We all know that vegetables are an integral part of a healthy diet. Not only are they packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but they can also be easily incorporated into almost any meal. When it comes to incorporating them into your routine, the USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans vary their vegetable intake, highlighting dark green vegetables as a key category.
Whether you fold them into your omelet, toss them into a smoothie, or slip them into a burrito, leafy greens are the perfect vehicle for adding nutrients to any dish. These greens are technically the leaves of various plants, the most common being kale, spinach, broccoli sprouts, bok choy, watercress, and dandelion greens. While all leafy greens are packed with nutrients, there are specific types that are the most concentrated, and therefore considered the “best” by some of our experts.
To learn more about the best leafy greens to eat every day, we consulted members of the Medical Expert Board Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFTalso known as The twins of nutrition. Read on to see what these dietitians had to say, then for more healthy eating tips, check out The #1 Best Vegetable to Lower Blood Sugar.
Kale is loaded with tons of vitamins and nutrients, and it’s versatile enough to be eaten raw, in a salad, sautéed, baked, or even tossed into a smoothie.
Of all the leafy green vegetables, kale has one of the highest levels of vitamin C at around 22% of your daily value per serving. Vitamin C is a necessary antioxidant that can help your body fight free radical damage and can also help build a strong immune system. Kale is also high in vitamin K (about 68% of the recommended daily value), which may help support bone and immune health.
This leafy green also contains certain anticancer substances, such as sulforaphane. According to Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistrysulforaphane can prevent some cancer cells from forming completely at the molecular level.
Dandelion greens probably aren’t part of your regular vegetable rotation, but they should be. “One of the reasons these greens are so powerful is that they help increase bile flow, break down fat, aid digestion and help the liver, protecting it and helping it to filter potentially harmful chemicals from your food,” The Nutrition Twins say.
Packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene, dandelion greens have been shown to protect against cell damage, which may ultimately help fight chronic disease. Plus, their rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin support eye health, while their vitamin C and K content promotes bone health. And that’s not all these leafy greens can do.
“One of their true superpower qualities is that they’re a rich source of gut-friendly prebiotics, thanks to their inulin,” says The Nutrition Twin. “They improve gut production of ‘good’ bifidobacteria, which helps boost immune function and may even help prevent cancer.”
Bok choy is a cruciferous vegetable, which means it belongs to the same family as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. “Cruciferous vegetables reduce the risk of cancer and contain carcinogen-fighting nutrients like vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, folate and selenium, which have been shown to slow tumor growth,” state The Nutrition Twins.
In addition to being packed with bone-building vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin K, bok choy is rich in quercetin, a flavonoid that has been linked to a reduction in inflammation and protection against chronic disease. For a nutrient-dense meal, The Nutrition Twins suggests chopping up this leafy green and adding it to a stir-fry.
If you’ve had enough of broccoli, why not try broccoli sprouts? These leafy greens are broccoli plants about 3 to 5 days old with small green leaves that look like alfalfa sprouts. Although they offer the same number of calories and macronutrients as broccoli per ounce, they contain about 100 times more glucoraphanin.
“…when chewed or cut, [glucoraphanin] is converted into the superstar phytochemical sulforaphane, which has potent anticancer effects, including promoting cancer cell death [and] by reducing inflammation and susceptibility to cancer-causing toxins,” say The Nutrition Twins. “Sulforaphane increases detoxifying enzymes in your liver, and it may even help turn off certain genes involved in cancer.
This cruciferous vegetable has a slightly spicy, peppery flavor, as well as a host of health benefits. According to a ranked list of “powerful fruits and vegetables,” the CDC crowned watercress as the most nutrient-dense vegetable. This means it packs the most nutrients in the fewest calories. Therefore, this green is especially useful when it comes to disease prevention and weight loss.
Additionally, The Nutrition Twins points out that watercress contains high amounts of digestion-promoting fiber, immune-supporting vitamin C, disease-preventing glucosinates, and more. “One of the highlights of this powerhouse is its vitamin K, an extremely important (and overlooked) critical nutrient for bone health,” say the Nutrition Twins. “A single cup of watercress provides more than 100% of the [recommended daily intake] for vitamin K.”
Because this leafy green is so versatile, The Nutrition Twins recommends adding it to salads, soups, stir-fries, and even pizza.
Spinach is packed with carotenoids, which help “sop up” free radicals known to damage cells, The Nutrition Twins explain. They also note that research has shown these leafy greens protect against stomach, colon, mouth, and esophageal cancers.
As a rich source of potassium, spinach has been linked to lower blood pressure, while its lutein content has been linked to enhanced cognitive function. And beyond its nutritional benefits, this vegetable has a versatile flavor profile. “Spinach is so sweet it looks like a chameleon, and it can be mixed into foods like smoothies and go undetectable, making it the perfect vegetable for people who have a hard time enjoying greens,” say The Nutrition Twins.
A previous version of this story was published on June 19, 2022. It has been updated to include additional copy and proofreading revisions, additional research, and updated contextual links.
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