Dark green leafy vegetables are nutritional powerhouses filled with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They are rich in chlorophyll, which alkalinizes the blood, and fiber, which keeps the colon healthy. The USDA recommends eating one-half cup of green leafy vegetables each day to prevent nutrient deficiencies and serious illnesses. There are many varieties of edible green leaves, and they are most nutritious when eaten raw or lightly steamed.
The dark greens supply a significant amount of folate, a B vitamin that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also necessary for DNA duplication and repair which protects against the development of cancer. Also the vitamin K contents of dark green leafy vegetables provide a number of health benefits including: protecting bones from osteoporosis and helping to prevent against inflammatory diseases. Because of their high content of antioxidants, green leafy vegetables may be one of the best cancer-preventing foods. Studies have shown that eating 2 to 3 servings of green leafy vegetables per week may lower the risk of stomach, breast and skin cancer. These same antioxidants have also been proven to decrease the risk of heart disease.
Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of dark green leafy vegetables is their low calorie and carbohydrate contents and their low glycemic index. These features make them an ideal food to facilitate achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Adding more green vegetables to a balanced diet increases the intake of dietary fiber which, in turn, regulates the digestive system and aids in bowel health and weight management. These properties are particularly advantageous for those with type-2 diabetes.
Eating dark green leafy vegetables is vital to a healthy, balanced diet. There are many ways to enjoy a meal with leafy greens:
Make a salad: Keep salads interesting by varying their colors, textures and varieties. Perk them up with small tender leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula mixed with different kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
Wrap it up: Make a wrap with tuna, chicken or turkey and add romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other veggies for some extra flavor.
Add to soup: Add greens with larger, tougher leaves such as collard greens, kale or mustard greens into your favorite soup.
Stir-fry: Add chopped spinach, bok choy or broccoli to chicken or tofu stir-fried with olive or canola oil with some garlic, onion or ginger.
Steamed: Steaming collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach until they are slightly soft.
In an omelet: Add steamed broccoli and/or spinach to an egg-white omelet for a vitamin and iron rich meal.
Classification of Leafy Greens:
Dark green lettuces include romaine, green leaf, arugula and butterhead. These nutrient-dense leaves are crisp and slightly bitter, and most people use them to make raw salads. Dark lettuces are rich in vitamins A, C and K; eating them regularly will improve your eyesight, bone health and skin elasticity while helping your blood to clot normally. Combine these leaves with tomatoes, onions, carrots and cucumbers to create a colorful, healthy salad.
This bland-tasting head lettuce is mostly water. But it’s the country’s most popular leafy green and each of us eats about 17 pounds of iceberg a year. While tops in consumption, it’s last on our list for its health benefits. It’s not devoid of all nutrition, but it’s pretty close. While we are eating less of it, it is still a common ingredient on hamburgers and in taco salads.
Seek out tightly packed unblemished leaves. It looks like romaine, but escarole’s firm texture, paler color, and slightly bittersweet taste set it apart. At just eight calories per uncooked cup, this nutrition superstar supplies fiber and heart-healthy folate, along with vitamins A, C, and K.
Red and Green Leaf and Romaine Lettuce
These lettuces are high in vitamin A and offer some folate. Leaf lettuces have a softer texture than romaine, a crunchy variety used in Caesar salads. Fans of Iceberg lettuce may go for romaine, a crispy green that’s better for you. Also to note, the darker the lettuce leaf, the more nutrition it has, making red leaf slightly healthier than green. One cup contains only 10 calories.
Arugula is a rich source of certain phytochemicals that have been shown to combat cancer-causing elements in the body. Arugula is also a great source of folic acid and Vitamins A, C and K. As one of the best vegetable sources of Vitamin K, arugula provides a boost for bone and brain health. Arugula has an array of minerals and high levels of Iron and Copper, making it a good substitute for spinach if you’re paying attention to getting more vegetable based iron in your diet. Its peppery flavor provides a natural cooling effect on the body and is also a hydrating food, helping keep your body hydrated in the heat of summer.
Butterhead lettuce is tender and has mildly flavored leaves. It is rich in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron, folate & vitamin K. Their dark green leaves provide more beta carotene and vitamin C than paler leaves, and provide bioflavonoids They provide a high dose of beta carotene, linked with cancer prevention particularly lung cancer and reduction in the risk of heart disease. Beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, vitamin that prevents night blindness, needed for growth and cell development, maintains healthy skin, hair, and nails as well as gums, glands, bones, and teeth. They provide a high dose of both soluble & insoluble fiber
Cruciferous Leafy Greens:
Kale, mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage and broccoli are cruciferous leafy greens. Cruciferous vegetables are high in nutrients and contain glucosinolates, which inhibit the growth of certain cancers. Magnesium and tryptophan are also abundant in these greens; these minerals enhance heart health and brain function. Cook these greens separately, or combine them to create a flavorful blend. Add them to soups or casseroles or sauté them with your favorite herbs and seasonings.
This nutrition powerhouse “offers everything you want in a leafy green. Just one cup of raw kale supplies a day’s worth of vitamins A and C and six times the daily requirement of bone-boosting vitamin K. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A C, and K, has a good amount of calcium for a vegetable, and also supplies folate and potassium. Kale’s ruffle-edged leaves may range in color from cream to purple to black depending on the variety. Curly kale is deep green with ruffled edges. Tuscan kale, aka dinosaur or black kale, has bumpy blue-green leaves. This earthy, bitter green is sweeter in winter, but it’s packed with nutrients year-round.
Another Southern green with a similar nutrition profile to turnip leaves and collards, mustard greens have scalloped edges and come in red and green varieties. They have a peppery taste and give off a mustardy smell during cooking. Their spiciness can be toned down by adding an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, toward the end of cooking. Cooked mustard greens have only 10 calories in one-half cup.
This mild staple of Southern cuisine may be better at lowering artery-clogging cholesterol than broccoli or spinach, research has shown. Collards resemble wide, flat cabbage leaves. Look for a deep green hue. Collards are typically used in Southern-style cooking, collard greens are similar in nutrition to kale, but they have a heartier and chewier texture and a stronger cabbage-like taste.
Choose thick, firm stalks and bright leaves. Bok choy is also called Chinese cabbage or pak choi. This mild, slightly sweet cousin of cabbage is a super source of calcium because it’s low in oxalate, a compound in many greens that blocks absorption of the mineral. The veggie also has 25 kinds of cancer-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols, one study found.
Although paler in color than other leafy greens, this cruciferous vegetable is a great source of cancer-fighting compounds and vitamin C. Cabbage is available in red and green varieties, cabbage can be cooked, added raw to salads or stir fries, shredded into a slaw, or made into sauerkraut. It’s also a staple of St. Patrick’s Day boiled suppers and can give off a strong smell when cooking. One-half cup cooked has only 15 calories.
With 25 calories a serving, broccoli is rich in vitamin C and is also a good source of vitamin A, potassium, and folate. Americans eat about 6 pounds of it a year. Its stalks and florets add both crunch and color to stir-fries.
Spinach and Swiss Chard:
Swiss chard and spinach are vibrant leaves with bold colors. They belong to a family of leaves called Amaranthaceae and are similar in taste and nutritional value. Spinach and chard are available throughout the year, and both are rich in iron, which carries oxygen to the blood. Include these leaves in your raw salads, or chop, steam and season them lightly to create a delicious side dish.
Eye-popping red, yellow, orange, or white stalks signal freshness. This somewhat salty relative of the beet is a top source of vitamins A and C. And one cup of cooked Swiss chard delivers more than 20 percent of your daily quota for iron. Swiss chard has red stems, stalks, and veins on its leaves and a beet-like taste and soft texture that’s perfect for sauteeing. Both Swiss chard and spinach contain oxalates, which are slightly reduced by cooking and can bind to calcium, a concern for people prone to kidney stones. Chard contains 15 calories in one-half cup and is a good source of vitamins A and C.
Most of the calories in spinach come from protein. Spinach is also one of the best sources of dietary potassium and contains approximately 250mg of calcium per cup (cooked), however it is less easily absorbed than calcium from sources like dairy products because spinach has a high oxalate content, which binds to calcium deeming it unavailable for use in our bodies. Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, a healthy immune system and maintaining blood pressure. Magnesium also plays a part in hundreds more biochemical reactions that occur in the body. Those with digestive disorders, alcoholic, older adults and individuals taking medications such as antibiotics and diuretics are more likely to have a magnesium deficiency and should consume more leafy greens. Spinach also contains vitamin K, fiber, phosphorus and thiamine.
Edible Green Leaves:
Dandelion, red clover, plantain, turnip leaves, watercress and chickweed are edible green leaves. They are sold in some supermarkets, but you are likely to find them growing freely around your neighborhood or in your yard. Most people destroy them with weed killers and herbicides, but these leafy greens are quite flavorful and nutritious. Dandelion greens promote a healthy liver, and plantain and watercress keep skin cells healthy. Red clover regulates hormones and chickweed has anti-inflammatory properties. Add these greens to raw salads, stir-fries or soups. Before cooking with kale, collards, turnips, and chard, it is recommended that you swish the greens in a water-filled sink, draining the sink, then repeating this rinse until the leaves are dirt-free.
The small, oval-shaped leaves should smell peppery. Watercress packs a healthy punch of vision-protecting carotenoids and compounds that may inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumors.
Avoid leaves that are wilted or yellow or have slick dark green patches. When you cook turnips, don’t throw out the tops, which have a strong flavor and cabbage-like texture and are loaded with fiber and vitamin K and one cup of the cooked greens fulfills 20% of the daily requirement for vitamin B6.
The greens of the dandelion provide 535% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which may be the most important source of any other plant-based food to strengthen bones, but may also play a role in fighting Alzheimer’s disease by limiting neuron damage in the brain. Dandelion greens also give the body 112% of the daily minimum requirement of vitamin A as an antioxidant carotenoid, which is particularly good for the skin, mucus membranes and vision. A flavonoid called zeaxanthin protects the retina from UV rays, while others, primarily carotene, lutein, and cryptoxanthin, protect the body from lung and mouth cancers. These greens are high in fiber, which helps your body shed waste and also contain vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese. Other nutrients present in dandelion greens include folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
This is a website that shows pictures of what many of these leafy greens look like:
Salad greens: Various lettuces, Endive, etc. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/visualguidesaladgreens
Cooking greens: Spinach, Bok Choy, etc. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/visualguidecookinggreens