If you’re wondering which are the best leafy greens for your health and waistline, you’d be surprised to know that as registered dietitians, we believe the best leafy green is the one you like most, although we do have 5 leafy greens that are at the top of our list.
The dark leafy green you like best is the one you’ll eat, so that makes it best for you because you’ll reap all benefits of leafy greens including their anti-inflammatory, disease-preventing benefits, as well as take advantage of their low-calorie, fiber, and water for weight loss. However, if you’ll eat any and all dark leafy greens, the five we have at the top of our list are these below.
5 Best Leafy Greens:
1. Dandelion Greens
One of the reasons that these greens are so powerful is that they help increase bile flow, breaking down fats, easing digestion, and aiding the liver, protecting it and helping it to filter potentially damaging chemicals out of your food.
While many people eat dandelion greens for liver benefits. They’re also full of potent antioxidants, including beta carotene, that assist in keeping your body healthy and protecting against cell damage, helping to stave off chronic diseases. These leafy greens help to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration, thanks to their hefty dose of lutein and zeaxanthin.
All it takes is 2 cups daily (15 mg of combined lutein and zeaxanthin) and you’ve well surpassed the daily requirement of 12 mg (10mg/ day lutein & 2 mg/ day zeaxanthin) set by the American Optometric Association.
Plus, if you want to keep your bones strong, these greens have your spine, providing a good source of calcium and vitamin K for maintaining bone density, as well as vitamin C, which produces collagen to help make your bones resistant to damage. One of their true superpower qualities is that they’re a rich source of gut-friendly prebiotics, thanks to their inulin.
They enhance the gut’s production of “good” bifidobacteria, which helps to boost immune function and may even help to prevent cancer. They’re ideal for weight loss, 2 cups are only 50 calories, yet fill you with their fiber. Start a meal with a dandelion salad to increase bile and improve gut health while reaping all its other benefits.
Read more about the benefits of dandelion greens in 9 Easy Ways to Reduce Bloating Naturally
2. Bok choy
Bok choy is a cruciferous vegetable, so it’s part of the Brassica family, which is the same family as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, which in the nutrition world means it’s automatically a health-promoting rock star.
Cruciferous vegetables reduce the risk of cancer and contain carcinogen-fighting nutrients like vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, folate, and selenium, which have been shown to slow tumor growth. Bok Choy’s fiber may help to prevent colon cancer. Bok choy contains many bone-building essential nutrients including calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K. It’s great for preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida since it’s rich in folate.
Plus, it’s a potent source of the flavonoid quercetin which reduces inflammation and can help to protect against chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Chop up this green and throw it in a stir-fry to provide a delicious and nutritious crunch.
Get bok choy in this Chicken and Egg Veggie-Packed Stir-fry
3. Broccoli sprouts
If you thought broccoli was the healthiest veggie, you need to meet broccoli sprouts, which are very young (3-5 day-old) broccoli plants that have little green leaves at the end of the sprout (like alfalfa sprouts).
While ounce for ounce they have the same calories and macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) as broccoli, they have 100 times more glucoraphanin, which when chewed or cut, is converted into the superstar phytochemical sulforaphane, which has powerful anti-cancer effects including promoting cancer cell death, lowering inflammation and susceptibility to cancer-causing toxins.
Sulforaphane increases detoxifying enzymes in your liver, and it even may help to turn off certain genes involved in cancer. Just like most leafy sprouts, you can toss these on a sandwich or on top of a salad.
While this may not be a staple in your veggie rotation, it should be! This slightly spicy and peppery green is a cruciferous veggie, so it’s in the same family as powerhouses like kale, broccoli, and bok choy, and research comparing nutrient-dense veggies (and fruits) ranks watercress the number one nutrient-dense veggie, meaning it packs the most nutrients in the fewest calories.
So while all veggies are great for weight loss while preventing disease, watercress is particularly helpful. Plus, it’s packed with vitamin C to support your immune health; sulfur-containing chemicals called glucosinolates (like the ones found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts) to help protect against cancer and heart disease, and fiber to help promote regularity.
One of the standouts in this powerhouse is its vitamin K, an extremely important (and overlooked) critical nutrient for bone health. Just one cup (34 grams) of watercress provides over 100% of the RDI for vitamin K. Add it to salads, soup, stir-fries or even top a pizza with some.
Packed with carotenoids, this green veggie “mops up” free radicals and prevents them from creating cell damage. Research shows it protects against stomach cancer, colon cancer, mouth cancer, and esophagus cancer. It can also help to lower blood pressure, thanks to being a rich source of potassium. If you want to give your brain a boost and enhance cognition, spinach’s lutein has been shown to help. Older adults with higher lutein levels have better memory, reasoning ability, verbal fluency, and processing speed.
As an excellent source of iron, spinach is great for vegans and vegetarians who can’t get iron from animal sources; iron is critical for helping the body to make hemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout the body. Spinach is so mild, that it’s like a chameleon and it can be mixed into foods like smoothies and be undetectable, making it the perfect veggie for people who have a hard time enjoying green vegetables. Blend some in a smoothie.
Try our Oil-free Basil Spinach Pesto
Among many things, we help our clients to make their favorite meals healthier, (like by finding ways to get more leafy greens) so their body functions better– they better fight disease and their metabolism is more efficient. We also help them to lose weight without feeling deprived.
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