Modern science has certainly proven our ancestors were right about leafy greens being nutrient powerhouses and confirmed that these vegetables are indeed among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. With modern science's ability to pick apart and measure the exact quantity of each nutrient found in a food, they've found that leafy greens are high in vitamin A and C, beta-carotene, folic-acid, calcium and chlorophyll, just to name a few!
A general rule for the nutritional benefits of lettuce goes from dark to light — the darker the leaf, the more nutritious it is. Here, I'll review the various choices, broken down into the following groups:
Lettuces are primarily water and extremely low in calories, which is why they are also a common diet food. Although they are not the most nutritious greens out there, they are still a great and healthy food.
2. Dark, Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens are the true powerhouses of the plant world, rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium and loaded with the vital antioxidants that help our cells combat environmental stressors and toxins. These beauties help support the cardiovascular system, are loaded with fiber, and are anti-inflammatory. Some of my favorites are collard greens, kale of any kind, mustard greens, spinach and Swiss chard.
3. Cruciferous Greens
Cabbage is often referred to as the king of the cruciferous vegetables, and all the different cabbages have similar nutritional benefits. They are all full of fiber, which is good for our digestion and helps feed our gut bacteria. They are also celebrated for their anticancer benefits, as they contain more phytochemicals with anticancer properties than any other vegetable. These phytochemicals both increase the antioxidant defense mechanism in the body and help with detoxification of chemicals and hormones. Cabbages are also rich in vitamins C and B6, biotin, potassium, and folic acid, among others. Other cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, broccolini, and broccoli rabe.
4. Wild Greens
Foraging for greens has gotten popular, and for good reason. You can often find "weeds" in your backyard — or cultivated and sold at a farmer's market — that are extremely healthy. The right plants aren't just weeds, but also nourishing and healing herbs. Often, the whole plant can be used — flower, leaves, and roots — but be careful to make sure you know what you're picking and eating. The most common wild greens are dandelion and purslane.
Herbs are generally also leafy and green, so I thought they deserved a place here, too. Herbs are aromatic plants and have long been used as digestants, which aid in the digestive process and help relieve digestive discomfort. Adding fresh and dried herbs to your meals is the fastest, easiest, and healthiest way to increase flavor, variety, and nutrients. If you're concerned about eating too much salt, sugar, and other additives, make friends with these.
Excerpted from Best Green Eats Ever: Delicious Recipes for Nutrient-Rich Leafy Greens, High in Antioxidants and More by Katrine van Wyk.
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