Quick Health Scoop
- Think green when it comes to nutritional powerhouse foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables
- Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, green foods are typically low in calories and high in fiber
- In particular, many green leafy vegetables are packed with Vitamin A and Vitamin K
- You can easily incorporate some of the best green vegetables into your soups, stews, salads, stir fries, and salads
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, you might already have green on the brain. Hopefully, that translates to your healthy eating habits, too. After all, green foods—especially green leafy vegetables—are good for you all year round. But why is green food healthy? And what are the best healthy greens to incorporate into your diet?
You often hear that it’s best to incorporate a lot of greens into your diet, so let’s look at why naturally green foods are so good for you, which ones are the best for you, what nutrients are in each, and how to add them into your diet.
Why Are Green Foods Healthy?
You know that eating a balanced diet includes focusing on more healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. But naturally green foods—especially leafy greens—should top your good-for-you list of nutritious foods. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adults should eat 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables per day and of this, to include 1½ to 2 cups of dark green vegetables per week.1
Loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals (plant based compounds), green foods are typically low in calories. This means you can eat them in abundance without worrying about packing on the pounds—as long as you don’t smother your healthy greens with butter, fatty cheeses, or creamy sauces and dressings loaded with calories, that is.
Wondering what green food health benefits you may reap? Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals, dark green leafy vegetables top out at only 10 to 25 calories per half-cup serving.5 Common nutrients in healthy greens include Vitamin A (as Beta Carotene) which helps support healthy vision, Vitamin C which supports a healthy immune system, Vitamin K, antioxidants, calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Thanks to the high content of antioxidants in these dark green vegetables, they help to neutralize free radicals to support health.3,†
What Are The Best Green Foods?
You should continue eating your everyday favorite green fruits and vegetables, such as green beans, kiwi, green grapes, edamame, pears, green bell peppers, leeks, green apples, okra, limes, broccoli, and avocados. They’re good for you, too! But start adding more from our list of the best green vegetables below to your shopping cart every week for additional health benefits.
As a heart-healthy food, spinach is packed with nutrients. Just one cup of raw spinach delivers 181% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K and 56% of Vitamin A.5
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.5
How to eat it: Make a healthy green breakfast by mixing up an avocado spinach smoothie or adding fresh spinach to an omelet. Picky eaters can just toss a handful of chopped spinach into a casserole or add a few leaves to a sandwich for a change instead of lettuce. You can also substitute the lettuce in your salad to spinach leaves for a delicious crunch and nutrient punch.
As one of the best dark green leafy vegetables, kale packs in the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has a bitter taste when eaten raw, but you get the most nutrients from kale when consumed this way. However, even when cooked, just one cup of kale packs a whopping 1328% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K and 354% of Vitamin A! Plus, kale has antioxidants like lutein and beta-carotene.4
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and protein.
How to eat it: Chop up tough curly kale and add it to soups, stews, and casseroles, as heat tames the bitter taste of kale as it cooks. Or use baby kale or lacinato kale—both a bit more tender—in a chopped kale salad but add some sweet apples and raisins to balance out kale’s bitterness. You can also massage the raw kale in your hands before adding to a salad to soften the kale and slightly decrease the bitter taste.
3. Collard Greens
With large, thick leaves and a slightly bitter taste, collards make a great side dish loaded with key nutrients. One cup of cooked collard greens contains a hefty 1045% of the daily value of Vitamin K and 308% of Vitamin A.5
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, riboflavin, folate, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, protein, and zinc.
How to eat it: Popular in Southern cuisine, this type of leafy vegetable is often cooked with butter and bacon—tasty, but not super healthy. Instead, sauté collards in a little olive oil, with diced onions, garlic, red pepper flakes (if you like a spicy kick), and a sprinkle of salt. Since collards are bitter, you can also braise them with vegetable broth on low heat until soft and tender, adding just a pinch of sugar at the end to offset the bitterness.
4. Bok Choy
As another one of the best dark green vegetables, bok choy is a Chinese cabbage with sweet, leafy greens, making it the perfect add-in for soups and stir-fries. Rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, bok choy adds an earthy flavor to dishes and pairs well with Asian cuisine.
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
How to eat it: The next time you make a stir fry, add some chopped bok choy into the mix along with ginger and sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle some oyster sauce or low-sodium soy sauce for a savory/umami flavor. For another taste-of-Asia meal, try adding chopped bok choy to a build-your-own bowl with seared tofu, brown rice, and a ginger dressing, topped off with scallions and sesame seeds.
5. Swiss Chard
Although its thick stalk comes in a variety of colors (such as green, red, or yellow), this dark-green leafy vegetable also adds an earthy taste to dishes. While bok choy is often used in Asian dishes, Swiss chard is frequently found in Mediterranean cuisine.
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
How to eat it: Since boiling leafy greens leeches some of the nutrients, try sautéing Swiss chard in olive oil with onions, garlic, and some lemon zest. (Don’t use lemon juice, which is known to turn leafy greens brown.) Or throw some chopped Swiss chard into a pot of soup, adding it at the end.
6. Romaine Lettuce
Replace your nutrient-poor iceberg lettuce with nutrient-dense romaine, a green leafy vegetable packed with powerful vitamins and minerals such as 10% daily value of Vitamin A and 8% daily value of Vitamin K.5
Nutrients: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, iron, manganese, and potassium.
How to eat it: Its sturdy leaves make a great wrap, which you can fill with shredded carrots, diced cucumber, quinoa, and grilled chicken for a healthy lunch. Or make a salad of mixed greens, including romaine lettuce, baby kale, and spinach—a healthy greens trifecta!
Need more healthy recipes? Check out these healthy meal prep ideas.
The Bottom Line
Green foods provide many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants vital to your health and well-being. And, as you see from the recipe ideas above, you don’t need to follow a vegetarian lifestyle to reap the health benefits of eating healthy greens. Simply add more plant-based foods—particularly dark leafy green vegetables—to your daily diet. While tasty on their own, these nutritional powerhouses make great add-ins to salads, green protein smoothies, soups, stir fries, grain bowls, stews, and casseroles just to name a few. Use the best-in-class list above as a starting point for healthy greens you should be eating on a regular basis.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
- USDA My Plate. “What foods are in the Vegetable Group?” 2021. Accessed on: February 26, 2021. https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/vegetables
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “How to Get Your Kids to Eat Dark Leafy Greens.” July 1, 2020. Accessed on: February 26, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/how-to-get-your-kids-to-eat-dark-leafy-greens
- USDA Agricultural Research Service. “Dark Green Leafy Vegetables.” 2013. Accessed on: February 26, 2021. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/dark-green-leafy-vegetables/
- International Journal of Biomedical Science. “ Free Radicals, Antioxidants...” June 2008. Accessed on: February 26, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697
- NutritionData: https://nutritiondata.self.com
Additional Nutrition Data from:USDA FoodData Central: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1103276/nutrients