Edible plant leaves are often referred to as a dark leafy green or leaf vegetable. Greens like spinach and kale are among the most common, but there are other green leafy vegetables that are just as nutritious.
Leafy greens tend to be lower in calories yet dense in nutrition. This is why greens are often used as the base of salads for weight loss.
Referencing a leafy greens list is an easy way to explore the leaf vegetables you have not tried yet. Consuming a wide variety of greens also allows you to get an array of nutrients and health benefits.
Arugula is a cruciferous leaf vegetable with a tangy flavor. In salads, it is often mixed with a milder lettuce. Not surprisingly, arugula has many health benefits.
Like some other green leafy vegetables, arugula is nitrate-rich. Nitrates are added to food as a preservative agent, but naturally occurring nitrate in dietary sources has known health benefits.
In a November 2018 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers recommend increasing the intake of nitrate-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables. Dietary nitrate is associated with cardiovascular health benefits and boosted athletic performance.
Raw or Cooked Kale
Kale is high in many vitamins and minerals, which is why it has been dubbed one of the healthiest superfoods on the planet. The truth is that kale is just another leaf vegetable but with its own set of benefits.
Specifically, kale is high in potassium. A national survey conducted in 2013 found that approximately 97 percent of Americans do not meet their potassium requirements. Kale may be a food you should add to your leafy greens list to prevent potassium deficiency.
According to the USDA, kale is also high in various nutrients. One cup of raw kale provides 9 percent of your daily vitamin A, 21 percent of your daily vitamin C and 94 percent of your daily vitamin K.
Spinach for Eye Health
Many people associate spinach with Popeye the Sailor. Fair enough, this famous cartoon character encouraged Americans to check off more veggies on their leafy greens list. While Popeye implied that spinach makes you stronger, research shows this leaf vegetable has proven eye health benefits.
In a June 2013 study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging, researchers listed raw and cooked spinach as dense sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. These are antioxidants that may decrease the risks of age-related eye diseases. Researchers recommend increased intake of leafy greens like spinach for the vision benefits.
Disease-Fighting Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a dark green leaf vegetable that is crunchy and bitter-tasting. Many swiss chard recipes call for sauteing the leafy greens in olive oil and garlic. This boosts the flavor while still packing an array of vitamins and minerals.
Per the USDA, cooked swiss chard is a potent source of iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C.
The vitamins and minerals aren't the only reason you should consume this leaf vegetable, however. Swiss chard also contains beta carotene, an antioxidant that has anti-cancer properties. In a November 2015 study published in Nutrients, researchers found that higher intakes of vitamin A and beta carotene is associated with significantly lower risk of lung cancer.
Beet Greens Boost Physiological Performance
Like arugula, beet greens are high in naturally occurring nitrates. For this reason, beet juice has long been consumed as a dietary nitrate supplement, which is believed to improve exercise performance and cardiovascular health.
A November 2017 study was published in Nutrients to see if these benefits translated to older adults with increased risk of diseases. While the benefits of cognitive performance are unclear, nitrates in beet products are linked to improvements in physiological performance. Some evidence suggests there are cardiovascular benefits, too, but more research is needed.
Bok Choy and Cancer Prevention
Part of the cruciferous leaf vegetable family, bok choy is commonly enjoyed in vegetable stir fries or as a side dish.
According to the National Cancer Institute, bok choy and other cruciferous vegetables may help prevent cancer. Many of the relevant studies are conducted on humans, but the existing research points to bok choy as a nutrient-rich and delicious source of anti-cancer compounds.
Bok choy, also known as pak choi, can be part of a healthy diet supported by the USDA. One cup of cooked bok choy packs 2.7 grams of protein, 1.7 grams of fiber, 10 percent of your daily iron needs and 13 percent of your daily potassium needs.
Broccoli Rabe (Rapini)
You probably know and love broccoli, but many people have never heard of broccoli rabe before. This leaf vegetable also goes by the names rapini and broccoli raab. It is often confused with baby broccoli or broccolini, but broccoli rabe is a separate veggie that happens to be an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals.
Cooked broccoli rabe is packed with plant-based protein, iron and calcium, which are nutrients that vegetarians and vegans must be mindful of. The USDA reports that one cooked bunch of broccoli rabe contains 12.2 grams of fiber, 16.7 grams of protein, 31 percent of your daily iron requirement and 40 percent of your daily calcium requirement.
Cooked Collard Greens
One commonality among green leafy vegetables is that they are high in vitamin K. Cooked collard greens are one of the most potent sources of vitamin K with 1 cup yielding more than 600 percent your daily requirement according to the USDA. They are also high in fiber, protein, calcium and iron.
Collard greens are chlorophyll-rich leafy vegetables that may also protect against some cancers. An August 2017 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition found a positive correlation between cruciferous vegetables and inverse breast cancer risk.
The high fiber content — 7.6 grams per one cooked cup — may also contribute to reduced inflammation. According to a May 2014 study published in Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome, consuming at least 30 grams of fiber per day is linked to anti-inflammatory benefits for people with diabetes.
Prebiotic-Rich Dandelion Greens
Dandelions, while commonly referred to as weeds in your garden, have long been used for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Dandelion greens can be eaten raw or cooked, and they are well-known for being high in fiber.
Most of the fiber in dandelion greens comes from prebiotic inulin, which can positively affect the gut microbiome. A November 2017 study published in Gut concludes that increased inulin fiber encourages softer stools in patients with constipation. It also stimulates the growth of "good" gut bacteria.
Eat More Green, Leafy Vegetables
The leafy greens list is a long one, but each leaf vegetable has its own set of nutrients and health benefits. Many people can benefit from incorporating more green leafy vegetables into their diet.
Leafy greens are especially helpful for people who want to lose weight because they are low in calories yet dense in nutrients like potassium, vitamin K, calcium and iron.
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Increasing Vegetable Intake to Obtain the Health Promoting and Ergogenic Effects of Dietary Nitrate”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Potassium and Health”
- MyFoodData: “Nutrition Facts For Kale”
- Clinical Interventions in Aging: “Nutrients for the Aging Eye”
- Nutrients: “Association of Dietary Vitamin A and β-Carotene Intake With the Risk of Lung Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of 19 Publications”
- Nutrients: “Performance and Health Benefits of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation in Older Adults: A Systematic Review”
- National Cancer Institute: “Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention”
- MyFoodData: “Nutrition Facts for Pak-Choi (Bok Choy)”
- MyFoodData: “Nutrition Facts For Cooked Collards”
- Current Developments in Nutrition: “Trends in Cruciferous Vegetable Consumption and Associations With Breast Cancer Risk: A Case-Control Study”
- Gut: “Prebiotic Inulin-Type Fructans Induce Specific Changes in the Human Gut Microbiota”
- Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome: "Fiber Intake and Inflammation in Type 1 Diabetes"