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Green Veggies Improve Your Health

February 2024

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Leafy green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber but low in calories. Eating meals rich in leafy greens can offer numerous health benefits including reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and mental decline. Vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and Bok choy are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Adding a variety of greens to your diet may help boost brain health and lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

Kale is rich in minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, particularly vitamins A, C, and K. To reap the most benefits, eat some raw as cooking reduces the nutritional profile of the vegetable. Try making Kale Chips by washing, drying, and then brushing the leaves with olive oil. Season with salt & pepper, place on cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees making sure to watch as the leaves brown and dry out. Cool and enjoy as a snack!

Microgreens are immature greens, which have been popular since the 1980s. They are flavorful and packed with nutrients like vitamins C, E, and K and they can be grown all year long.

Collard greens are a good source of calcium and vitamins A, B9 (folate), and C. They're also one of the best sources of vitamin K when it comes to leafy greens. In fact, one cup (190 grams) of cooked collard greens packs 1,045% of the daily value for vitamin K. Vitamin K is known for its role in blood clotting. In addition, more research is being done regarding its ability to improve bone health. One study with 72,327 women aged 38–63 found that those with vitamin K intakes below 109 mcg per day had a significantly increased risk of hip fractures, suggesting a link between this vitamin and bone health.

Spinach is a popular leafy green vegetable that can be used in a variety of ways. It's a great source of folate, which may prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, during pregnancy.

Cabbage is formed as clusters of thick leaves that come in green, white, and purple colors. It belongs to the Brassica family, along with Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli. Vegetables in this plant family contain glycosylates, which give them a bitter flavor. Animal studies have found that foods that contain these plant compounds may have cancer-protective properties, especially against lung and esophageal cancer. Another benefit of cabbage is that it can be fermented and turned into sauerkraut, which provides numerous health benefits, such as improving your digestion and supporting your immune system.

Romaine lettuce is a popular lettuce found in many salads. It's rich in vitamins A and K, and a study in rats suggests it may improve blood lipid levels.

Bok choy is popular in China and often used in soups and stir-fries. It contains the mineral selenium, which benefits your brain health, immunity from cancer and thyroid health.

Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant and are considered a cruciferous vegetable. Studies have found that they may decrease stress in your body and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and inflammation. Take small steps to include a variety of these vegetables daily and reap the many health benefits of leafy greens.