Leafy Green Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

When it comes to leafy greens, you get a green light to eat as much as you want — that's how good they are for you!

As a general rule, you should aim to eat at least five servings of vegetables daily (that’s about 2 1/2 cups of cooked vegetables), and that includes leafy greens. As long as they're prepared in a healthy way, leafy greens, like other nonstarchy vegetables, are a great addition to your diet and offer countless health benefits.

Leafy greens are full of vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. They are rich in fiber, an important nutrient for weight loss and maintenance because it keeps you feeling full and helps control your hunger. Fiber can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and help to temper blood-sugar swings by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates into your bloodstream after meals. This lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Leafy greens also contain a lot of water, which helps keep you hydrated and contributes to beautiful skin and hair.

Some leafy greens, like collards and kale, are particularly rich in calcium, which helps keep your teeth and bones strong and reduces your overall risk for osteoporosis. Calcium also contributes to muscle function and blood-pressure management. Leafy greens contain potassium as well, which further protects against osteoporosis and helps manage blood-pressure levels.

The antioxidants like vitamin C, lutein, and zeaxanthin that are contained in leafy greens may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Vitamin C helps the body make collagen too; collagen is a major component of cartilage that aids in joint flexibility, may reduce your risk of arthritis, and keeps your skin and hair healthy and beautiful. Research shows vitamin C may also slow bone loss and decrease the risk of fractures.

Leafy greens that contain beta-carotene, such as collard greens, spinach, and Swiss chard, contribute to the growth and repair of the body's tissues. Beta-carotene may also protect your skin against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, and food sources of beta-carotene are the best way to get your vitamin A fix, since extremely high doses of vitamin A in supplements can be toxic and lead to bone, liver, and neural disorders as well as birth defects. Food sources of beta-carotene are entirely safe, though, since the body regulates how much beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A.

Leafy greens are an excellent source of folate, which can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and memory loss. And since folate contributes to the production of serotonin, it may help ward off depression and improve mood.

The vitamin E found in green leafy vegetables works with vitamin C to keep skin healthy as you age. This vitamin also helps protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays and may help reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

While leafy greens offer many health benefits, they can sometimes trigger IBS in individuals who are sensitive. Additionally, if you’re taking a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin), be sure to have your doctor monitor your blood and your medication dosage as you increase your intake of dark leafy green vegetables. These vegetables are rich in vitamin K, which plays a key role in blood clotting.


Arugula | Collard Greens | Endive | Escarole | Kale | Lettuce | Mustard Greens | Radicchio | Spinach | Swiss Chard | Turnip Greens | Watercress

Arugula
Arugula (also known as rucola and rocket) is a cruciferous and leafy green vegetable with a peppery taste and is often used in salads. It is a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. Arugula may help boost memory due to phytochemicals — antioxidants found in all cruciferous vegetables. Like other salad greens, arugula is very low in calories, which makes it a great addition to any weight-loss plan.

Collard Greens
Collard greens are a cruciferous and leafy green vegetable from the cabbage family, similar to kale. They are a good source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant precursor to vitamin A that can help prevent and manage arthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as maintain healthy hair and skin. Collard greens are also a very good source of vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures. In addition, collard greens contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that may prevent macular degeneration.

Endive
Endive is a bitter leafy vegetable that is often used in salads or eaten as a side dish. There are multiple varieties of endive, including Belgian endive, escarole, and curly endive (frisée). Like other greens, endive is very low in calories, which makes it a great addition to any weight-loss plan. Endive is a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. It is also a potent source of vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.

Escarole
Escarole is a leafy green vegetable that can be used in salads or eaten as a side dish. Like other salad greens, escarole is very low in calories, which makes it a great addition to any weight-loss plan. Escarole is a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. It is also a very good source of vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.

Kale
Kale is a cruciferous and leafy green vegetable from the cabbage family, similar to collard greens. Because it’s a high-quality carb and very low in calories, kale can help you manage type 2 diabetes and is a terrific addition to any weight-loss plan. It's also packed with nutrients: It's a good source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin. The calcium and potassium in kale help keep your bones and teeth strong and may prevent PMS symptoms. Kale is also high in the anti-inflammatory antioxidant quercetin, which protects against arthritis and memory loss, as well as riboflavin, a B vitamin that may protect against migraines. In addition, it is a very good source of vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.

Lettuce
There are various types of lettuce, but all of them are leafy green vegetables and are low in calories, making them a terrific addition to any weight-loss plan. Some types of lettuce, such as romaine, green leaf, red leaf, bibb, and butterhead, are good sources of antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and quercetin, which help prevent arthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as maintain healthy hair and skin. Lettuce is also a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. In addition, all lettuce varieties contain vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.

Mustard Greens
Mustard greens are a leafy green vegetable that come from the mustard plant and have a pungent, peppery flavor. They are a good source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help prevent arthritis and maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin. Mustard greens also contain folate, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, enhance memory, and improve mood, as well as vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.

Radicchio
Radicchio is a leafy vegetable with a bitter taste. It is often added to salads or braised like cabbage for a side dish. It is a good source of potassium, a mineral involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. Radicchio also contains vitamin E and lutein, antioxidants that help maintain healthy eyes and skin.

Spinach
Spinach is a dark leafy green vegetable and one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! Because it’s high in fiber and very low in calories, spinach can help you manage type 2 diabetes and is a terrific addition to any weight loss plan. It's also packed with nutrients — it's a good source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin. Spinach contains very high amounts of potassium and vitamin K, two nutrients that may help preserve bone health. The iron and B vitamins in spinach help maintain strong, healthy hair and a healthy circulatory system.

Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable that tastes somewhat similar to spinach and can be prepared the same way. It is a good source of antioxidants, including vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help prevent arthritis and maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin. Swiss chard also contains magnesium and potassium, minerals involved in managing blood pressure and preventing osteoporosis. In addition, magnesium is also helpful for individuals who experience migraines or PMS. Vitamin K in Swiss chard may prevent bone fractures.

Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are a leafy green vegetable that come from the tops of turnip bulbs and can be added to salads or sautéed and served as a side dish. They are a good source of antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which help prevent arthritis and maintain healthy eyes, hair, and skin. Turnip greens also contain folate, a B vitamin that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, enhance memory, and improve mood.

Watercress
Watercress is a leafy green vegetable with a peppery flavor and is often added to salads or used on top of sandwiches. It is a good source of beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that may prevent and manage arthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as maintain healthy hair and skin. Watercress is also a good source of vitamin K, which may prevent bone fractures.