The Nutritional Benefits of Leafy Greens

by Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. Health Professional, Medical Reviewer

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend including at least 1 ½ cups of dark, leafy greens in our diet each week. The nutritional content of these greens is unparalleled. They are high in potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. Kale, collard greens, and cabbage have been shown to play a role in cancer prevention. Spinach, kale and turnip greens are high in lutein, which is a phytochemical that may decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration. And for only 5 to 40 calories per cup, leafy greens are a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into your diet for minimal calories. Here are a few greens to add to your diet this week:


Spinach is a great source of folate, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. Raw spinach is great in a salad or added to your sandwich toppings. Because of its high water content (over 90 percent), spinach should be cooked very quickly, by steaming or sautéing, just until the leaves are wilted. Spinach is also an excellent addition to soups and side dishes.

Recipes with spinach:

Green Smoothie

Wild Salmon Stuffed with Spinach and Feta

Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach Quiche


Kale has become increasingly popular due to its nutritional and health benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as lutein and calcium. Kale can be eaten raw or sautéed. Adding an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or vinegar will help to soften the leaves in a salad.

Recipes with Kale:

Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza

Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

Collard Greens

Collards are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and fiber. The phytochemicals in collard greens have been shown to promote heart health and may help prevent some types of cancer. Collards can be cooked a number of ways and added to various main and side dishes. Adding vinegar when cooking can help to decrease the bitterness of the leaves.

Recipe with Collards:

Smoked Turkey Wings and Greens


Cabbage is high in fiber and a good source of vitamins C and K. Cabbage can be eaten raw, steamed, or added to soups. The leaves can also be stuffed to create a main dish. Adding cabbage to salad and slaws helps to provide an additional crunch. Flavorful spices such as dill and mustard can help to enhance the mild flavor of cabbage.

Recipe with Cabbage:

Unstuffed Cabbage and Kraut

Mustard Greens

Like most leafy greens, mustards are high in vitamins A, C, K, fiber, and calcium. They can be steamed or eaten raw as salad greens due it their unique, peppery flavor. Try them in a grain bowl!

Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are an excellent source of vitamin A, C, and K. They are also a great source of fiber and calcium, and contain more lutein than any other green. Try sautéing them for the best flavor.


Arugula is often eaten raw as both lettuce and as a salad green. It is popular in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It is an excellent source of vitamin K and can also be added to pasta dishes, sandwiches, eggs, and salad.

Recipes with Arugula:

Fruit and Greens Super Salad

Shrimp and Chicken Sausage Arugula Salad


Chard contains key nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium, as well as vitamins A and C. Tender chard can be eaten raw in salads, while more bitter mature varieties are sautéed, often with olive oil and lemon juice.

Recipe with Chard:

Bacon, Leek and Swiss Chard Omelet

The Bottom Line

Dark, leafy greens are packed with more nutrition than any other fruit or vegetable. They are available year-round and can keep fresh in your refrigerator crisper for up to a week. Delicious either raw or cooked, try adding several servings of these greens to your diet each week to maximize their nutritional and health benefits.

Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Meet Our Writer
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

Carmen is a Registered Dietitian. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she has spent her career working at Johns Hopkins and is also an adjunct faculty instructor for Excelsior College. Carmen has over 20 years of experience in nutritional counseling, education, writing, and program management and is a certified specialist in adult weight management. She enjoys educating her students and clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness.