You’ve heard time and time again that it’s important to incorporate plenty of greens into your diet. Green veggies, especially the leafy kind, are packed with health-boosting nutrients your body needs to function at optimal levels, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and more. As such, countless studies show that eating your greens is one of the best things you can do to thwart the onset of myriad diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer.
With so many different greens lining the wall of the grocery store’s produce section, though, you might catch yourself wondering which you should add to your cart. Turns out, those greens vary just as much in nutrition as they do in appearance!
One general rule-of-thumb to note: When it comes to leafy greens, the darker the leaf the higher the antioxidant content, explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, L.D.N., R.D.N., C.P.T. Other green vegetables, such as broccoli, bell peppers, and asparagus, meanwhile, provide nutrients and beneficial compounds of their own. “For example, broccoli (considered a cruciferous vegetable) contains the compound sulforaphane,” Michels points out. This antioxidant has been shown to play a powerful role in the body’s detoxification process.
Truthfully, any green is a nutritional home run and a worthy contributor to your overall diet, but if you’re looking to really maximize your eats, experts say these seven options are some of the healthiest greens you can eat.
Probably one of the most noteworthy and least intimidating greens out there, spinach packs a strong nutritional punch. Luckily it’s also one of the most readily available vegetables. “With just seven calories per cup, it includes almost a gram of protein and fiber, over 50 percent of your daily vitamin A, over 100 percent of your daily vitamin K, 30 milligrams of calcium, and 24 milligrams of magnesium, in addition to many other nutrients,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N.
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She recommends using spinach as a base for your salads (try it topped with beets and walnuts or strawberry and feta), throwing it into smoothies with fruits like blueberries or pineapple, and sauteeing it in olive oil or coconut oil as a side dish.
Kale has certainly gained some serious clout over the last 10 years, but it’s always been one of the healthiest greens around. In fact, it’s loaded with vitamins K, A, and C, as well as antioxidants like beta-carotene and lutein, which have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, as shown in one recent study published in the journal nutrients.
Kale is great as a salad green. Blakely likes to cut out the stems, which can be a bit fibrous to chew, and then massage the leaves with a little olive oil before serving them to help soften up the texture. Kale can also be thrown into smoothies or roasted in the oven with a little oil and sea salt to make kale chips for a crunchy snack.
3. Bok choy
While less commonly found in the U.S. than other varieties of greens, this type of Chinese cabbage is gaining popularity. Considered a cruciferous veggie like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, bok choy is nutritionally impressive, containing fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, beta-carotene, and quercetin (a flavonoid), notes Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., nutrition consultant and assistant professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
She recommends sauteeing it with garlic and topping it off with soy sauce and chili oil, or chopping it up and adding it to your favorite soups.
4. Romaine lettuce
Perhaps the most popular green to be used as a salad base, romaine might be basic, but it sure is beneficial on the health front. “Romaine is a good source of heart-healthy folate, and also contains significant amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin K, and potassium,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., dietitian and author of Eating in Color.
In addition to using it for salads, romaine is also delicious when grilled, and makes for a great carb-free shell for tacos or wrap for sandwiches.
Cabbages of all kinds—from red and green to napa and savoy—are nutrient-dense, so you can’t go wrong with mixing cabbage into your greens routine. “Just one cup of cabbage has more than 50 percent of the RDA for vitamin C, 85 percent of the RDA for vitamin K and it’s also rich in heart-healthy potassium,” says Largeman-Roth. “Loaded with soluble fiber, cabbage is also great for your gut, especially when fermented.”
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She recommends enjoying cabbage raw in slaws, braising it, or turning it into sauerkraut (buy jarred kraut if you’re not up for DIY).
6. Mustard greens
Mustard greens look a bit like a cross between kale and romaine lettuce—and their nutritional makeup is similar, too. “One cup of cooked mustard greens has just 36 calories and is loaded with beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin,” says Largeman-Roth. “Lutein and zeaxanthin help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, while beta-carotene is necessary for healthy eyes and skin, as well as a healthy immune and reproductive system.” Talk about an antioxidant powerhouse.
Largeman-Roth recommends adding spicy-flavored mustard greens to salads along with other greens, throwing them into soups or stews, and using them in egg dishes, like frittatas and omelets.
7. Brussels sprouts
These small but mighty cruciferous veggies might get a bad rap for their strong smell, especially when cooked—but they’re undoubtedly delicious. In addition to an intense nutty flavor that’s hard to find in a vegetable, they’re also packed with nutrients. “One cup of Brussels sprouts contains three grams of protein, over three grams of fiber, 75 milligrams of vitamin C, almost 200 percent of your daily vitamin K needs, 37 milligrams of calcium, 20 milligrams of magnesium, and over 300 milligrams of potassium,” says Blakely.
When you’re craving a bit of crunch, Blakely recommends using raw shredded Brussels as a salad base. Of course, you can also prepare them by cutting them in half and roasting them in the oven with oil and sea salt, which is Blakely’s personal favorite way to eat these sprouts.
Final Food For Thought
Ultimately, the healthiest greens for you are the ones that you enjoy most. It’s helpful to keep in mind that choosing the deepest color of all veggies garners the maximum nutrition, according to Christen Cupples Cooper, Ed.D., R.D.N., founding director of Pace University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program. “The more potent the color, the more nutrients are packed inside a veggie,” she says.
That said, just because a certain type of green didn’t make this list doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a spot on your plate. “It’s important to know that no green should be avoided,” Cupples Cooper says. “People should enjoy different types of greens to get the most diverse palate of nutrients possible.” So, just make sure the greens listed here get a spot in your rotation, if they don’t have one already!