The Nutritional Benefits of Leafy Greensby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.