Shopping in the produce section can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
There’s spinach, kale, swiss chard, arugula, and more. What are the health benefits of each?
Nutritionally, you get a lot for your buck with greens, says Corewell Health registered dietitian Holly Dykstra, RD.
“They’re full of vitamins and minerals,” Dykstra said. “And many have a lot of vitamin A and C, which means they’re great for immunity.”
Greens are also packed with antioxidants and fiber.
Kale and spinach are among Dykstra’s favorites because they’re easy to incorporate into almost any dish.
If you just want to spice up your favorite romaine salad, she recommends trying fresh herbs like parsley or basil, which can easily change the flavor profile.
“A good way to explore different leafy greens is to start with romaine or iceberg lettuce and sprinkle in some leafy greens you haven’t tried before,” she said.
Check out Dykstra’s list of leafy greens to include in your diet:
Spinach comes in many forms, all widely available. You can try fresh, frozen or Popeye’s favorite canned goods.
“Spinach is neutral and easy to use,” Dykstra said. “You can put it in a soup, a salad, a smoothie or any dish, really. And it could be enjoyed cold or hot.”
Try tossing it with scrambled eggs or adding it to almost any pasta dish. You can also fry it on its own with some garlic and olive oil.
“Spinach brings a great addition of flavor, color and nutrients to your plate,” Dykstra said. “It’s rich in vitamin A, C and calcium and is very cost-effective.”
Cabbage comes in many styles: regular green leafy kale, purple kale, curly kale. It has a thick texture and a tough stem that you need to remove before cooking.
“For raw cabbage, it’s helpful to massage the cabbage before eating to make it more tender and digestible,” Dykstra said. “You can have it steamed, baked, grilled or even fried in chips.”
It’s an acquired taste for some, but it’s also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
“It can be harder to digest and it can be a little tougher to chew,” Dykstra said. “It’s not always attractive to everyone. But if you’re just using it in a salad, try massaging it with an acidic dressing. This will break the stiffness.”
Arugula has a peppery flavor that can make meals or salads a little more bitter, but it can also boost the flavor profile a bit. It is available in fresh grocery stores and it is not very expensive.
This highly nutritious green is full of vitamins A and C, both of which are powerful antioxidants. It helps maintain a healthy immune system.
Arugula has a bit of bite, but it can make a quick start in a sandwich or wrap, Dykstra said. It’s also a great addition to any pasta dish.
Dandelion greens have some bitterness, but they offer a unique flavor profile and texture.
Although they are not widely used in salads and meals, they are definitely high in nutrition, being rich in iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, K and B2.
“Dandelion greens make a delicious side dish by simply sauteing or boiling them and adding extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper,” Dykstra said.
Swiss chard comes in a variety of colors, making it a very versatile and beautiful addition to any dish.
Red, white, and rainbow are all options in most grocery stores.
“Swiss chard is very nutritious and has a good amount of fiber,” Dykstra said. “It’s rich in vitamins K, A and C, as well as iron.”
Swiss chard can be a little on the hard side. It’s not as bitter as arugula, but not as neutral as kale or spinach. It also contains more fiber per cup than spinach.
Broccoli and broccoli
Believe it or not, broccoli and broccolini are considered greens.
“Broccoli is extremely versatile,” Dykstra said. “You can steam it, grill it and slice it and mix it into almost any dish, or eat it alone as a healthy side dish.”
It is rich in soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. It is also a cost-effective ingredient and easy to cook. Frozen broccoli has the same nutritional value as the fresh version.
Romaine and iceberg
Two classic salad choices: Romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce.
You shouldn’t ignore these two, Dykstra said, because they have their own nutritional benefits. And eating any greens can provide more benefits than none at all.
A good choice to use as a basic carrot, romaine contains fiber, potassium and vitamin C. It is also a good source of magnesium.
“Romaine is extremely versatile and easy to find,” Dykstra said. “It’s good for salads, sandwiches, enchiladas or tacos. And it adds color and crunch. It can also be used as a sandwich wrapper instead of bread.”
Don’t overlook the iceberg lettuce either.
“It can be satisfying for people who like crunch,” Dykstra said. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s just bite by bite, romaine and spinach will have more nutritional value.”
Iceberg carrots have a high water content as well as some fiber, potassium and vitamin C. It is also a good source of magnesium.
Dykstra recommends using it as a sandwich wrap if you want to go breadless.
“If you want to add a nutritional bite to your meal, go with romaine,” Dykstra said. “And if you want lettuce and like crunch, go with iceberg. It’s better than not eating lettuce at all.”
There are many ways to take your salad up a notch, but not all ingredients are created equal.
Dykstra suggests a handy short list of nutritious ingredients to add to salads: chickpeas, pepitas, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, shredded carrots, chia seeds and fresh chopped fruit.
Chopped red cabbage and red pepper can add a colorful crunch. Also try English peas and chopped artichokes.
Think protein when making a salad, Dykstra said. you can add beans, lentils, salmon or chicken.
“You can make homemade whole grain croutons from leftover bread,” she said. “And try experimenting with fresh herbs like parsley, dill or basil. The sky is the limit.”