15 Healthy and Nutritious Leafy Green Vegetables

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Leafy greens are the most nutritious of all vegetables.

These vegetables are simply the green leaves of a plant, and they are a significant source of essential vitamins and minerals.

Some typical examples of leafy greens include kale and spinach, but there are many lesser-known varieties too.

This article provides a list of 15 leafy green vegetables alongside their pictures, nutrition profile, and health benefits.

1) Spinach

A Bowl of Fresh Green Spinach Leaves.

It is hard to beat spinach for the nutritional value it provides.

Here are the key nutrients it contains per 100 grams (1);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories23 kcal
Carbohydrate3.6 g
Fiber2.2 g
Sugar0.4 g
Fat0.4 g
Protein2.9 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1604% DV
Vitamin A188% DV
Folate49% DV
Vitamin C47% DV
Manganese45% DV

As shown in the table, the majority of the carbohydrate that spinach provides is from fiber.

Also, this green vegetable contains a significant source of vitamin A carotenoids and vitamin K1, providing 188% and 604% of the daily value respectively.

In addition to the nutrient content, spinach also contains a range of flavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol. These compounds may potentially have anti-inflammatory properties (2).

Furthermore, a recent randomized controlled trial demonstrated that spinach could improve arterial stiffness, suggesting the vegetable may have cardiovascular benefits (3).

See this full guide to spinach for more information.

Key Point: Spinach is one of the most nutritious leafy greens.

2) Turnip Greens

Turnip Greens On a White Background.

Turnip greens don’t make a regular appearance on shopping lists, but these green veggies are another nutritious choice.

Per 100-gram serving, here is what they offer nutritionally (4);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories32 kcal
Carbohydrate7.1 g
Fiber3.2 g
Sugar0.8 g
Fat0.3 g
Protein1.5 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1314% DV
Vitamin A232% DV
Vitamin C100% DV
Folate49% DV
Manganese23% DV

Although turnip greens don’t quite match spinach for nutrient density, they offer more than the recommended daily amount of vitamins A, C, and K1.

Turnip greens also contain glucosinolates, a type of phytonutrient that some research hypothesizes may have anti-cancer benefits (5, 6).

Key Point: Turnip greens are a lesser known leafy vegetable, but they are one of the most nutritious.

3) Kale

A Bunch of Kale Leaves Tied Together.

Over the past decade or so, kale has risen in popularity as a supposed “superfood.”

In truth, the “superfood” definition is unhelpful, as it is our overall diet that matters more than any single food choice.

However, kale is among the most nutrient-dense leafy greens (7);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories50 kcal
Carbohydrate10 g
Fiber2.0 g
Sugar –
Fat0.7 g
Protein3.3 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K11021% DV
Vitamin A308% DV
Vitamin C200% DV
Manganese39% DV
Calcium14% DV

Similar to spinach, kale offers a substantial amount of vitamins A and K1.

Although kale offers these two vitamins in higher concentrations, its overall nutrient profile is not as broad, and it contains double the calories.

Notably, kale is an excellent source of the carotenoids lutein and astaxanthin, both of which may help to protect our eyesight (8).

Additionally, a randomized trial demonstrates that kale can have a suppressive effect on postprandial blood glucose levels following a meal (9).

Key Point: Kale is a popular and healthy green vegetable.

4) Beet Greens

A Bunch of Beet Greens Tied Together.

Beet greens are a visually appealing leafy green with long purple stalks, and they are the leaves from beets/beetroot.

Although less famous than the root vegetable they cover, beet greens offer a lot more nutritionally (10);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories22 kcal
Carbohydrate4.3 g
Fiber3.7 g
Sugar0.5 g
Fat0.1 g
Protein2.2 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1500% DV
Vitamin A127% DV
Vitamin C50% DV
Potassium22% DV
Manganese20% DV

As shown in the nutritional values, beet greens provide a substantial source of vitamins A, C, and K1.

Beet greens also offer small amounts of dietary fiber and protein.

Key Point: Beet greens offer a lot of nutrition for minimal calories, and they are one of the best types of leafy greens for our health.

5) Swiss Chard

A Bunch of Swiss Chard Leafy Greens.

Despite the name, Swiss chard does not come from Switzerland, and the origins of the name remain a mystery.

Swiss chard has large dark green leaves and a reddish-purple stalk, drawing comparisons to beet greens.

This leafy green contains an impressive range of nutrients, and its nutrition profile looks like this (11);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories19 kcal
Carbohydrate3.7 g
Fiber1.6 g
Sugar1.1 g
Fat0.2 g
Protein1.8 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K11038% DV
Vitamin A122% DV
Vitamin C50% DV
Magnesium20% DV
Manganese18% DV

The major nutrient that Swiss chard offers is vitamin K1, and it also contains a good provision of carotenoids, vitamin C, and magnesium.

Swiss chard works well in salads, and combining it with olive oil helps to improve the taste and increase the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins it contains (12).

Key Point: Swiss chard is full of important nutrients, and it offers an excellent nutrition profile for very few calories.

6) Watercress

A Bunch of Watercress Microgreens.

Classed as a type of “microgreen,” watercress is one of the most visually surprising vegetables.

Although these little green sprouts look so small and light, they are fairly nutritious (13);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories11 kcal
Carbohydrate1.3 g
Fiber0.5 g
Sugar0.2 g
Fat0.1 g
Protein2.3 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1312% DV
Vitamin C72% DV
Vitamin A64% DV
Calcium12% DV
Manganese12% DV

There are some interesting studies involving watercress, and one example is a recent study on smokers.

In a randomized controlled trial, smokers ate 85 grams of watercress daily for eight weeks. After eight weeks, the smokers had higher levels of the plasma antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene. Additionally, they had reduced markers of DNA damage (14).

Key Point: Watercress is a nutrient-rich leafy green with a range of health benefits.

7) Arugula

Fresh Green Arugula Leaves.

Arugula is perhaps the most difficult vegetable to pronounce on this list, but it also goes by the name of “rocket.”

This leafy green vegetable is very flavorful, and it can enhance the taste of hot cooked dishes and sauces, or you can use it in a salad.

Nutritionally, arugula is a good source of vitamin K1 and several other nutrients (15);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories25 kcal
Carbohydrate3.7 g
Fiber1.6 g
Sugar2.1 g
Fat0.7 g
Protein2.6 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1136% DV
Vitamin A47% DV
Vitamin C25% DV
Folate24% DV
Calcium16% DV

In addition to the range of vitamins and minerals it provides, arugula also the health-protective compounds erucin, glucosinolates, and nitrates.

Among other benefits, these compounds are linked to lower blood pressure and a potential reduction in cancer risk (16, 17).

Key Point: Arugula is a unique and flavorful vegetable, and it appears to offer several health benefits.

8) Collard Greens

Fresh Collard Leafy Green Vegetables.

Collard greens are a dark green leafy vegetable belonging to the same family of plants as kale.

This leafy green is popular around the world, and people use it in a variety of ways from soups and stews to side dishes.

Like many other green vegetables, collard greens are high in vitamin K1 (18).

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories30 kcal
Carbohydrate5.7 g
Fiber3.6 g
Sugar0.5 g
Fat0.4 g
Protein2.5 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1638% DV
Vitamin A133% DV
Vitamin C59% DV
Folate41% DV
Calcium14% DV

As we can see, collard greens offer a lot of essential vitamins and minerals for only 30 calories.

Key Point: Collard greens provide an excellent supply of vitamins A, C, and K1.

9) Mustard Greens

A Bunch of Mustard Greens.

Mustard greens are a healthy green vegetable with a distinctive flavor, and a peppery, slightly hot taste.

For anyone who dislikes kale for its bitterness, it is probably a good idea to avoid mustard greens.

However, if you can handle the bitter, peppery taste, then these leafy greens are rewarding in the nutrient compartment (19);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories26 kcal
Carbohydrate4.9 g
Fiber3.3 g
Sugar1.6 g
Fat0.2 g
Protein2.7 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1622% DV
Vitamin A210% DV
Vitamin C117% DV
Folate47% DV
Manganese24% DV

As well as their vitamins and minerals, mustard greens may also offer some protective effects against several chronic diseases.

Mustard greens belong to a family of plants known as Brassica.

Markedly, several studies demonstrate that the compounds these plants contain may exert anti-inflammatory properties (20).

Key Point: Mustard greens are a nutrient-dense, but very bitter leafy green.

10) Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)

Several Stems of Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) On a Plate.

Going by the name of ‘Gai Lan’ in China, Chinese broccoli is a very strong-tasting green vegetable that belongs to the same family as broccoli.

Instead of the broccoli florets, this vegetable has long thin stalks and dark green leaves.

Although the taste is somewhat similar to broccoli, it is much stronger and significantly more bitter.

However, nutritionally it is a good source of many nutrients (21);

Note: since the USDA database holds no record of the raw values, the nutrition data for this vegetable is for the cooked version.

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories22 kcal
Carbohydrate3.8 g
Fiber2.5 g
Sugar0.8 g
Fat0.7 g
Protein1.1 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1106% DV
Vitamin C47% DV
Vitamin A33% DV
Folate25% DV
Manganese13% DV

Similar to most leafy greens, Chinese broccoli is predominantly a good source of carotenoids and vitamins A and C.

Key Point: Chinese broccoli tastes like the regular broccoli, but with a much stronger and more intense taste.

11) Bok Choy

A Large Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage).

Sometimes people refer to bok choy as “Chinese cabbage,” and although the vegetable did originate in China, it is available worldwide.

Bok choy is very hydrating, and the composition of the vegetable is more than 95% water (22).

This vegetable has a decent nutrition profile too, and it provides the following nutrients per 100 grams (23);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories13 kcal
Carbohydrate2.2 g
Fiber1.0 g
Sugar1.2 g
Fat0.2 g
Protein1.5 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin A89% DV
Vitamin C75% DV
Vitamin K157% DV
Folate16% DV
Calcium11% DV

Considering that bok choy contains virtually no calories (13 kcal per 100 grams), it contains an impressive range of nutrients.

Some studies state that bok choy contains enzymes which may help to inhibit colon inflammation (24).

Key Point: Bok choy is a nutrient-dense leafy green that offers a wide range of vitamins and minerals.

12) Broccoli Rabe

A Bunch of Green Broccoli Rabe Leaves (Rapini).

Broccoli rabe is a green leafy vegetable that has long thin stalks.

Sometimes called “rapini,” this vegetable is slightly more bitter than broccoli, and it has a strong, earthy taste.

Cooking it is essential, and it can taste quite nice when mixed with a bit of olive oil and salt.

The nutrition profile of broccoli rabe looks like this (25);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories22 kcal
Carbohydrate3.1 g
Fiber2.7 g
Sugar0.4 g
Fat0.5 g
Protein3.2 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1280% DV
Vitamin A52% DV
Vitamin C34% DV
Folate21% DV
Manganese20% DV

If you are wondering what to do with broccoli rabe, there is a tasty rapini, sausage and cheese recipe here.

Key Point: It may share the same name, but broccoli rabe tastes completely different to broccoli, and it has a strong, bitter flavor.

13) Endive

Fresh Green Endive Leaves.

Endive is a typical green leafy salad green, and we can often find it mixed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and various kinds of cheese and vegetables.

Also, the taste profile depends on how we use endive;

  • Raw: In its raw state, endive is crispy and slightly bitter
  • Cooked: After cooking, endive is very soft and mild in flavor.

Endive is rich in vitamin K and carotenoids (26);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories17 kcal
Carbohydrate3.4 g
Fiber3.1 g
Sugar0.3 g
Fat0.2 g
Protein1.3 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1289% DV
Vitamin A43% DV
Folate35% DV
Manganese21% DV
Vitamin C11% DV
Key Point: Endive is a refreshing leafy green and it offers a reasonable nutrition profile.

14) Romaine Lettuce

A Large Romaine Lettuce Leaf.

Lettuce is probably the most famous leafy green in the world.

It seems to make an appearance everywhere, and you’re almost sure to find lettuce whether you’re eating a leafy salad or a fast food cheeseburger.

It is worth noting that the nutrient profiles of different lettuce varieties vary, and romaine offers greater nutritional value than iceberg lettuce.

Here is the nutrition profile per 100 grams (27);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories17 kcal
Carbohydrate3.3 g
Fiber2.1 g
Sugar1.2 g
Fat0.3 g
Protein1.2 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin A174% DV
Vitamin K1128% DV
Vitamin C40% DV
Folate34% DV
Manganese8% DV
Key Point: Romaine is one of the most popular leafy greens, and it is reasonably nutritious too.

15) Dandelion Greens

Three Dandelion Leaves On a White Background.

Dandelion greens have a crisp, bitter, and nutty flavor, and we can often see them in various salad recipes.

On their own, the taste is a little bland, but they can contribute to a good salad with the right ingredients.

Dandelion greens offer the following nutrients per 100 grams (28);

Calories and MacrosAmount (kcal/grams)
Calories45 kcal
Carbohydrate9.2 g
Fiber3.5 g
Sugar0.7 g
Fat0.7 g
Protein2.7 g
Key Nutrients
Vitamin K1973% DV
Vitamin A203% DV
Vitamin C58% DV
Calcium19% DV
Iron17% DV

As the nutrient table shows, dandelion greens provide a substantial amount of vitamin K1.

They also contain moderate to large concentrations of carotenoids, vitamin C, calcium, and (non-heme) iron.

To make a tasty salad using dandelion greens, try mixing the following recipe;

  • 2 cups (110 grams) dandelion greens
  • 4 oz (110 grams) cherry tomatoes
  • 2 oz (55 g) fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 oz (55 g) chopped prosciutto
  • 2 oz (55 g) pine nuts
  • Handful of olives
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • Salt and pepper to suit

This recipe could be a large serving for one person or a smaller portion for two people.

Key Point: Dandelion greens are a slightly bitter leafy green that provides large amounts of carotenoids and vitamin K1.

Final Thoughts

The leafy greens on this list are some of the healthiest vegetable choices you can make.

However, it is important to note that the bioavailability of vitamin A (carotenoids) is relatively low from plant foods (29).

For pre-formed vitamin A, otherwise known as retinol, animal foods such as oily fish, eggs, and liver are a better choice.

That said, retinol and carotenoids compliment each other, and getting both is ideal.

Overall, consuming leafy green vegetables is a simple and easy way to increase the number of essential nutrients in our diet.

For a similar article on underground vegetables, see this guide to 15 healthy types of root vegetables.

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Shameer Mulji
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Shameer Mulji

Great article and no doubt that greens contain an abundance of micro nutrients. There are some reports I’ve seen that greens should be consumed with caution due to high amount of salicylates and oxalates which can cause health issues. What are your thoughts on this?

nyakondo
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nyakondo

very informative information

Sandra Giehl
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Sandra Giehl

Love the information, thank you!!

Norma
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Norma

very informative

Thank you

Vince
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Great information, as always. With leafy greens, I find that there’s often a temptation to assume that one or two are better because of their nutritional profile. Yet, the healthiest choice tends to be to include a variety in your diet.