Nutrition

The Best Leafy Greens: Nutritional Face-Off

If you’ve been doing your research on what it means to eat healthy, one thing that you should know by now is the fact that eating your greens is important.

Green vegetables are loaded with nutritional value, high in fiber and will also provide hardly any calories to your daily diet plan. Basically, they are the hottest celebrity on the red carpet of foods. Whether you’re hoping to lose weight, maintain your weight, or simply improve your health and physical performance, getting those leafy greens into your diet is a must. But, which ones are best? While everyone knows that spinach is associated with muscle building thanks to the Popeye’s character, what is it about spinach that makes it so?

Let’s give you the low-down on these leafy greens so you can see which to serve up with your next salad.

Collard Greens

Raw Organic Green Collard Greens

Ever heard of collard greens? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t. But, neglecting this powerful leafy green is neglecting what may just be one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

Collard greens are a nutritional superstar, containing over 800% of your vitamin K intake. Eat this one and you’ll have no problem with blood clothing – what vitamin K is known for. In addition to that, this green is also rich in vitamin A, manganese, vitamin C, fiber, calcium, B vitamins, as well as iron and copper. The leafy green is great for helping to detox your body thanks to the sulfur-containing nutrients that promote the removal of any toxic substances in your system.

In addition to that, they’re also very powerful for lowering your cholesterol levels. Eat these regularly and you could be kick-starting your heart health. The one caveat with this green? You’ll want to steam it for optimal results. Steaming helps to bring out the cholesterol-lowering benefits even more than eating it raw, so try it as the next side dish for your meal.

Romaine Lettuce

Romaine Lettuce

Okay, so romaine lettuce may have gotten the backseat in your diet for quite some time, always choosing kale or spinach over it. And while both kale and spinach do have their own unique set of benefits, don’t overlook romaine lettuce any longer.

One key benefit that romaine does offer is a very rich dose of folic acid, which is needed by both genders for optimal reproductive function. Women who are planning on trying to conceive should be taking in sufficient folic acid on a daily basis. Men who get enough of this nutrient will have an increased sperm count. In addition to this, romaine lettuce may also help to boost your mood, combatting feelings of depression, so that’s another reason to be getting it in.

Try adding it to more salads than just your Ceasar salad mix.

Chicory

Chicory

Another leafy vegetable that few people ever even consider adding to their diet, chicory stands out as one of the best vegetables for helping combat disease.

It has a very rich supply of polyphenols, which are powerful micronutrients that help prevent a number of diseases in the human body. To put this into perspective, chicory contains over double the level of polyphenols that spinach does, so you can see just how powerful this is. Chicory is also a rich source of inulin, which is a carbohydrate fiber. For those who are struggling with blood sugar regulation, this can be hugely helpful.

Finally, it’s also a great source of calcium, vitamin A, as well as potassium and can help you manage your digestive health.

Beet Greens

Beet Greens

While you may have turned your nose up at beets whenever your grandmother prepared them for your family meals, one leafy green that you may not want to turn away so quickly are beet greens.

Beet greens are a rich source of both calcium and iron, two minerals needed by athletic individuals. The calcium will help foster strong bone growth and development while the iron will help ensure that you don’t reach states of fatigue early on while exercising.

Beet greens are also a good source of B vitamins, which are needed for proper energy generation from the foods that you eat.

Just be aware that the roots of this green are much higher in calories, so stick with the leafy portion instead.

Kale

Kale super vegetable

Now it comes time to talk about what may just be the most glamorised ‘superfood’ out there – kale. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard that kale is one food you don’t want to miss out on. And, it’s true.

Often touted as the healthiest green that you could eat, kale offers a wide variety of different health benefits that you can’t ignore.

First, it’s a very powerful source of iron. Coming in at 12% of your daily intake per two cups, which is even more than spinach (which clocks in at 10%), this leafy green will ensure that you are maintaining your energy levels during exercise and withstand fatigue. Iron-deficiency anemia is one of the worst conditions than any athlete or active individual could suffer from and this leafy green will help prevent it.

In addition to that, kale is also a standout food for getting your vitamin K needs met. With that same two cup serving providing over 1300% of your daily intake, you will have no shortage of vitamin K in your system. Kale can also help to boost immune system function, making it easier for you to fend off invading bacteria and viruses. It also is a great source of a substance called indole-3-carbinol, which may help to reduce the occurrence of colon cancer in the body. One fact that many people don’t know about kale is that it’s actually quite high in protein content as well. While you won’t find as much protein in kale compared to a chicken breast or other form of meat, it is still an excellent source. Per 100 gram serving, you’ll take in around 49 calories and 4.3 grams of protein, meaning it’s about 35% total protein content.

Finally, kale is also an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, both nutrients which will help you feel your best and reduce your chances of falling ill.

Kale tastes great raw or cooked, so it’s a very versatile green to be including in your daily meal plan.

Spinach

spinach

Which now brings us to spinach. Spinach, know to be the ‘muscle green’, gets this association thanks to its high iron content as well. While not as high as kale, one two-cup serving provides 10% of your total daily needs.

What’s more is that it’s suggested that certain compounds in spinach leaves may also serve as an appetite suppressant. So, for those who are dieting and looking to get leaner, this could be a wonder green. Spinach is also lower in calories than kale is, and while the different isn’t all that significant, if you are tightly regulating your intake, it is something to note. Per 100 gram serving, kale comes in at 49 calories while spinach will provide just 23.

Spinach is also higher in vitamin C compared to kale, so could help you fend off that cold in the first place. Spinach also ranks quite well in terms of overall potassium content, which is a key mineral that will help regulate muscular contractions in the body. By eating spinach on a regular basis, you may just see an increase in the quality of your physical performance.

Mustard Greens

Organic Raw Mustard Greens

Finally, let’s not forget mustard greens. These greens often don’t get as much attention as they deserve given the fact they are excellent for fending off your risk of cancer development.

Many people who are also suffering from arthritis or depression may find mustard greens can help to minimise their symptoms.

Additionally, mustard greens could help reduce the severity of a cold, so eating this one when sick is a smart move. This leafy green can also help to lower the level of inflammation in the body thanks to the level of glucosinolates present, a molecule that helps regulate inflammation in the body. Mustard greens area also well-known to help lower overall cholesterol levels and boost heart health, coming in only second to collard greens mentioned above. Just like collard greens however, you’ll want to steam your mustard greens in order to reap the maximum nutritional benefits.

So keep these leafy green varieties in mind. As you prepare your dinner meals, try and mix it up every so often, bringing new leafy greens into the mix. The more variety you get in, the greater the chances are that you maximise your health in the process.

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Shaw Academy

Updated: Aug 18, 2015

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