16 Healthy Leafy Greens & Their Nutrition Benefits

Close Up of Kale, Spinach, and Other Leafy Greens

.

organic veggies+

organic veggies+

31 powerhouse ingredients in just 1 tablespoon*

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(35)
organic veggies+

Sure, a salad filled with lettuce and veggies is great. But to transform a sad desk salad into a bountiful bowl brimming with big levels of flavor, texture, and nutrition, consider adding a unique leafy green to the mix.

That's right, once you start growing outside of the typical kale or arugula options, you can dig up an endless garden of leafy greens you can swap into your next meal. "I always have an assortment of leafy greens, including sweet and bitter greens," says registered dietitian and mbg Collective member Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN.

From cabbages to carrots and even a few weeds, here are 16 leafy greens to try.

Advertisement

Types of leafy greens:

1. Watercress

Watercress is a small but mighty leafy green that's a nutrient-dense powerhouse. Watercress is part of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables, which also includes kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. It's low in calories but packs a vast array of nutrients such as:

  • Omega-3s 
  • Vitamins K, C, B6 
  • Fiber
  • Potassium 
  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium 
  • Folate
  • Beta-carotene (vitamin A)

It has small, round leaves and small, light stems; the entire plant is edible and has a light peppery flavor that gets lighter when cooked. It is commonly sold in sealed bags found in the salad aisle of most supermarkets. Watercress is great for salads (like this spring abundance bowl), pasta dishes, smoothies, sandwiches, or a side of sautéed greens. 

Advertisement

2. Mustard greens 

Mustard greens, also known as brown mustard, vegetable mustard, Indian mustard, and Chinese mustard are the peppery leaves of the mustard plant and one of the most nutritious greens you can eat. They're rich in fiber and an excellent source of micronutrients like: 

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6 
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Copper
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Magnesium
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1)

Both mustard seeds and leaves are edible, making them a versatile addition to your dishes year-round. Similar to kale in look and texture, they have a strong peppery, mustardy flavor when raw, but, once cooked, the taste is milder. Whether you plan to eat them raw or cooked, adding salt, fat, or citrus to any bitter green will help mellow the flavor out. Mustard greens are often served seasoned and boiled/steamed for a side dish, and they make a flavorful addition to soups and casseroles. 

Advertisement

3. Dandelion greens 

Dandelion greens are a highly nutritious edible weed you can find in your lawn. From root to flower they are an excellent source of vitamins, plus minerals like:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

The yellow petals from the dandelion flower and the leaves are great in a salad. Similar to kale, you can also cook them and add to savory breakfasts or pastas for extra flavor and nutrition. They have a strong, bitter flavor, so you'll want to blanch them and add a bit of citrus before cooking.

Advertisement

4. Turnip greens 

Turnip greens are the dark leafy green tops of turnip plants. These greens are considered a cruciferous vegetable and actually pack more nutrients and phytonutrients than the turnip itself, including:

  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Folate
  • Gluconasturtiin
  • Glucotropaeolin
  • Quercetin
  • Myricetin
  • Beta-carotene (vitamin A)

The greens are large and leafy with a slightly peppery flavor, similar to mustard greens, and can be cooked and served in the same ways. Turnip greens work great braised, sautéed, or in a salad for a different flavor from the typical greens. Try them in this greens bowl recipe as a swap for kale.

Advertisement

5. Beet greens 

Beet greens are edible green leaves found on the tip of beets. While we know beetroot for its health benefits, its often forgotten green stems are full of nutrients that have been linked to supporting eye health:

  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Riboflavin
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin K
  • Beta-carotene (vitamin A)
  • Lutein

From the beet, you'll find these leafy green leaves and red stems, with a mild, sweet, and earthy flavor similar to chard. The texture when cooked is similar to spinach, so they work great on their own as a side dish, or you can toss the greens with pasta or add them to an omelet or risotto. Get creative with this Vegan & Gluten-Free Cone Head Cabbage Slaw

6. Bok choy

Bok choy is a type of Chinese white cabbage; it supplies huge amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants:

  • Fiber
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K 

Bok choy is notable for its thick, dark-green flowery leaves and white-colored stalks that have a crispy, fresh crunch. The greens have a spinach-like taste that makes them very versatile. You can enjoy bok choy raw as a slaw, braised, stir-fried, and even fermented. Give them a toss in this bok choy and asparagus stir-fry.

7. Microgreens

Microgreens are small versions of vegetables and herbs—items like radish, kale, and red cabbage that have not yet hit maturity. You can grow them at home all year round, making them easily available. They are often used as a garnish or decoration, but they're actually full of flavor and nutrients, such as:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E 
  • Vitamin K
  • Carotenoids

In fact, a 2014 study conducted by the USDA tested 25 varieties of microgreens and found that they contained considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids than mature plant counterparts.

Microgreens vary in taste, which can range from neutral to spicy, slightly sour, or even bitter, depending on the variety. The most popular varieties are watercress, radish and wheatgrass, fennel, and celery. 

They can be a wonderful addition to a variety of dishes, including sandwiches, smoothies, wraps, and salads—or on top of pizzas, soups, omelets, curries, and other warm dishes.

8. Swiss chard

Swiss chard has dark-green leaves with a thick stalk that comes in a rainbow of shades. It contains a unique flavonoid called syringic acid, along with other valuable nutrients:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Potassium

Swiss chard is frequently used in Mediterranean cooking. The leaves have an earthy, bitter taste when raw; cooked, they have a mild, sweet taste similar to spinach. While many people typically throw away the stems of the Swiss chard plant, they're actually highly nutritious. Try adding all parts of the Swiss chard plant to dishes such as soups, tacos, or casseroles.

Another great option: Try it out with this recipe for black lentils with salt-roasted beets and labneh.

9. Arugula

Arugula is a leafy green vegetable that goes by several different names, including rocket and rucola. It's an excellent source of dietary nitrates, and it's also abundant in a variety of other nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Folate (vitamin B9)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A

Arugula has a slightly peppery taste when raw, and a more mellow flavor after cooking. Its small leaves are prime for salads, or it can be an add-on topping for sandwiches, toasts, and breakfast dishes. This green is a standout in this arugula stracciatella soup.

10. Collard greens

Collard greens are loose-leaf greens, related to kale and spring greens. This versatile vegetable is rich in many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus

Collard greens are similar to kale in flavor and texture. They have a slightly bitter taste that is easy to reduce with cooking and seasoning. You can use collard greens in any recipe that calls for kale; try them raw in salads, chop them up and add them to stews and soups, or use them as a wrap for a low-carb sandwich. Swap kale for collards in this warm kale, carrot, and bean salad.

11. Spinach

Spinach is perhaps one of the more popular leafy green vegetables. Spinach has a host of benefits and is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K1
  • Folic acid
  • Iron
  • Calcium 

Most people are aware that spinach is rich in iron, but in order to absorb the nutrient, you'll want to eat it with foods that increase iron absorption (namely, fruits and vegetables with vitamin C). Spinach is easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes, including soups, sauces, smoothies, and salads. When in doubt, a green smoothie is always a great option.

12. Kale

Another classic leafy green, kale is a nutrition powerhouse. It contains high levels of antioxidants, plus its stems are a rich source of prebiotics, which help feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome. Additionally, kale features other beneficial nutrients, such as:

  • Iron
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Sulfur

Eating kale raw can help protect its antioxidant levels, and it's fantastic as a salad base. That said, the texture can be a bit off-putting to some people, so it can help to "massage" the leaves with olive oil to help make them more palatable. Otherwise, kale is an ideal leafy green for smoothies, soups, and so much more. For a savory and satisfying dish, try this Mediterranean blistered mushrooms with croutons and kale recipe.

13. Radicchio

Radicchio, also known as Italian chicory, is a type of leafy chicory. Radicchio is high in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may benefit your heart and digestive system, as well as containing other nutrients like:

  • Fiber
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6

Radicchio is a leafy vegetable similar to red cabbage, but with a more bitter taste.

It can be used like endive, chicory, escarole, and arugula. Using radicchio with sweet or acidic ingredients can reduce or complement its bitter flavor. Try chopping it and adding to salads, grilling, or mixing into soups. This radicchio citrus salad features the perfect balance of flavors.

14. Broccoli raab

Broccoli raab, also known as rapini, is a leafy, cruciferous vegetable. Contrary to the name, broccoli raab is not in the broccoli family but more closely related to turnips. Since it is a green leafy vegetable, it is not surprising that broccoli raab is a source of many nutrients:

  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Folate

Broccoli raab is great raw or cooked, like any other leafy greens. Raw broccoli raab may have a more bitter taste, so a quick blanch is recommended for a milder flavor. Broccoli raab is commonly used in Asian and Italian cooking, though it can be incorporated into many types of cuisine and healthy recipes.

15. Carrot tops

Though many people throw carrot greens away, they're actually loaded with nutrients, and you can easily repurpose them in soups, sauces, salads, and more. Carrot tops, like many other leafy greens, provide a variety of nutrients such as:

  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin A 
  • Vitamin K
  • Chlorophyll
  • Magnesium
  • Fiber
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Calcium

Like many of these leafy greens, carrot tops have a bitter flavor. It's worth noting that, as registered nutritionist Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, previously told mbg: "If you are allergic to celery or parsley—which are members of the same family as the greens—then refrain from having them." Otherwise, contrary to some people's concern about the greens, they are perfectly safe to eat.

You can use carrot greens like most herbs to garnish soups, salads, pasta dishes, and stir-fries. Similar to other leafy greens, they do tend to be bitter, but blanching can help. There are so many ways to use carrot tops, like this carrot-top tabbouleh or carrot-top pesto

16. Butterhead lettuce

Butterhead lettuce is a leafy green also known as cabbage lettuce due to its round shape. The most popular types of butterhead are Bibb and Boston lettuce.

This lettuce is a good source of carotenoid antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Butterhead contains higher amounts of iron than other lettuces and contains other nutrients like:

  • Fiber
  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K

Butterhead lettuce gets its name from its characteristically soft, buttery leaves. They are usually deep green leaves that have a crumpled look that resembles flower petals. Butterhead lettuce adds a mild, sweet flavor to dishes. It adds texture to salads and sandwiches and can be added to wraps and even warm salad dishes. It's a great addition to this vegan BLT salad.

Important things to know about leafy greens:

What is the best way to store leafy greens?

Leafy greens stay fresh longer if they're rinsed, wrapped in a paper towel or tea towel, and refrigerated in a container or sealed plastic bag. You can do this with lettuce greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, and more (here's a guide on storing greens).

How many servings of greens should you eat a day?

To boost your daily nutrition, aim to eat about 2 cups of dark, leafy greens like collards every day. Two cups of raw greens is equal to 1 cup of vegetables, and 2½ cups is recommended daily for a 2,000-calorie diet.

What is the best way to wash leafy greens?

The first step in the preparation of fresh greens is to wash them properly. Even if you buy prewashed greens, it is a good idea to rinse them again. Washing your green leafy vegetables as soon as you bring them home will make them easier to use when you need them. Here's how:

  • Always start with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds or more with soap and warm water.
  • Wash all leafy green vegetables, including pre-bagged greens under cold running tap water. 
  • For leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, remove the outer leaves first. Throw away any wilted or discolored leaves.
  • Rinse leafy vegetables in a colander, drain (or use a salad spinner), and pat dry with a paper towel or tea towel.
  • Store in clean paper towels or a tea towel in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge. Use within a week.

How to eat more leafy greens:

1. Toss them in a green juice.

Green leafy vegetables are a great addition to just about any smoothie or green juice. Easily toss a handful of spinach or collards in with a mixture of bananas and berries, and enjoy the drink without noticing the added health benefit of the hidden greens. You can gradually add more greens as you adjust to enjoy maximal health benefits.

2. Wilt them!

When wilted, green leafy vegetables still provide most of their nutritious goodness, in a more manageable form. Add raw green leafy vegetables to your pasta or grain dishes. Arugula and spinach will quickly wilt and add both color and flavor without overwhelming the rest of your dish. Mustard and dandelion greens are also great for adding nutrients and texture to casseroles and breakfast dishes. 

3. Make soup.

Just about any soup can become more nutritious by adding green leafy vegetables. Mustard greens and collards can take the place of kale in Italian soups, and broccoli raab can add a flavorful twist to the typical broccoli-based soup dishes. Or puree spinach and arugula for a deep green warm soup full of nutrients. 

The takeaway.

Leafy green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They're packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. There are a wide variety of leafy greens to choose from with all different types of textures, flavors, and nutrient profiles—plus, they're easy to incorporate into your meals in simple and creative ways.

Try adding some new and different leafy greens to your daily diet, to reap the health benefits and expand your culinary palette. 

organic veggies+
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(35)
organic veggies+

organic veggies+

31 powerhouse ingredients in just 1 tablespoon*

organic veggies+

organic veggies+

31 powerhouse ingredients in just 1 tablespoon*

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(35)
organic veggies+

More On This Topic

More Food

Popular Stories

Advertisement

Latest Articles

Latest Articles
Advertisement

Your article and new folder have been saved!