We all know that vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. Not only are they packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they can also be easily incorporated into almost every meal.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend that Americans change their vegetable consumption, highlighting dark green vegetables as one major category.
Whether you fold them into an omelet, blend them into a smoothie, or sneak them into a burrito, dark leafy greens are a perfect way to add nutrients to any dish.
To find out more about the best leafy greens to eat every day, we consulted with members of our Board of Medical Experts Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, also known as The Nutrition Twins. Read on to find out what registered dietitians have to say. Then, for more tips on healthy eating, check out the #1 best vegetables for lowering blood sugar.
This leafy green probably isn’t in your usual vegetable rotation — but it should be.
“One of the reasons these greens are so powerful is that they help increase bile flow, break down fats, facilitate digestion, aid your liver, protect it and help it filter potentially harmful chemicals from your food,” The Nutrition Twins say.
Packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene, dandelion has been shown to protect against cell damage, which can ultimately help stave off chronic disease. Plus, its rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin supports eye health, while its vitamin C and K content helps promote bone health. And that’s not all these leafy greens can do.
“One of their true superpowers is that they are a rich source of gut-friendly prebiotics, thanks to the insulin,” says The Nutrition Twin. “It boosts the gut’s production of ‘good’ bifidobacteria, which helps boost immune function and may help prevent cancer.”
Bok choy is a cruciferous vegetable, which means it belongs to the same family as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
“Cruciferous vegetables reduce the risk of cancer and contain cancer-fighting nutrients like vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, folic acid, and selenium, which have been shown to slow tumor growth,” says The Nutrition Twins.
In addition to containing bone-building vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin K, bok choy is rich in quercetin – a flavonoid that has been linked to reduced inflammation and protection against chronic disease.
For a nutrient-rich meal, The Nutrition Twins suggests chopping up these green leaves and adding them to your stir fry.
If you’re bored of broccoli, why not try broccoli sprouts?
These leafy greens are 3- to 5-day-old broccoli plants with tiny green leaves that resemble clover sprouts. While it provides the same number of calories and macronutrients as broccoli per ounce, it contains about 100 times more glucoraphanin.
“…when chewing or cutting, [glucoraphanin] It is converted into the supernatural phytochemical sulforaphane, which has powerful anti-cancer effects, including promoting the death of cancer cells. [and] Reduce inflammation and susceptibility to cancer-causing toxins,” says the Diet Twins. Sulforaphane increases detoxification enzymes in the liver, and may also help turn off certain genes linked to cancer. “
This cruciferous plant has a slightly spicy, peppery flavor — along with a slew of health benefits.
According to a ranked list of “powerful fruits and vegetables,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) crowned watercress as the most nutrient-dense vegetable. This means that it contains the most nutrients in the fewest number of calories. Therefore, this green is especially useful when it comes to disease prevention and weight loss.
Plus, The Nutrition Twins highlights that watercress contains high amounts of digestion-enhancing fiber, immune-supporting vitamin C, disease-preventing glucosinolates, and more.
“One of the highlights of this strength is vitamin K, which is an extremely important (and overlooked) nutrient for bone health,” says The Nutrition Twins. Just one cup (34 grams) of watercress provides more than 100% of the [recommended daily intake] for vitamin K
With this leafy green being so versatile, The Nutrition Twins recommend adding it to salads, soups, stir-fries, and even pizza.
The Nutrition Twins explains that spinach is full of carotenoids that help “slough off” free radicals known to damage cells. They also note that research has shown that these leafy greens protect against cancers of the stomach, colon, mouth, and esophagus.
As a rich source of potassium, spinach has been linked to lowering blood pressure, while its lutein content has been linked to enhancing cognitive function. In addition to its nutritional benefits, this vegetable has a varied flavor.
“Spinach is so mild that it feels like a chameleon, and can be mixed into foods like juices so it can’t be detected, making it the perfect vegetable for people who find it difficult to enjoy green vegetables,” says The Nutrition Twins.
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