When it comes to eating leafy greens, the question I am often asked is, “Which one is the BEST?”. We are always looking to get the most bang for our buck, especially when it comes to what we eat; most of the time we’d rather get one super-food than a whole bunch of produce to get a wide array of nutrients. Although some greens are more nutrient-dense than others, there is not one specific green that beats out all the rest. Because of this, it is important to rotate different greens throughout your diet. One general rule of thumb we can always follow is that the darker the leaf the more nutrients you will get. To help navigate the rest of the leafy green world here are the seven most common greens and a comparison of their vitamin and mineral levels.
- Kale has developed a reputation for being the healthiest plant we can eat, and while it is highly nutritious and versatile, it has lower calcium levels than spinach, collard greens, and arugula. Since it is a tough green that can be difficult to chew, and therefore fully digest and absorb, try either lightly steaming it or massaging raw kale with olive oil before eating.
- Popeye knew that spinach was a leafy green powerhouse, but he may not have known that it beats out kale in its levels of calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A & K, and folate. Plus, its mild flavor makes it a great addition to any meal, including smoothies!
- Swiss chard can add some great color to your plate with its rainbow of stems, plus, it comes close to spinach in its nutrient offerings. It is higher in sodium than other greens, so if you are trying to limit your sodium intake, you may want to add a bit less salt to your Swiss chard side dish.
- Romaine is perfect for salads because of its mild flavor and fresh crunch. While its not the most nutrient-rich green, although it is high in folate and Vitamin A, it can easily be mixed with other greens for a well-balanced and multi-textured salad.
- Collard greens are a staple in the southern US states, but deserve attention everywhere for their health benefits; they have twice the amount of calcium as spinach and are also high in potassium and magnesium.
- Arugula is a great way to add a little spice to your salads, as well as some good antioxidants and fiber. Its overall general nutritional value is lower than some other greens, but it combines beautifully with nutrient-dense spinach.
- Iceberg lettuce is basically crunchy water, although it does have a fair amount of potassium. While it’s not bad for you, I recommend opting for other greens to reap the most nutrients.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of these greens, created using information from the USDA Food Comparison Databases:
Calcium Potassium Magnesium Vit E Vit C Vit A Vit K Folate
(mg) (mg) (mg) (mg) (mg) (IU) (ug) (ug)
Kale 24 79 8 0.3 19 1598 113 23
Spinach 30 167 24 0.6 8 2813 145 58
Chard 18 136 29 0.7 11 2202 299 5
Romaine 16 116 7 0.1 2 4094 48 64
Collards 84 77 10 0.8 12.7 1807 157 46
Arugula 32 74 9 0.1 3 475 22 19
Iceberg 13 102 5 0.1 2 361 17 21
*mg= milligrams *IU= International Units *ug= micrograms
As you can see, not one of these greens contains equal amounts of all the nutrients you need for a balanced diet, so mix them up in order to get the most out of them. Get your green on!