10 Healthiest Leafy Green Vegetables
One of the most important parts of a healthy diet is leafy, green vegetables. They are nutritional powerhouses packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they don't load you up with calories. Greens are also a great source of fiber, which supports your digestive health and promotes healthy gut bacteria.
Here are the top 10 healthiest leafy greens to include in your diet:
There are so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in kale that it is considered one of the most nutrient dense vegetables available.
When you look at what is in 1 cup of kale, it becomes easy to see why. It has 684% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin K, 134% of the DV for vitamin C and a whopping 206% of the DV for vitamin A1.
Lutein, beta-carotene and other antioxidants are also found in kale. They reduce your risk for diseases associated with oxidative stress.
It is best to eat kale raw so you get all of the benefits.
The immature greens that grow from seeds of herbs and vegetables are known as microgreens. They are usually anywhere from 1-3 inches long.
Many people have used these as a garnish or a decoration but they are also full of nutrients.
Even though they are small, they have loads of flavor, color and the goodness that our body needs. One study has even shown that there are as many as 40 times more nutrients in microgreens compared to the mature counterparts. Some of the vitamins you can expect to find in microgreens include vitamins C, E, and K2.
You can grow microgreens at home any time of the year so they are easy to acquire.
3. Collard Greens
Looseleaf greens known as collard greens are related to kale and spring greens. They have a slightly bitter taste.
The texture of collard greens is similar to cabbage and kale, which is perhaps why the word is associated with 'colewort'.
You will find plenty of calcium in collard greens, along with vitamins A, C, and B9 (folate). They also contain a lot of vitamin K and are an excellent source for that vitamin. 1 cup of cooked collard greens has over 1000% of the DV for vitamin K!
Vitamin K is beneficial for blood clotting and research is ongoing in its benefit to improving bone health.
A study that involved 72,327 women between the ages of 38-63 showed that those who had a higher vitamin K intake had a reduced risk of hip fractures. Those who consumed less than 109 mcg per day of vitamin K were more likely to experience a hip fracture3.
Most people are probably more familiar with spinach than any other leafy green vegetable. You can include it in salads, soups, sauces, smoothies, and many other dishes.
Spinach has a rather impressive nutrient profile and 1 cup of raw spinach has 181% of the DV for vitamin K, 56% of the DV for vitamin A and 13% of the DV for manganese.
You also find plenty of folate in spinach, which can benefit you with increased red blood cell production and the prevention of neural tube defects during pregnancy.
There was a study associated with neural tube defect spinal Bifida and it found that one of the ways to prevent the risks associated with it was to include a low intake of folate during the first trimester4.
Taking a prenatal vitamin can benefit but eating spinach is another way to increase your folate intake during pregnancy.
Cabbage comes from the thick leaves that grow in clusters of green, purple and white. It is in the Brassica family, as are kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
The bitter flavor that is found in vegetables within this family comes from the glucosinolates that are contained within them.
Studies on animals show that these types of foods contain compounds that may actually prevent cancer, especially esophageal and lung cancer5.
You can also ferment cabbage and turn it into sauerkraut, which contains its own host of health benefits. Sauerkraut and other fermented foods can improve the digestive process and support the immune system. There is even some evidence that it can help with weight loss.
6. Beet Greens
Beets have been used for centuries because of their health benefits. They also contain a very high level of nutrients and can be used in many dishes but the greens are often ignored.
When you realize exactly how many nutrients are found in beet greens, however, you may never throw them away again. They are rich in calcium, riboflavin, potassium, fiber and vitamins A and K. 1 cup of cooked beet greens has 220% of the DV for vitamin A, and 37% of the DV for potassium. It also contains 17% of the fiber you need every day.
If that wasn't enough, beet greens also contain beta-carotene and lutein, which are powerful antioxidants. They may be able to help reduce your risk for certain eye disorders, including cataracts and macular degeneration6.
You can use beet greens in or on soups, salads or just eat them as a side dish.
Watercress is similar to mustard greens or arugula because they are all from the Brassicaceae family. It is an aquatic plant that is renowned for its healing properties and has been used for centuries as a healing herb but as of yet, there are not any human studies on those benefits.
There were test tube studies done, however, that showed the beneficial effects of watercress in targeting cancer stem cells and limiting the reproduction and invasion of cancer cells7.
Watercress is often added to neutrally flavored foods because it is bitter tasting.
8. Romaine Lettuce
This is one of the most noticeable types of leafy green vegetables. It has a firm center and dark, sturdy leaves. The crunchy texture makes it a popular choice for salads, especially Caesar salad.
Romaine lettuce has 82% of the vitamin A you need every day and 60% of the vitamin K in only one cup.
In addition, research done on rats showed that consuming romaine lettuce was beneficial for improving blood lipid levels, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Additional studies are necessary to prove that factor7.
9. Swiss Chard
The thick stalk and dark green leaves of Swiss chard are easily recognizable. It can be red, yellow, white or green and it is frequently used in Mediterranean dishes. Swiss chard is in the same family as spinach and beets.
Swiss chard has plenty of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C, and K. It also contains a flavonoid known as syringic acid that may help to lower blood sugar levels.
Two small studies were done on rats with diabetes that included 30 days of oral administration of syringic acid. In doing so, it helped to improve the blood sugar levels in those rats9.
These were only small animal studies, however, and there is not as much support to the claim that it may help with humans.
Some people throw away the stems of Swiss chard but they also contain a high level of nutrition. Try adding them to various dishes, including casserole, soup, and tacos.
Coming from the Brassicaceae family, arugula is known by many names, including colewort, roquette, rocket, rucola, and rucoli. It is known for its peppery taste and can easily be added as a garnish or into salads. It has also been used medicinally for centuries.
Arugula has many nutrients, including vitamins B9 and K and Provitamin A carotenoids. It also contains high levels of dietary nitrates, which become nitric acid in the human body.
The debate over the benefits of nitrates continues but some studies show they can improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure because they widen your blood vessels.
A quick and easy way to get more greens in your diet is to try NATURELO's Raw Greens Whole Food powder, packed with greens, herbal extracts, natural fiber, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. It can easily be mixed with water or juice to create a refreshing smoothie.
1. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2461/2, Kale, raw Nutrition Facts & Calories
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22812633, Assessment of vitamin and carotenoid concentrations of emerging food products: edible microgreens, 2012 Aug 8;60(31):7644-51. doi: 10.1021/jf300459b. Epub 2012 Jul 30
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9925126?dopt=Citation, Vitamin K intake and hip fractures in women: a prospective study, 1999 Jan;69(1):74-9
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29786583, Incidence and risk factors of spina bifida in children, 2018;71(2 pt 2):339-344
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11887749/, Glucosinolates: bioavailability and importance to health, 2002 Jan;72(1):26-31
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13679014, Are lutein and zeaxanthin conditionally essential nutrients for eye health?, 2003 Oct;61(4):465-72
7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29890115, From chemo-prevention to epigenetic regulation: The role of isothiocyanates in skin cancer prevention, 2018 Oct;190:187-201. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2018.06.001. Epub 2018 Jun 8
8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15297097, Health effect of vegetable-based diet: lettuce consumption improves cholesterol metabolism and antioxidant status in the rat, 2004 Aug;23(4):605-14
9. https://doaj.org/article/31095165966f46dbbc00d5fdcc6727c5, Syringic acid, a novel natural phenolic acid, normalizes hyperglycemia with special reference to glycoprotein components in experimental diabetic rats, 2013;2(4):304-309 DOI 10.1016/S2221-6189(13)60149-3
10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4288952/, Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, February 1, 2015