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One of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season is to eat more greens. Nutrition experts agree that eating them daily is a top way to improve your health. Leafy greens have more nutrition per calorie than any other food. They include kale, spinach, collards, chard, arugula, romaine, bok choy, watercress, mesclun, cabbage, broccoli rabe, and turnip, beet or mustard greens. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends as part of its dietary guidelines that adults consume at least three cups of dark green vegetables each week.

With so many delicious options, it is easy to add power-packed greens to your daily plate.

All these potent, nutrient-dense greens are low in calories and high in nutrient density. They are packed with fiber, vitamins such as A, B, C, E and K, and minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and iron, along with powerful health-promoting phytochemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids, which can protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other chronic diseases and inflammation.

Greens are especially good for reducing the risk of diabetes, according to research published in the August 2010 British Medical Journal. Researchers found that one and a half cups of leafy greens such as spinach and cabbage cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 14%. Researchers have also indicated that in addition to other nutrients and vitamins, the high levels of nitrates in leafy greens have a significant impact on their health benefits.

If You’re Taking Blood Thinners

For those taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, it is important to carefully monitor your intake of certain leafy greens (kale, collards, turnip greens, and spinach) that are high in vitamin K . High amounts of vitamin K can counteract the effectiveness of blood thinners such as warfarin. Please discuss this with your doctor before you make any changes in your diet. It is important not to avoid leafy greens, but to keep the amount of leafy greens consistent in your diet and communicate with your doctor about the appropriate dose of blood thinner based on the amount of vitamin K-rich foods that you consume.

5 Steps for Adding More Greens to Your Plate

With so many delicious options, it is easy to add  power-packed greens to your daily plate. Here are five steps to eating more greens to help prevent disease and improve your health.

1. Start with your favorite leafy green or the most familiar

2. Add at least one serving a day of leafy greens, which could include:

3. Sneak greens in

4. Include a variety of greens

    • Try a new green each week. Explore new ones with the Fruit and Veggies More Matters nutrition database, which features a variety of leafy greens along with tips on how to select and store them. For example, explore the benefits of the wonderful and slightly spicy leafy green, arugula.

 5. Increase your daily dose of greens 

Top 5 Leafy Greens 


Spinach is the most common and most familiar leafy green to most people. It is considered a super food because it is a good source of vitamins A (as beta-carotene), C, K, and folate, as well as dietary fiber, calcium, and iron. Spinach is also a good source of selenium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, copper, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins and vitamin E.

Spinach is rich in antioxidants that may help protect against certain cancers of the stomach, skin, breast, prostate, ovaries, and colon. Spinach is good for cardiovascular health and may help prevent heart attack and stroke. Anti-inflammatory properties may help with diseases such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Spinach contains lutein, which may protect eye health. Studies suggest that eating spinach may help reduce the effects of age-related decline in brain function.


Kale is a nutritional powerhouse that is touted as one of the healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods on earth with high antioxidant activity. One cup of kale leaves has only 35 calories, yet offers 5 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein with zero grams of fat, and is packed with health-promoting nutrients such as 206% of the RDI for vitamin A; 684% of RDI for vitamin K; 134% of vitamin C; and powerful disease protective phytonutrients. Per calorie, kale offers more calcium than milk and more iron than beef.

Kale is a member of the cabbage family, related to other health-promoting and protective cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and collard greens. There are many different types of kale of which the most common is curly kale, which is also the most popular. There’s also lacinato (also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale due to its hearty, firm, and slightly wrinkled leaves) and Red Russian kale, which is one of the sweetest varieties.

Collard Greens

Collards are rich in fiber and nutrients. One cup of collards contains 63 calories, 5 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber with over 250% of your daily needs for vitamin A, over 50% of your daily needs for vitamin C, and 26% of your calcium needs. Collards are also a good source for vitamin K, folate, iron, magnesium, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium and antioxidant phenolic phytochemicals. Research shows eating steamed or boiled collards, and other leafy greens, can also reduce cholesterol.

Collard greens also contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Research also shows a modest reduction in prostate cancer among those who increased eating brassica produce, including collard greens.

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard has large dark-green leaves with different-colored stems that distinguish this type of chard from green, red, and multi-colored stalks. Chard, like other dark leafy greens, is rich in health-promoting phytonutrients and disease-protective antioxidants.

Chard is nutrient-dense, but very low in calories. One cup raw chopped has 49 calories, 5 grams of fiber; 4 gram of protein with 700 % daily needs for vitamin K, 308% for vitamin A, 58% for vitamin C; 27% for calcium and 12% for iron. It is also a good source of B-complex vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, and manganese with phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin.


Romaine provides a crisp and light base for a salad and is one of the more familiar lettuces. Romaine is rich in vitamin C and A, beta-carotene, folate, and manganese. A cup of shredded romaine only has 8 calories, yet contains 82% of your daily needs for vitamin A and about 20% for vitamin C, along with one gram of fiber and one gram of protein.

What is your favorite leafy green?


Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

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