Dark, leafy greens are the rock stars of the produce department:
Nutrition powerhouses like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, watercress, arugula and mustard greens have been shown to prevent everything from cancer to heart disease while keeping your body and brain in top shape.
As an ingredient, however, they can be a little intimidating—mostly because we often don’t have a clue how to cook with them. But these surprisingly versatile vegetables can pep up salads, stir-frys and pizza—heck, they can even give chips a run for their money in the snack department.
The king of the leafy greens, kale scored No. 1 in a ranking of 84 veggies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. Crammed with nutrients, notably vitamins K, A and C and calcium, kale is also a cancer-fighting superpower.
Kale’s 45 flavonoids combine antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to help fend off bladder, breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer, says Ron Edwards, D.C., M.S., certified clinical nutritionist and integrated cancer nutritionist in Culver City, Calif. Noggin-nourishing antioxidants in kale also keep the brain sharp as you age. Heartier than spinach with a bitter bite, the versatile veggie works in stir-frys, soups and omelets.
This subtle-looking superfood can go head to head with milk for calcium, bananas for potassium and oranges for vitamin C. And its concentration of isothiocyanates—anticancer phytochemicals that help prevent lung, colon and breast cancer— really set it apart.
“In addition to having major anti-cancer properties, watercress can help lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure, and improve fertility, mental clarity and bone health,” says Joey Shulman, D.C., registered nutritionist in Toronto and author of The Last 15 (Wiley). A natural diuretic, watercress adds a peppery bite to dishes for a measly 4 calories per cup.
In addition to iron, protein, folate and fiber, nutrient-packed Swiss chard also boasts vitamins K, A and C. Chard is more colorful than your average greens, with stems ranging from red to purple. Thank its wide array of phytonutrients for its flashy appearance.
“The phytonutrient compounds in chard act as a natural anti-inflammatory, lowering the risk of chronic inflammation and fending off disease,” says Shulman. Who adds that its blood sugar regulating properties could also benefit those with type II diabetes.
Are packed with health vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, Calcium, and Iron. Collard Greens are also a good source of protein and posses several anticancer properties.
Collard Greens are also a great source of fiber. One cup of Collard Greens contains about 1 gram of fiber. A simple rule to follow is to measure out your servings in cups so that you will know exactly how many grams of fiber you’re getting.
Most kidney stones are composed of calcium oxalate. If you have a history of kidney stones, it is best to limit foods that are high in oxalic acid. Collard greens, among most other leafy greens, are high in oxalic acid so those with a history of kidney stones should reduce their intake of these foods.
Recent research had shown that eating an extra serving of leafy vegetables, such as collard greens. Daily can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 15%. Additionally, for those already suffering from diabetes, a hearty daily intake of leafy vegetables helps significantly as well. Due to the amount of vitamins and minerals they contain.
Along with other leafy greens, arugula contains very high nitrate levels (more than 250 milligrams/100 grams).
High intakes of dietary nitrate have been shown to lower blood pressure. Reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, and enhance athletic performance.
Recently, studies have suggested that the sulfur-containing compounds (sulforaphane) that give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite are also what give them their cancer-fighting power.
Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or impede cancer with early promising results associated with melanoma, esophageal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.