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Get Your Leafy Greens

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Leafy green vegetables in the shape of a heart

Greens are essential to a healthy diet. Not only are they low in calories, but they also contain virtually no fat. Green vegetables provide an abundance of nutrients our bodies need to reduce the risks for cancers, heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The vitamins and minerals they offer are essential for our normal day-to-day body functions.

Nutrient Benefit Breakdown

Greens contain a prevalent amount of nutrients such as fiber; vitamins A, C and K; folate; potassium; calcium and lutein.

  • Fiber, which helps the body feel full longer, can reduce blood cholesterol and reduces the risk for heart disease and potentially colon cancer.
  • Vitamin A supports eye and skin health. Vitamin C supports wound healing and healthy teeth and gums.
  • Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin, assists in blood clotting.
  • Folate, otherwise known as folic acid, aids in the formation of red blood cells.
  • Potassium is crucial for healthy blood pressure.
  • Calcium supports healthy bones and teeth.
  • Lutein is a phytochemical that may reduce the risk of age-related vision damage.

Depending on whether these guiltless greens are raw or cooked, they range between 10-40 calories per cup. Dietary guidelines recommend a minimum of 1 ½ cups per week of green vegetables in addition to a variety of other colorful vegetables in your daily diet.

Five “Fancy” Greens

The vegetables below stand out in the world of greens. Learn more about their nutrient offerings and creative ways to work them into your food regimen:

1. Kale

High in potassium, calcium, lutein and vitamins A and C

Kale can be eaten raw or cooked (sautéed or baked) and it can be prepared with lemon juice and olive oil. Kale has a slightly bitter flavor, but mixed with soups and rice can produce a savory note. Baby kale typically has a milder flavor and is easier to chew raw with just as many nutrients.

2. Swiss chard

High in folate, fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamins A and K

Swiss chard isn’t always just green, it can be found in vibrant hues, including red, orange, purple, yellow and white, that are nature’s way of saying “eat me!” Typically people who enjoy spinach like the taste of Swiss chard, since the flavors are comparable. Swiss chard tastes great raw in salads or boiled with lemon juice and olive oil. Boiling it and cutting off the stems creates a tender texture. 

3. Spinach

High in potassium, fiber, folate, lutein, calcium and vitamins A, C and K

Spinach is versatile and can be steamed, sautéed, baked or eaten raw. It has a mild flavor compared to its green counter-parts and pairs well with most foods. Add it to smoothies, casseroles, omelets or any side dish. 

4. Arugula

High in vitamin K and also contains vitamin A and potassium

Arugula has a peppery taste that can complement or replace lettuce and act as a flavorful herb in salads or sandwiches. Typically arugula is eaten raw. 

5. Broccoli

High in potassium, fiber, calcium and vitamins A, C and K

Broccoli can be steamed, baked, sautéed, roasted or served raw. Broccoli also has a mild flavor and can be pureed for soup and added to casseroles. It usually goes well with most dressings and is a great side to any meat entrée. For added calcium, try topping it with a 2% shredded cheese.

Don’t forget these:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Green beans

Dr. Kenneth Cooper notes that cruciferous vegetables can be extremely important to your overall health. Think of them as "BBCC"—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. Incorporating these superfoods into your routine will add plenty of helpful nutrients to your body.

Keep in mind that boiling vegetables may cause them to lose some vitamins and minerals if the water or broth is discarded. Baking, sautéing, steaming, roasting and eating them raw are the best ways to get the maximum nutritional value. However, there is still some vitamin loss when greens are exposed to high temperatures.

Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, “dressing” the vegetables in light olive oil or a small amount of heart-healthy margarine such as Smart Balance may promote further vitamin K absorption.

Incorporating these into a healthy diet can provide new savory flavors, as well as added bulk and texture to dishes you already enjoy!

Article provided by Cooper Clinic Nutrition. To schedule a nutrition consultation, visit or call 972.560.2655.