibiotic and may help fight bacterial, fungal, and viral infections in the body, especially in the intestines.
It’s inexpensive, easy to cook with, and not only good for you but also versatile. Cabbage can be eaten raw or cooked – its mild flavor pairs well with nearly every kind of dish, from salads to soup to stir-fries and more. If you’re looking for a way to add some variety to your diet without spending a lot of money, try adding a few cups of shredded cabbage to your weekly menu plan. You might find that it quickly becomes one of your go-to healthy ingredients!
One cup (89 grams) of raw green cabbage contains:
- Calories: 22
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin K: 67.6 mcg, or 85% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 32.6 mg, or 54% of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 38.3 mcg, or 10% of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.1 mg, or 7% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg, or 6% of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 35.6 mg, 4% of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 151 mg, or 4% of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 10.7 mg, or 3% of the daily recommendation
5. Romaine lettuce
At only 2 calories per cup, romaine lettuce is a great addition to any diet. Like other leafy greens, romaine is also high in vitamins A and k, with a cup providing 82 % and 60% of the daily requirements, respectively.
A cup of shredded romaine lettuce contains:
- Calories: 8
- Protein: 0.6 gram
- Fiber: 1.0 gram
- Vitamin A: 4094 IU, or 82% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 11.3 mg, or 19% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 48.2 mcg, or 60% of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 63.9 mcg, or 16% of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.1 mg, or 4% of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 15.5 mg, 2% of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 116 mg, or 3% of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 6.6 mg, or 2% of the daily recommendation
It also contains antioxidants that help fight off free radicals in your body.
It has a light taste, so add it to salads for a refreshing crunch. It can also be used as a wrap or sandwich filling. Romaine lettuce is also popular as a significant ingredient in Caesar salads. See How To Grow Lettuce?
There are many varieties of romaine, including some with red leaves that may be more appealing than traditional varieties. Romaine Lettuce Nutrition And Benefits.
With a distinctively peppery flavor, arugula is another leafy green that’s often recommended by nutritionists. It’s rich in dietary nitrates, which increase nitric oxide in the body. It’s also loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. This vegetable is best enjoyed raw or lightly cooked (add it to salads or sandwiches).
While some people find its spicy taste unpleasant, others enjoy it very much. The same goes for its aroma—some people love it while others don’t. If you fall into the latter category, try eating a little bit of arugula at first before adding more. Once you get used to it, you might even come to love its pungent flavor.
Nitric oxide is essential for different functions, including dilatation and relaxation of blood vessels, causing blood pressure to drop. It also offers good amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B9, or folate. Arugula Benefits.
100 grams of arugula contains
- Calories: 25
- Protein: 2.6 gram
- Fiber: 1.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 2373 IU, or 47% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 15 mg, or 25% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 109 mcg, or 136% of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 97 mcg, or 24% of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.3 mg, or 16% of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 15.5 mg, 2% of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 369 mg, or 11% of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 47 mg, or 12% of the daily recommendation
- Iron: 1.5 mg, or 8% of the daily recommendation
7. Beet greens
Most people are familiar with beets, while Beet Greens go unnoticed. This is very unfortunate since these leaves are edible and very beneficial. They are a great source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, calcium, and fiber.
A cup of raw beet greens contains
- Calories: 8.4
- Protein: 0.8 gram
- Fiber: 1.4 gram
- Vitamin A: 2404 IU, or 48% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin C: 11.4 mg, or 19% of the daily recommendation
- Vitamin K: 152 mcg, or 190% of the daily recommendation
- Folate: 5.7 mcg, or 1% of the daily recommendation
- Manganese: 0.1 mg, or 7% of the daily recommendation
- Calcium: 44.5 mg, 4% of the daily recommendation
- Potassium: 290 mg, or 8% of the daily recommendation
- Magnesium: 26.6 mg, or 7% of the daily recommendation
Beet greens are also rich in lutein, an antioxidant that fights against cataracts and macular degeneration.
A close relative of chard, beet greens has a similarly sweet, slightly earthy flavor. Toss them into stir-fries for a dash of extra nutrition—they’re also high in vitamins A and C. Garlicky sautéed beet greens are delicious as a side dish. Prepare them by slicing off any thick stems and peeling off any thick veins before adding to your favorite recipes.
They can also be used raw in salads; just like spinach, they wilt easily with heat. You can also add some crunch to sandwiches or wraps with sliced or shredded beet greens. Like other leafy greens, it’s best to wash your fresh leaves thoroughly before using them.
These are immature greens from seeds of vegetables and herbs harvested just after developing the cotyledon leaves, usually within 7-10 days. They are typically considered baby plants and fall between sprouts and baby greens.
Microgreens are concentrated in nutrients, thus offering more health benefits than mature plants. They are also rich in aromatic flavor and have been used as a garnish and in salads.
Besides, they are easy to grow since they take such a short period before the harvest. This offers almost zero maintenance compared to bigger plants.
You can use almost any vegetable seeds to grow microgreens; however, the most delicious and flavorful microgreens to try include:
To grow the best microgreens, germinate the seeds in a dark environment with cool temperatures.
After germination, use a growing light to keep the microgreens close-packed.
Leafy greens are one of the healthiest types of vegetables to eat, and with good reason – they’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can help you improve your overall well-being.
There are tons of ways to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet, including using them in stir-fry, salads, sandwiches, and even smoothies.
However, not all leafy greens are created equal when it comes to nutritional value; some have more vitamins and minerals, and other nutrients than others!
The healthiest leafy greens to include in your diet include kale, collard greens, swiss chard, microgreens, spinach, cabbage, arugula, beet greens, and romaine lettuce.
You can still incorporate any leafy greens outside of this list but ensure that you add more of these to your diet to ensure maximum benefits.
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