What to know about green leafy vegetables

September 8, 2021

Original Article From Medical News Today
Article appeared September 3, 2021.

“Green leafy vegetables are healthy foods that can help complete a balanced diet. They are typically rich in nutrients and fiber and low in calories and fat.

The nutritional profiles of green leafy vegetables are generally associated with many health benefits. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults vary their vegetable intake and aim to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables.

This article will discuss what green leafy vegetables are, how to identify them, their benefits, their side effects, and how to add them to the diet.


Green leafy vegetables, also called dark green leafy vegetables, leafy greens, or greens, are edible plant leaves. A person can eat some leafy greens raw, while others may require cooking. As the name implies, people can typically identify these vegetables by their green color and edible leaves.

List of leafy greens

Here are several examples of green leafy vegetables.


Kale is a vegetable belonging to the cabbage (Brassica) family. It has characteristic tough center stems and long leaves that curl at the ends. It is rich in nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants. A 2018 studyTrusted Source suggests that consuming high amounts of dietary fiber may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup, or 118 grams (g), of cooked kale contains:

  • Calories: 43
  • Carbohydrates: 6.3 g
  • Sugars: 1.4 g
  • Fat: 1.4 g
  • Protein: 3.5 g
  • Fiber: 4.7 g

Collard greens

Like kale, collard greens, or simply collards, come from the cabbage family. They have large, fanlike leaves and tough stems. While people can eat them raw, they can be bitter and tough to chew, which is why many people may braise or steam them. Collards are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, and calcium.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (190 g) of cooked chopped collards contains:

  • Calories: 62
  • Carbohydrates: 10.7 g
  • Sugars: 0.8 g
  • Fat: 1.4 g
  • Protein: 5.2 g
  • Fiber: 7.6 g


Spinach is another leafy green that contains many vitamins and nutrients, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus, folic acid, and calcium.

A 2016 reviewTrusted Source suggests that spinach may help delay the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. It also contains carotenoids, which may help prevent eye diseases and maintain eye health.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (30 g) of raw spinach contains:

  • Calories: 7
  • Carbohydrates: 1.1 g
  • Sugars: 0.1 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 0.9 g
  • Fiber: 0.7 g


Cabbage leaves vary from green to purple to white. People often saute, stir-fry, or boil cabbage. People also ferment cabbage to make kimchi and sauerkraut.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbages contain sulforaphane, a compound that may lower a person’s risk for cancer. A 2019 studyTrusted Source suggests that this compound can reduce a person’s risk for breast cancer. It may also protect cells from oxidative damage during cancer radiation therapy and may lower the risk for stroke and high blood pressure.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (89 g) of chopped raw cabbage has:

  • Calories: 22
  • Carbohydrates: 5.2 g
  • Sugars: 2.9 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 1.1 g
  • Fiber: 2.2 g


Watercress ranks at the top of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’sTrusted Source list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables. This slightly peppery and spicy aquatic plant also belongs to the cruciferous family.

Like other cruciferous plants, watercress may protect cells against chemotherapy-related damage and exercise-induced oxidative stress and help prevent liver toxicity.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (34 g) of raw watercress contains:

  • Calories: 4
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 g
  • Sugars: 0.1 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 0.8 g
  • Fiber: 0.2 g

Romaine lettuce

Romaine lettuce, or cos lettuce, is a salad favorite for its crispy, mild-flavored leaves. It is high in antioxidants, which can help eliminate free radicals, boost immunity, and protect against cancer.

It also contains potassium, an important mineral for heart health, and beta carotene, which is essential for eye health. Beta carotene may help prevent macular degeneration, according to the National Institutes of HealthTrusted Source.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (47 g) of shredded raw romaine lettuce contains:

  • Calories: 8
  • Carbohydrates: 1.6 g
  • Sugars: 0.6 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 0.6 g
  • Fiber: 1 g


Arugula, or rocket, is a versatile salad green with tender leaves and a sharp, peppery flavor. People often eat it raw, while others may add it to soups and pasta. It offers the same benefits as other cruciferous vegetables.

According to the USDATrusted Source, half a cup (10 g) of raw arugula contains:

  • Calories: 3
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 g
  • Sugars: 0.2 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 0.3 g
  • Fiber: 0.2 g

Bok choy

Also called Chinese cabbage or pak choi, bok choy is another cruciferous vegetable packed with many vitamins and minerals. It also contains selenium, a mineral that can help protectTrusted Source against oxidative damage and infection.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (70 g) of shredded raw bok choy contains:

  • Calories: 9
  • Carbohydrates: 1.5 g
  • Sugars: 0.8 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 1.1 g
  • Fiber: 0.7 g

Beet greens

Beet leaves are edible and have an earthy taste. People can add them to salads and soups or saute or steam them for a side dish. They are rich in nutrients, including antioxidants.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (38 g) of raw beet greens contains:

  • Calories: 8.4
  • Carbohydrates: 1.6 g
  • Sugars: 0.2 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 0.8 g
  • Fiber: 1.4 g

Swiss chard

Swiss chard has dark leaves and thick stalks in various colors, which is why some people call it rainbow chard. Others may call it sea kale or leaf beet. The leaves have an earthy flavor, and the stalks taste sweet.

Aside from containing many nutrients, it also contains compounds called polyphenols. A 2021 study suggests that these compounds have the potential to stop cancer cell growth.

According to the USDATrusted Source, 1 cup (36 g) of raw Swiss chard contains:

  • Calories: 6.8
  • Carbohydrates: 1.4 g
  • Sugars: 0.4 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 0.6 g
  • Fiber: 0.6 g


Leafy greens are healthy sources of carbohydrates. They also typically contain less fat and calories than many other foods but can contain protein and other nutrients. A 2020 study notes that green leafy vegetables often contain bioactive compounds such as niacin, omega-3-fatty acids, flavonoids, carotenoids, sulforaphane, and others.

These compounds can provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may lead to a vast array of health benefits, such as a reduced risk for health conditions like stroke, anemia, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and diabetes. They may also help improve gut health, immunity, and heart, bone, and skin health.

A 2018 studyTrusted Source found that a daily serving of leafy greens may help slow cognitive decline that can come with aging.


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