A balanced, nutritious diet is vital for good health. Not only does a nutrient-rich, varied diet provide our bodies with the ingredients we need to be strong, healthy and active, but it also helps ward off disease. When combined with physical activity, a good diet can help us maintain a healthy weight, get healthy if we aren't already and stay energized. One of the best ways to get all the nutrients our bodies crave is to incorporate leafy greens into our routine meal plans.
Leafy greens may be one of the most important things we can eat. They are loaded with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. They are also very low in calories, sodium and cholesterol. This makes them a perfect staple for any healthy nutrient-dense, low-calorie diet. And that’s not all! Leafy green vegetables can help ward off a number of diseases. The best leafy greens include kale, microgreens, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, beet greens and Romaine lettuce and each offers something different. Let's look at how to incorporate more of these powerhouses into our daily plans.
Benefits of Leafy Greens
According to VeryWellFit, dark leafy greens may contain the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food group. And it’s true! They’re packed with macronutrients, such as fiber and protein, as well as micronutrients, like minerals, calcium, potassium and magnesium. They contain an incredible storehouse of vitamins, including K, C, E and a variety of B vitamins. And that’s not all — they also contain omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Truly, no other food source packs in the benefits like greens.
The benefits of eating greens include:
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Reduced risk of atherosclerosis
- Reduced inflammation
- Diabetes risk prevention
- Decreases rate of age-related cognitive decline
- Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease
And that’s not all! Studies have also shown that several servings of greens per week helps ward off cancer, according to the USDA. Research has linked low levels of folate, which are found in green leafy vegetables, to breast, cervical and lung cancer so eating them helps lower risks in several categories.
Eating leafy greens can also help regulate blood sugar and may even help with weight loss.
The Best Leafy Greens
While all leafy green vegetables are healthy, there are some that are healthier than others. According to Healthline, the healthiest greens include:
- Kale - One of the most nutrient-dense vegetables known, kale contains 684% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K and 206% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A.
- Microgreens (often used as garnishes) - These immature greens contain 40 times as many nutrients as mature greens. They pack a powerful punch of vitamins C, E and K.
- Collard greens - One of the best sources of vitamin K, collard greens contain 1,045% of the recommended daily value of this nutrient.
- Spinach - Packed with vitamins K and A, spinach also contains manganese and folate.
- Cabbage - One of the main ingredients of this hearty vegetable, glucosinolates protect against cancer. What’s more, the fermented form of this beauty aids in digestive health.
- Beet greens - These greens are loaded with potassium, calcium, riboflavin, fiber and a host of vitamins.
- Romaine lettuce - Containing vitamins A and K, romaine lettuce is also believed to reduce the risk of heart disease.
When it comes to maximizing nutrition, the proper preparation of greens is key. While raw is a great option, it is not always the best way to consume leafy greens. Some leafy greens, such as spinach, are better digested by the body when they’re cooked. Steaming is best, but you can also saute (saute in a tiny bit of water for the best of both worlds), but you can also bake or roast without losing much nutrition. However, boiling is a no-no to prevent nutrient loss. Or, if you must, save the water and use it to make tea or soup or just sip like broth.
How to Consume More Greens
The USDA recommends consuming 2 to 3 servings of dark green vegetables per week. A serving is approximately 1 cup. For those looking for new ways to incorporate greens into their diet, mix them into other veggies for a tasty salad or use them as the outside of sandwiches as lettuce wraps. But you can also add them to soup, stir fry, a smoothie or an omelet. Try serving meals with a side of greens, southern style or serving your meal on top of greens to add a nutritious level-up.
Leafy greens are nutritional superheroes and as such are essential for a balanced, nutrition-rich diet. What’s more, they are low in calories and high in fiber, both of which are great for health. And they don’t have to be bland either. Browse recipes online to look for new ways to spruce up leafy greens just make sure you get them in. You may discover that you enjoy them more than you realize.