Eat Your Greens: 6 Leafy Greens to Add to Your Diet and Why
Leafy greens, a.k.a. the edible leaves of a plant. Sounds pretty basic, but they’re typically incredibly nutrient-dense (lots of nutrients and lower in calories) and very good for our bodies. Plus, there are hundreds of different options. So, which ones should you be adding to your next salad or smoothie? Read on for the benefits of leafy greens, six of our favorites, and some suggestions on how to eat them.
Health Benefits of Leafy Greens
A diet rich in leafy greens has a variety of health benefits. They are a powerhouse of nutrients. Each type of leaf has its own nutrient profile and is filled with a variety of micronutrients that help the body function properly. Most of them, however, are jam-packed with four main nutrients:
- Vitamin A: Helps protect eyesight
- Vitamin K: Plays a role in maintaining healthy bones and supporting the body’s ability to clot (heal wounds)
- Vitamins C: Helps support the body’s immune system
- Fiber: Supports a healthy digestive tract
Top 6 Leafy Greens
Let’s take a look at six of our favorite edible leaves. It’s time to go beyond that basic head of iceberg lettuce.
Kale is a dark-colored leaf that, if eaten raw, has a bit of a bitter taste. It continues to rise in popularity as more people recognize its health benefits. Kale is incredibly dense in nutrients and low in calories. Along with vitamins A, C, K, it also is a good source of lutein, magnesium, calcium, and many more.
Why we love it: Kale really is a superfood! It has a lot of vital nutrients that our body needs to function properly. And, it can be eaten in a variety of different ways (raw, seasoned and baked, juiced, cooked, and blended).
2. Collard Greens
Collard greens have leaves that are a bit thicker and typically have a slightly bitter and earthy taste. Much like other earthy greens, it is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K. It is also a good source of magnesium.
Why we love it: It is of one of the leading sources of Vitamin K out of all the leafy greens which is important for bone health (1) and blood clotting.
Spinach tends to have a more neutral but sweeter taste than some of the other edible leaves, making it one of the more popular options for eating. In addition to vitamins A, C, and K, spinach is also a solid source of iron, magnesium, calcium, protein, and folate.
Why we love it: Not only is it packed with nutrients and one of the best tasting greens, but spinach is also one of the leafy greens that supplies a bit of protein in each serving. Additionally, it is loaded with folate which is known to be an important nutrient during pregnancy (2).
This vegetable, shaped like a giant Brussel sprout (another great leaf vegetable!), can come in a variety of colors—green, white, red, and purple. The leaves tend to be firm with a pretty bitter taste. Cabbage is high in vitamin C and K but is also a good source of many other micronutrients. And cabbage, much like spinach, supplies a decent amount of protein per serving.
Why we love it: Cabbage can be fermented, which turns it into sauerkraut. Sauerkraut has its own set of health benefits and may play a significant role in improving digestion (3).
5. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard tends to be right up in the running with kale regarding how impressive its nutrient density is. It has a mild taste that can be a little bit earthy and, similar to cabbage, can come in a variety of colors. It is an incredible source of vitamins A, C, and K, but also provides the body with vitamin E, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium, and manganese.
Why we love it: Swiss chard’s nutrient density is close to kale’s, making it another superfood. It also has a unique antioxidant that may help decrease blood sugar (4). However, swiss chard isn’t typically as bitter as kale which makes it an easier one to eat.
Arugula is a smaller, slightly tangy, peppery-tasting leaf. Much like the others, it is a good source of vitamins A and K, but it also contains vitamin B9 and nitrates.
Why we love it: Because arugula is typically smaller than many of the other edible leaves, it’s bite-sized leaves make it an easy addition to any salad, sandwich, soup, smoothie, or scramble. Also, its nitrate-rich leaves may play a role in reducing blood pressure (5).
How Should I Eat My Greens—Raw or Cooked?
Cooking some vegetables may increase or decrease the nutrient availability of the vegetable. Cooking vegetables can also change the texture, flavor, and water content. Each vegetable is different and there are often multiple ways to reap the rewards they have to offer.
The best way to eat vegetables is however you prefer to eat them. If blending them up in a smoothie is the only way you will consume these vegetables, then THAT is the best way to eat them, for you! If something tastes weird to you, it’s less likely you’ll keep eating it.
With most things in life, balance and variety are key. So, a mixture of eating them the way you like to, eating a variety of different greens, and consuming both cooked and raw greens is likely the most ideal for the body.
Leafy greens are packed with nutrients that have a variety of health benefits. There are many types, colors, and even tastes, not just our favorite six. It is ideal to eat a variety of them in a variety of different ways. But the best advice is to just EAT THEM!
If you are passionate about nutrition and would like to learn more, check out ISSA’s course on Nutrition!
- Weber, P., “Vitamin K and Bone Health.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Nutrition. October 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11684396
- Greenberg, James A., et. al., “Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3218540/2011.
- Swain, Manas Ranjan, et. al., “Fermented Fruits and Vegetables of Asia: A Potential Source of Probiotics.” ncb.nim.nih.gov. Biotechnology Research International. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058509/
- Young-Hee, Pyo, et.al., “Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds of Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subspecies cycla) extracts.” sciencedirect.com. Elsevier. March 2004. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814603002942
- Kapil, Vikas, “Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” ncbi.nim.nih.gov. Hypertension. February 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4288952/