Numerous nutrition related articles talk about preferring a diet rich in green leafy vegetables. Ironically, the ancient Greeks and Romans were aware of their nutritious power; they grew kale and collards and the Romans took them with them on their empire-building campaigns. This good practice sustained their armies and their general populations. Modern diets include many processed foods and you may not have been exposed to these traditional sources of nutrition.
If you are in that unfortunate group, then you may be looking at the selection of greenery at the grocery store and wondering what to select and why. A brief summary of the top powerhouse green leafy vegetable choices and their nutritional benefits may make your next trip and your transition to a healthier diet a little easier.
At the top of the list is the almighty kale. A variety of different types of kale leaves is available in some supermarkets, but most common is that classic curly-leaf kale. As a general guide, the darker the color, the higher the nutrient density. This applies to kale and most other leafy vegetables. A one-cup serving of chopped kale delivers a whopping 134% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, 133% of Vitamin A and 1,180% of Vitamin K. That one-cup serving also provides about 2.9 grams of protein, making kale a good source of plant-based proteins. You can boost the nutrient density of that yogurt smoothie for breakfast or that lunchtime salad mix by throwing in some chopped kale.
A close cousin of kale is the collard green, a well-established dietary component in the southeast region of the United States. In addition to offering vitamins and minerals, steamed collards have proven to be an excellent cholesterol-fighting food, beating out drugs specifically designed for that purpose. Collards can be mixed with other greens, steamed and served with olive oil and seasoning.
Before kale’s ascendancy to the king of the leafy vegetables throne, spinach was the leafy nutrient powerhouse. Popeye was onto something when he downed a can of spinach to grow muscles. A 6-ounce serving of cooked spinach delivers 6.4 mg of iron, which directly supports muscle development. Spinach leaves also contain a substance in the leaf membranes that are known to be appetite suppressants. This helps reduce cravings and supports weight loss. Spinach can be added to salads, yogurt smoothies and served as a nutritious side dish on its own.
While we’re on the subject of salad, romaine lettuce is an excellent choice for the green leafy part of any salad, not just the famous Caesar salad. Romaine lettuce provides more Vitamin B in the form of folic acid than even the mighty kale does. Folic acid helps to enhance fertility and sperm counts in male human beings. This substance is also indicated as a great nutrient for fighting depression.
Next in line is Swiss chard, which contains over a dozen different antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that are shown to lower insulin resistance and improve glucose tolerance. Chard can be a great addition to a weight loss program where a defense against diabetes is needed. Swiss chard can be sauteed and served as a side dish, or added to stews and other mixed vegetable dishes. Cabbage is another leafy vegetable with powerful anti-inflammatory powers, while supplying calcium, iron and other minerals.
Finally, instead of brushing aside the funny looking garnish on the side of your plate – the green parsley leaves – you might want to take a second look. Just one sprig of those tiny leaves can deliver a whole day’s supply of Vitamin K. Parsley also helps to control your appetite, making it another weight-loss friendly food. Chopped parsley can be added to any salad, vegetable stew and added as a garnish on top of steaks and grilled fish.
The great news about all of these excellent nutrient choices is that they are affordable, available in most supermarkets year round and even easy to grow in your own garden or in a pot on a patio. Most have long production seasons often extending to multiple years. Go green – it’s easy and it will make you stronger.