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Leafy green vegetables

List of the 13 healthiest leafy green vegetables

Packed with nutrients but low in calories, leafy greens are crucial to a wholesome diet. Here are 14 of the healthiest leafy green vegetables you should eat.

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Last updated on August 1, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on July 25, 2022.

Leafy green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber but low in calories.

Eating a diet rich in leafy greens can offer numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and mental decline.

Here are 13 of the healthiest leafy green vegetables to include in your diet.

1. Kale

Kale is considered one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet due to its many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

For example, one cup (67 grams) of raw kale packs 684% of the daily value for vitamin K, 206% of the daily value for vitamin A and 134% of the daily value for vitamin C.

It also contains antioxidants such as lutein and beta-carotene, which reduce the risk of diseases caused by oxidative stress.

To benefit most from all that kale offers, it’s best consumed raw since cooking can reduce its nutrient profile.

Summary: Kale is rich in minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, particularly vitamins A, C, and K. To reap the most benefits, it’s best eaten raw, as cooking reduces the nutritional profile of the vegetable.

2. Microgreens

Microgreens are immature greens produced from the seeds of vegetables and herbs. They typically measure 1–3 inches (2.5–7.5 cm).

Since the 1980s, they have often been used as a garnish or decoration, but they have many more uses.

Despite their small size, they’re full of color, flavor, and nutrients. One study found that microgreens contain up to 40 times more nutrients than their mature counterparts. Some of these nutrients include vitamins C, E, and K.

Microgreens can be grown in the comfort of your own home all year round, making them easily available.

Summary: Microgreens are immature greens that have been popular since the 1980s. They’re flavorful and packed with nutrients like vitamins C, E, and K. What’s more, they can be grown all year.

3. Collard greens

Collard greens are loose leaf greens related to kale and spring greens. They have thick leaves that taste slightly bitter.

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They’re similar in texture to kale and cabbage. Their name comes from the word “colewort.”

Collard greens are a good source of calcium and the vitamins A, B9 (folate), and C. They’re also one of the best sources of vitamin K for leafy greens. One cup (190 grams) of cooked collard greens packs 1,045% of the daily value for vitamin K.

Vitamin K is known for its role in blood clotting. In addition, more research is being done regarding its ability to improve bone health.

One study in 72,327 women aged 38–63 found that those with vitamin K intakes below 109 mcg per day had a significantly increased risk of hip fractures, suggesting a link between this vitamin and bone health.

Summary: Collard greens have thick leaves and are bitter. They’re one of the best sources of vitamin K, which may reduce blood clots and promote healthy bones.

4. Spinach

Spinach is a popular leafy green vegetable easily incorporated into various dishes, including soups, sauces, smoothies, and salads.

Its nutrient profile is impressive, with one cup (30 grams) of raw spinach providing 181% of the daily value for vitamin K, 56% of the daily value for vitamin A and 13% of the daily value for manganese.

It’s also packed with folate, which plays a key role in red blood cell production and preventing neural tube defects in pregnancy.

One study on the neural tube defect spina bifida found that one of the most preventable risk factors for this condition was a low intake of folate during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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Along with taking a prenatal vitamin, eating spinach is a great way to increase your folate intake during pregnancy.

Summary: Spinach is a popular leafy green vegetable that can be used in various ways. It’s a great source of folate, which may prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, during pregnancy.

5. Cabbage

Cabbage comprises clusters of thick leaves that come in green, white, and purple colors.

It belongs to the Brassica family and Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli.

Vegetables in this plant family contain glucosinolates, which give them a bitter flavor.

Animal studies have found that foods that contain these plant compounds may have cancer-protective properties, especially against lung and esophageal cancer.

Another benefit of cabbage is that it can be fermented and turned into sauerkraut, providing numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion and supporting your immune system. It may even aid weight loss.

Summary: Cabbage has thick leaves and comes in various colors. It has cancer-protective properties and can be turned into sauerkraut, which offers additional health benefits.

6. Beet greens

Since the Middle Ages, beets have been considered beneficial for health.

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Indeed, they have an impressive nutrient profile, but while beets are commonly used in dishes, the leaves are often ignored.

This is unfortunate, considering that they’re edible and rich in potassium, calcium, riboflavin, fiber, and vitamins A and K. Just one cup (144 grams) of cooked beet greens contains 220% of the daily value for vitamin A, 37% of the daily value for potassium and 17% of the daily value for fiber.

They also contain the antioxidants beta-carotene and lutein, which may reduce the risk of eye disorders, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Beet greens can be added to salads, soups, or sauteed and eaten as a side dish.

Summary: Beet greens are edible green leaves found on the tip of beets. They’re full of nutrients, including antioxidants that may support eye health.

7. Watercress

Watercress is an aquatic plant from the Brassicaceae family and thus similar to arugula and mustard greens.

It’s said to have healing properties and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. However, no human studies have confirmed these benefits so far.

Test-tube studies have found watercress extract beneficial in targeting cancer stem cells and impairing cancer cell reproduction and invasion.

Due to its bitter and slightly spicy flavor, watercress makes a great addition to neutrally flavored foods.

Summary: Watercress has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. A few test-tube studies suggest it may be beneficial in cancer treatment, but no human studies have confirmed these effects.

8. Romaine lettuce

Romaine lettuce is a common leafy vegetable with sturdy, dark leaves with a firm center rib.

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It has a crunchy texture and is a popular lettuce, particularly in Caesar salads.

It’s a good source of vitamins A and K, with one cup (47 grams) providing 82% and 60% of the daily values for these vitamins.

What’s more, research on rats showed that lettuce improved their levels of blood lipids, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease. Further studies need to investigate these benefits in people.

Summary: Romaine lettuce is a popular lettuce found in many salads. It’s rich in vitamins A and K, and a study in rats suggests it may improve blood lipid levels.

9. Swiss chard

Swiss chard has dark-green leaves with a thick stalk that is red, white, yellow, or green. It’s often used in Mediterranean cooking and belongs to the same family as beets and spinach.

It has an earthy taste and is rich in minerals and vitamins, such as potassium, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K.

Swiss chard also contains a unique flavonoid called syringic acid — a compound that may be beneficial for lowering blood sugar levels.

In two small studies in rats with diabetes, oral administration of syringic acid for 30 days improved blood sugar levels.

However, it’s important to note that these were minor animal studies and that human research supporting the claim that syringic acid may aid blood sugar control is lacking.

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While many people typically throw away the stems of the Swiss chard plant, they’re crunchy and highly nutritious.

Next time, try adding all parts of the Swiss chard plant to dishes such as soups, tacos, or casseroles.

Summary: Swiss chard is rich in color and often incorporated into Mediterranean cooking. It contains flavonoid syringic acid, which may be beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels. However, human-based research on its effectiveness is lacking.

10. Arugula

Arugula is a leafy green from the Brassicaceae family that goes by many different names, such as rocket, colewort, roquette, rucola, and rucoli.

It has a slightly peppery taste and small leaves that can easily be incorporated into salads or used as a garnish. It can also be used cosmetically and medicinally.

Like other leafy greens, it contains nutrients such as pro-vitamin A carotenoids and vitamins B9 and K.

It’s also one of the best sources of dietary nitrates, a compound that turns into nitric oxide in your body.

Though the benefits of nitrates are debated, some studies have found that they may help increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure by widening your blood vessels.

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Summary: Arugula is a leafy green vegetable with several names, including rocket and rucola. It’s rich in vitamins and naturally occurring nitrates, which may help reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow.

11. Endive

Endive belongs to the Cichorium family. It’s less well known than other leafy greens, possibly because it’s difficult to grow.

It’s curly, crisp in texture, and has a nutty and mildly bitter flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

Just one-half cup (25 grams) of raw endive leaves packs 72% of the daily value for vitamin K, 11% of the daily value for vitamin A and 9% of the daily value for folate.

It’s also a source of kaempferol, an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit the growth of cancer cells in test-tube studies.

Summary: Endive is a lesser-known leafy green vegetable that is curly and crisp in texture. It contains several nutrients, including the antioxidant kaempferol, which may reduce cancer cell growth.

12. Bok choy

Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage.

It has thick, dark-green leaves that make a great addition to soups and stir-fries.

Bok choy contains the mineral selenium, which plays a vital role in cognitive function, immunity, and cancer prevention.

In addition, selenium is important for proper thyroid gland function. This gland is located in your neck and releases hormones that play a key role in metabolism.

An observational study associated low levels of selenium with thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis, and enlarged thyroid.

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Summary: Bok choy is popular in China and often used in soups and stir-fries. It contains the mineral selenium, which benefits your brain health, immunity, cancer protection, and thyroid health.

13. Turnip greens

Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, a root vegetable similar to beetroot.

These greens pack more nutrients than the turnip itself, including calcium, manganese, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K.

They have a strong and spicy flavor and are often cooked rather than raw.

Turnip greens are considered a cruciferous vegetable, decreasing your risk of health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and inflammation.

Turnip greens also contain several antioxidants, including gluconasturtiin, glucotropaeolin, quercetin, myricetin, and beta-carotene — which all play a role in reducing stress in your body.

Turnip greens can be used as a replacement for kale or spinach in most recipes.

Summary: Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant and are considered a cruciferous vegetable. Studies have found that they may decrease stress in your body and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and inflammation.

Summary

Leafy green vegetables are packed with important and influential nutrients for good health.

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Fortunately, many leafy greens can be found year-round, and they can easily be incorporated into your meals — in surprising and diverse ways.

To reap the many impressive health benefits of leafy greens, include a variety of these vegetables in your diet.

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