Let’s take a look at the green debate. What debate would that be, you are thinking? Which of the leafy green vegetables are the best for you!
For years, I have heard people denounce iceberg lettuce, praise baby spinach and talk smack about kale. It gets pretty humorous when you hear people take a stand around which leafy green is their favorite. You would think the topic was religion or politics.
Here’s the line-up for today’s discussion around leafy greens:
Crisphead or Iceberg: This particular head lettuce variety is the most commonly used for salads and sandwiches. Iceberg lettuce is pretty bland-tasting and largely consists of water. Statistically, iceberg lettuce is very popular meaning each us across the country eat roughly 17 pounds of this variety each year. Iceberg lettuce rates very low when it comes to health and nutritional benefits. Iceberg lettuce tends to have some of the highest levels of pesticide residue for a leafy green and the least amount of nutritional value, almost void of calories and nutrients. However, it is full of fiber and water content, so it does have some benefits when mixed with other vegetables in a salad.
Romaine Lettuce: Romaine lettuce, like iceberg, is one of the largest vegetable crops grown in the U.S. This is the another type of “head lettuce” that each of us across the country eat roughly 23 pounds of each year. Romaine lettuce is a clear winner over iceberg lettuce since it is high in vitamin A, vitamin K, lutein and zeaxanthin, all great for health and specifically eye health. Romaine lettuce is considered a crispy green, great for Caesar salad, with dark, nutrient-dense foliage for a lettuce variety and about 10 calories to one cup. Romaine is also high in fiber like iceberg, but like most lettuce varieties, they are all pretty low when it comes to the packing order of nutrient-dense leafy greens.
Arugula: This leafy green has great flavor and originated from the Mediterranean region. It is not a lettuce, but rather a small, low-growing annual herb. Arugula belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which is similar to kale. This leafy green is great for strengthening your immune system and bone health. It is also a great source of plant protein, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, zinc and copper, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. As you can see, arugula is a powerhouse for a healthy diet. This leafy green is a top contender to win this debate.
Kale: Kale tends to be a bit bitter in taste and is one of the densest leafy green you can eat. The kale plant belongs to a subgroup of the Brassica family of plants. There are a number of different varieties of kale from plain leaf kale to the curly leaf Scottish variety.
Kale has become really popular in the last few years here in the U.S. with interesting variations like kale chips and kale smoothies.
But this superfood leafy vegetable has been consumed as far back as ancient Greek and Roman times. Kale is another major contender for the most healthy leafy green. Kale is low fat, no cholesterol and high in antioxidants. Kale is also very high in dietary fiber and a great source of plant protein. The benefits to kale also include thiamin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and zeaxanthin. Kale packs a punch with nutrient-dense minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese.
Baby Spinach: This leafy green is very tasty and has been popular as a healthy green for many years. Spinach belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and is a nutritional powerhouse in its own right, packing a lot of antioxidants and anti-cancer nutrients. Spinach is also considered a crispy, dense leafy green and these little guys are loaded with minerals and nutrients.
Baby spinach has many health claims to its resume with its ability to improve your red blood cell function and is great for supporting heart health.
Like the other major leafy greens, it is a good source of dietary fiber, plant protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha yocopherol), vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese. niacin and zinc.
From taste to a favorite ingredient in so many dishes, baby spinach may tip the scales of this debate as most functional food with the added benefit of its healthy nutrients.
Swiss chard: This leafy green is often overlooked and does not stand out in mainstream home cooking like baby spinach and kale, but this leafy green is amazing. Swiss chard comes in a few varieties, green stalk and red stalk coming from European origins and belonging to the Chenopodiaceae family, which is the same as beets.
Swiss chard is another nutrient-dense dark leafy green with a beet-like flavor that blends well in a number of great dishes. Swiss chard contains 30 calories per cup and is a good source dietary fiber, plant protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha yocopherol), vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, copper, manganese, niacin and zinc. Swiss chard is slightly bitter in taste like kale, but cooks well like baby spinach, so this leafy green can hold its own when compared to the rest of the leafy greens.
The one aspect to consider carefully is how much leafy greens to add to your diet depending on certain health risks.
Yes, leafy greens are amazing healthy vegetables — however, they all contain various levels of vitamin K and oxalic acid. So why should this matter? Because vegetables high in vitamin K content can affect people adversely who are on anticoagulants. Leafy greens with high levels of oxalic acid have been known to cause oxalate urinary tract stones, so all things in moderation and always drink plenty water, which lessens the buildup of oxalates.
Now get out and enjoy your leafy greens!
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.