You can’t go wrong when adding more vegetables into your diet - any vegetables. But if you’re looking for the healthiest green leafy vegetables, we’ve got the ranking for you.
We’ve analyzed the nutrient breakdown of 33 of the healthiest green leafy vegetables using information from the USDA Databases to provide you with a list from best to worst (worst being, still pretty great!).
The most nutritious green leafy vegetables have a wide variety (and high density) of nutrients important for a balanced diet.
Things like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals are found in green leafy vegetables, often in high amounts. This is important, because deficiencies in these micronutrients can lead to poor health.
The healthiest green leafy vegetables have a wide variety of these nutrients.
The healthiest green leafy vegetables have a high density of these nutrients. What does this mean?
It’s important to look at the nutrient density of foods, because ideally we all should be consuming a moderate amount of calories.
If you consume more calories than you expend throughout the day, you’ll gain weight. So, eating a reasonable amount of calories is an important first step in a healthy diet.
But within the calories you eat, you want to make sure these other essential nutrients are coming along for the ride!
This is also important for nutrients you might want to eat less of.
For example, sugar.
The World Health Organization recommends that fewer than 10% of your calories come from sugar (ideally, less than 5%).
Micronutrients are important for a well-balanced diet. But it’s also good to keep your macronutrients in check, too.
Your intake of dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are important to keep within recommended balanced ratios.
Also important is the composition of these macronutrients.
For example, the American Heart Association suggests that less than 10% of your calories come from saturated fats.
The most nutritious green leafy vegetables in our ranking are very low in saturated fats. But fat is a critical and necessary component of your diet. Some fat is important.
And unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats in particular, show heart healthy properties.
All green leafy vegetables are very low in fats, generally. But among these 33 vegetables, the green leafy vegetables with the best fat quality score were grape leaves and garden cress. Nevertheless, you’ll likely need to round out your diet with some fats in addition to these healthy veggies.
Although low in calories, these green leafy vegetables may surprise you with their protein density (more on that, below).
Fiber is a very important dietary component that we often don’t get enough of in our diets.
Learn more about fiber intake, and see how much we eat on average!
Fiber is important for everything from heath health and gut health to weight-loss and insulin regulation.
Fiber is also good for weight loss.
The healthiest green leafy vegetables are fiber-dense. Later, we’ll rank these veggies by fiber content and fiber density.
Whole foods are advocated among nutritionists in large part due to their vast array of various nutrients packaged together in piece. The synergies from this often add up to a number greater than the sum of their parts.
For example, the high sugar content of fruits is much less of a health issue because their high fiber content helps regulate the insulin response.
And fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed when consumed with some amount of dietary fat.
Another benefit along these lines are phytochemicals - a term that embodies the molecules present in plant-based foods that often serve a nutrition and biochemical purpose but are not as well characterized by nutrition science.
For example, beans are high in isoflavones and other polyphenols that exhibit antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.
To rank high our list of the healthiest green leafy vegetables, it takes more than just a high density of one or two nutrients.
And not only does a wide variety of nutrients rank beans higher on the list, but having high concentrations on a _per-calories _basis that go towards meeting your dietary reference intake (DRI) values for the day improve their ranking.
However, consuming many of these nutrients in excess of quantities that should provide enough nutrition to thwart both clinical and sub-clinical deficiencies won’t provide much added benefit.
Therefore, the healthiest green leafy vegetables in our ranking have a high density of nutrients, but also a breadth of nutrients. They provide a more complete and well-balanced source of more nutrition than the others.
Taking all of this into consideration, collards rank #1 on our list of the healthiest green leafy vegetables!
Collards are dense with many essential nutrients. In fact, they meet your DRI for all of the minerals on our list! They also are high in all of the B-vitamins except for vitamin B12 (which is only present in animal-derived products). They also contain important phytochemicals, they are low calorie and dense with fiber, and they have a healthy macronutrient profile.
Without further adieu, here is our ranking of the healthiest green leafy vegetables from best to worst. Feel free to click and share our interactive charts!
Vegetables usually are regarded as poor sources of protein because they have low overall amounts of protein on a per-weight basis. They are very low in calorie density - 100 grams of watercress, for example, only contains 11 calories! This is one reason green leafy vegetables are great for weight loss.
But many vegetables can have surprisingly high concentrations of protein. In fact, the healthiest green leafy vegetables have a breakdown of protein that fits well within the USDA recommended guidelines for protein content on a calorie-per-calorie basis (10-35% of your daily calories).
And some even greatly exceed it. That same watercress has 2.3 grams of protein in 100 grams. But at 11 calories, that means watercress is roughly 84% protein!
Watercress comes in as the most protein dense green leafy vegetable on a calorie-per-calorie basis.
Drumstick leaves are also very protein dense on a per-calorie basis, ranking 3rd in our list.
But drumstick leaves rank 1st in total protein content on a per-weight basis. In 100 grams of drumstick leaves you will find 9.4 grams of protein.
Green leafy vegetables are highly nutritious in large part due to their high fiber content. Fiber is important for health for many reasons. High fiber diets can improve heart health, improve gut health, improve immunity, and help stabilize cardiometabolic abnormalities.
Fiber is also great for those looking to lose weight.
Studies have shown that diets heavy in beans can be part of a weight loss plan due in large part to their high fiber content.
Fiber can help with weight loss primarily because it leads to increased satiety. In other words, fiber helps reduce your appetite by making you feel fuller, for longer.
The best green leafy vegetables for weight loss, therefore, have two things in common:
This combo will help you keep calories down, while also helping to keep you fuller, longer.
According to our ranking, chicory leaves are the most fiber-dense green leafy vegetables on a per-calorie basis. Per calorie, they contain over 12 times the daily recommended intake value fiber.
Pound for pound, grape leaves come out on top. For every 100 grams of grape leaves, expect to eat 11 grams of fiber.
See where others rank using our interactive charts, below!
While some sodium in your diet is certainly okay (even necessary), too much sodium has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension - an affliction affecting nearly half of all Americans. High blood pressure can increase your risk for stroke and heart attack, so it’s best to follow the advice of the American Heart Association and the USDA and keep sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day.
The healthiest green leafy vegetables are low in sodium. Just over half of the veggies on our list fall below the daily recommended upper threshold value on a per-calorie basis.
And because green leafy vegetables are so low in calories, even veggies above this threshold are typically just fine to eat because you won’t likely consume a great deal of calories from them anyways.
Nevertheless, the green leafy vegetable with the lowest sodium content on both a per-calorie and per-weight basis are taro leaves!
See where others rank using our interactive charts, below!
Collards top our list of the healthiest green leafy vegetables. But also high on the list are romaine lettuce and coriander leaves.
And many of the most nutritious green leafy vegetables rank high on our other rankings:
So there you have it!
Remember that all green leafy vegetables are excellent, nutritious additions to any well-balanced diet. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Plus, they’re delicious! Each has a unique flavor worth enjoying.
Where does your favorite land on the list!
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