These top nine leafy greens are loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals. Find out which ones are great and one thats not so great in this post.
Leafy greens are one of the most concentrated sources of nutrients on the planet. They’re rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium; Vitamins like B, C, E, and K. They’re also full of phytonutrients like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Some say that our ancient ancestors ate up to six pounds of leaves per day as they walked and foraged for food. In our modern lifestyle, we’re lucky to get 3 cups of lettuce in.
With that said, not all greens are created equal. Here are the top 9 leafy greens ranked from least to most nutritious (plus 1 to probably avoid):
#9. Romaine Lettuce
One of my favorite leafy greens, a serving of romaine lettuce contains around 1 gram of protein. It also has 44% of our RDA of omega 3 fatty acids. Romaine is high in calcium, vitamin C, and a good source of iron and B vitamins. Delightfully crunchy and refreshing, romaine lettuce is wonderful for salads of all kinds. It is also a great base for green smoothies or juices.
#8. Swiss chard
Coming in colors like red, green and rainbow, swiss chard is a popular leafy green. And for good reason. It’s a great source of vitamins A and C, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which help maintain eye health and may reduce the risk of cataracts. Swiss chard is high oxalates, which can be problematic for those with a history of kidney stones, vulva pain or other oxalate issues. Cooking can reduce some of the oxalates so try steaming it lightly with a splash of olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Not as popular as some of the other greens, collards are a nutritional powerhouse. High in vitamins A, C, K, as well as calcium, folate, manganese, and tryptophan. Interesting to note: steamed collard greens beat out steamed kale, mustard greens, in its ability to bind bile acids in the digestive tract. By doing so, this leafy green can help reduce cholesterol levels. Collards are best cooked to unlock nutrition and increate digestibility.
#6. Mustard greens
Mustard greens provide some of the highest concentrations of vitamins. One cup provides 524% the RDA of vitamin K, 177% the RDA of vitamin A and 59% the RDA of vitamin C. They’re also a good source of sulphur, which helps the body’s detoxification process. Interesting to note: Mustard greens are so good at storing metals and minerals that they are used to help clean the soil of hazardous waste sites! Mustard greens have a peppery flavor that mellows with cooking. Best to eat cooked in sautes, soups, and baked grain dishes.
#5. Turnip greens
Like many of the other leafy greens, turnip greens are high in vitamin A, C, and K. They contain incredibly high amounts of calcium (4X that of cabbage and 2X that of mustard greens). Furthermore, they contain antioxidant-rich phytonutrients such as hydroxycinnamic acid, quercetin, myricetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol. These cancer-fighting properties makes turnip greens a great addition to everyone’s diet. Try them steamed with lemon or ginger. Put in soups or with whole grains for a delicious addition.
Popeye’s favorite, this leafy green scores 2nd of any vegetable with a ORAC score of around 1,200. The ORAC score measures the antioxidant capacity of a certain food. The higher the score, the more the food neutralizes free radicals and slows the aging and disease process. This dark green is high in vitamins A and C as well as folate. Spinach is best consumed in omelets, soups and other cooked dishes because it’s high in oxalates.
Kale is king! Well, king of third place. Kale has the highest ORAC score (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of any vegetable. Kale also contains organosulfur compounds, which are known to fight cancer and sulforaphane, which boosts immunity. Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, has more iron than beef, and contains ample calcium, folate and potassium. Kale is delicious lightly steamed and brushed with olive oil and garlic. Kale chips also make a nutritious and tasty snack!
One of the most versatile leafy greens, cabbage has a broad spectrum of nutrients. Some call it the multivitamin of the plant kingdom. Like many leafy greens, regular cabbage consumption may help ward off cancer. But cabbage is extra potent because its rich in antioxidants and glucosinolates, which in studies can destroy tumor cells. Cabbage can be eaten raw in slaws or fermented to make sauerkraut (which packs a nice probiotic punch). If you have a thyroid condition, you want to consume raw in moderation since it contains goitrogens.
#1. Dandelion Greens
Of all the leafy greens, dandelion greens have been used medicinally more so than any other leafy green. For centuries, people have used them to help purify the blood, boost the digestive process, improve elimination, support liver and kidney function, and many more conditions. Dandelion greens can also reduce inflammation by inhibiting interleukins and other immune reactions. Furthermore, dandelion leaf extract decreased growth of breast cancer cells and blocked the spread of prostate cancer in studies.
Who knew a weed could deliver so much? They’re also high in calcium, vitamin A and potassium. Due to their bitter taste, they are best consumed cooked or paired with sweet fruit/dressings if used raw in a salad. Check out this great dandelion greens recipe round-up
for more ideas.
And the dud is… Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce gets a bad rap because it’s essentially water and nutritionally weak. While it does contain some vitamin A, K and antioxidants, its negligible when compared to other leafy greens. One interesting note, iceberg does contain naturally occurring opiates which can help induce sleep. A folklore remedy for insomnia includes juicing 1/2 a head of organic iceberg lettuce about an hour before bedtime.
How about you?
What’s your favorite leafy green? How do you like to prepare it?