Last Updated on October 15, 2020 by Michael Joseph
Leafy greens are arguably the most nutritious of all vegetables.
These vegetables are simply the above-ground 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 and nutritional benefits.
It is hard to beat spinach for the nutritional value it provides.
This green vegetable contains a significant source of provitamin A carotenoids, equivalent to 52% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin A. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K1, providing 604% of the DV (1).
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.
2) Turnip Greens
Turnip greens don’t make a regular appearance on shopping lists, but these green veggies are another nutritious choice.
Although turnip greens don’t quite match spinach for nutrient density, they offer more than the recommended daily values of vitamins C and K1 per 100 grams. These nutritious leaves are a rich source of carotenoids too (4).
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 singular food choice.
However, kale is among the most nutrient-dense leafy greens.
Similar to spinach, kale offers a substantial amount of vitamin A carotenoids and K1.
Per 100 grams, spinach provides 56% of the daily value for vitamin A and over 500% of the DV for vitamin K (7).
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 demonstrated that kale could have a suppressive effect on postprandial blood glucose levels following a meal (9).
4) Beet Greens
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 nutritionally.
For example, beet greens provide a substantial source of vitamins A, C, and K1: 35%, 33%, and 333% DV for each of these nutrients, respectively (10).
Beet greens also offer small amounts of dietary fiber and protein.
See this full guide to beet greens for an extensive look at their potential benefits.
5) Swiss Chard
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, including 690% of the DV for vitamin K1 per 100 grams (11);
The primary 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).
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 relatively nutritious.
100 grams of watercress provides more than 200% of the DV for vitamin K1 and significant amounts of carotenoids and vitamin C (13).
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 plasma antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene. Additionally, they had reduced markers of DNA damage (14).
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).
In addition to the range of vitamins and minerals it provides, arugula also contains the (potentially) health-protective compounds erucin, glucosinolates, and nitrates.
8) Collard Greens
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 very high in vitamin K1, and they provide more than 364% of the DV per 100 grams. These nutritious leaves are also a rich source of vitamins C and K1 (18).
9) 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 too.
However, if you can handle the bitter, peppery taste, then these leafy greens are rewarding in the nutrient compartment. Per 100 grams, mustard greens offer nearly 200% of the DV for vitamin K1 and almost 100% of the DV for vitamin C (19).
Mustard greens belong to a family of plants known as Brassica. Several studies demonstrate that the compounds these plants contain may have anti-inflammatory properties (20).
10) Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)
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, and it is particularly high in vitamins A, C, K1, folate, and manganese (21).
11) Bok Choy
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 nutritional profile too, and it provides the following nutrients per 100 grams (22):
- Vitamin C: 50% DV
- Vitamin K1: 38% DV
- Vitamin A: 25% DV
Considering that bok choy contains virtually no calories (13 kcal per 100 grams), it offers impressive nutrient-density.
For more information, see this guide to bok choy.
12) Broccoli Rabe
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 this vegetable is essential, and it can taste quite nice when mixed with a bit of olive oil and salt.
Broccoli rabe offers nearly 200% of the DV for vitamin K1 and good amounts of vitamins A and C, folate, and manganese (23).
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.
Nutritionally, endive is particularly rich in folate and vitamin K1. Per 100 grams, it provides 36% and 193% of the DV for both nutrients, respectively (24).
This vegetable also offers good amounts of vitamins A and C and the mineral manganese.
14) Romaine Lettuce
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 higher nutritional value than iceberg lettuce.
Per 100 grams, romaine lettuce offers high amounts of vitamin K1 (175% DV) and folate (32% DV) (25).
15) Dandelion Greens
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 tasty salad with the right ingredients.
Dandelion greens are also one of the most nutrient-dense green vegetables, and they offer significant amounts of the following nutrients per 100 grams (26):
- Vitamin K1: 649% DV
- Vitamin A: 56% DV
- Vitamin C: 39% DV
The leafy greens on this list are some of the most nutritious vegetable choices you can make.
Overall, consuming leafy green vegetables is a simple and easy way to increase the number of essential nutrients in our diet.
For more information on vegetables, see this guide to 15 healthy types of root vegetables.