According to the latest health statistics, most of us need to increase our fruit and vegetable intake, and dark leafy greens in particular. Far from just a cliché, dark leafy greens are true superfoods that pack a powerful nutrient punch.
While celebrating all things green in the month of March, there’s no better time to boost your intake of leafy greens. Here’s a list of the top seven dark green veggies that you can easily incorporate into recipes for every day of the week.
A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, arugula offers the same anti-cancer benefits as broccoli, collards, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Arugula is most nutritious when served raw, although most of the nutrients can be preserved when lightly cooked. Its taste can be described as having a peppery or spicy flavor and is best when used as a salad green. With only 4 calories per cup, arugula can be added liberally to every meal. Arugula is an excellent source of vitamin K.
Chard is a type of beet harvested not only for its leaves but
also for the fleshy stalk called the ribs. While the leaves are dark green, the ribs may be brightly colored. The more popular Swiss chard has a white leafstalk while other varieties, like Red and Rainbow, come in a range of yellows, pinks, and reds. Chard has a sweet and slightly bitter taste that mellows with cooking, and the more delicate young leaves can be added to salads. Interestingly, the leafstalks can be cut and cooked in the same way as asparagus or celery. Chard can easily be added to soups, and can substitute for kale in a pinch. Chard is an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C and vitamin K.
White Bean Kale Soup (substituting chard for kale)
3. Collard Greens
Like arugula, kale, broccoli, and cabbage, collard greens belong to the cruciferous vegetable family. Although these greens are notorious for being the sidekick to less healthy southern fare, collard greens can offer a surprising nutrient boost to any meal. Steamed collards have more cholesterol-fighting compounds than any other leafy green and contain antioxidants that help detoxify the body and providing anti-inflammatory benefits. Collards have a mild flavor but can become bitter and emit an odor of sulfur if cooked too long. Collards are an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C and vitamin K. This dark green veggie is a good source of folate.
A descendant of cabbage, kale’s signature curly leaves come in a wide variety of colors from white to deep blue-green and purple and are best served cooked. Whether you choose Curly, Ornamental, or Dinosaur, kale leaves have a mellow peppery flavor that take a bit longer to cook than most other greens, making it ideal for soups and pastas. Aside from being one of the most nutritious vegetables available (on a fresh weight basis), kale also contains quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory compound. Kale is an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. This dark green veggie is a good source of calcium, potassium, and copper.
5. Mustard Greens
Mustard greens are the leaves of the mustard plant, and have a strong peppery flavor with leaves ranging in color from bright green to deep purple. Like other members of the cruciferous family, mustard greens contain cholesterol-lowering, anti-cancer, detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties. Mustard greens are an excellent source of folate, making this green especially important for women. When shopping for mustard greens, keep your eye out for Mizuna, as this is a common variety of mustard greens found in grocery stores. Mustard greens are an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. This dark green veggie is a good source of manganese.
Balsamic Glazed Chickpeas with Mustard Greens (great for Vidalia mustard greens)
6. Romaine Lettuce
This well-known salad green is one of the most heart-friendly of the dark leafy greens. An excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber and folate, romaine lettuce only contains 8 calories per cup. Best when served raw, romaine is generally used as a salad green or sandwich topper and is one of the most widely available lettuces in the market. Romaine lettuce is an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate.
Southwest Salad with Cilantro Dressing (substituting romaine for green or red leaf lettuce)
Spinach is equally delicious raw or cooked, and is one of the most popular dark leafy vegetables. However, some of the nutrients – like calcium, iron, beta-carotene and lutein – are better absorbed in the body when lightly steamed or blanched. Because of its mild flavor, spinach is a great substitute for iceberg lettuce in salads and sandwiches and is easy to add to many other recipes. Spinach is an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin and vitamin K. This dark green veggie is a good source of vitamin C, folic acid, and manganese.
When selecting greens for everyday meals, consider purchasing organic. Since leaves are sprayed directly with pesticides, it can be difficult or impossible to effectively remove toxic residue.
Either way, to clean your greens, remove any tough stems and submerge leaves in a bowl of clean, cold water 2 to 3 times, or until all debris is removed. Use a clean, dry towel to pat dry.
For salads, tear leaves into palm size pieces or chop into 1-2” strips for sautéing, stir-frying, or mixing into your favorite green smoothie.
And since one serving size is only a mere half cup cooked, or one cup raw, including a full serving at every meal is easy.
Last updated March 5, 2017
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.