In the world of healthy cooking, there's no doubt that green is in, and nutrition-wise, the darker green the better. Leafy greens used to mean just salad greens, but today's cooks are enjoying the powerful flavors that come from kale, chard and spinach, among others, along with their powerful super food qualities. These dark leafy greens are significant sources of highly absorbable calcium. They're also good sources of vitamins, notably vitamin K, which is important for bone health, and are also anti-inflammatory, high in fiber and extremely low in calories.
Popeye the Sailor made spinach known for promoting strength, which is due to its high levels of iron and protein. What he didn't know is that it can also help prevent cancer. A Japanese study found that spinach has the potential to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. Along with that, spinach is rich in vitamins C, A, K, B-6 and B-2, fiber, folate, potassium and phytonutrients said to boost brain functioning and have anti-inflammatory benefits. Try a spinach salad or mix some into other greens, cook it in casseroles or flash fry it as a side dish.
The shy cousin of broccoli, kale has more recently made itself know in the kitchen. The broad, curly, dark green to purple leaves provide a good dose of calcium and have high levels of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, along with fiber, iron and protein. This leafy green is also packed with compounds called carotenoids and flavonoids, which studies have shown to reduce the risk of common cancers. Tear the kale leaves from the spine and toss them into salads, stir fries, stews, casseroles and smoothies.
A relative of the beet, chard has large, smooth, dark green leaves with veins that run through the center, and a stalk that varies in color, from bright red hues to orange, yellow and white. Swiss chard has high levels of antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins A, C and K, along with magnesium and the same cancer-preventive flavonoids found in kale. To remove some of the bitterness from Swiss chard, boil it in water for three minutes before sauteing or mixing into a stew or casserole.
Other Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Collard greens, a traditional favorite in the South, have made a comeback on menus. These greens are known for their cancer-fighting properties, similar to spinach, kale and chard, as well as a long list of other vitamins and nutrients. Other popular and healthy dark leafy greens include: mustard greens, which have a peppery flavor; bok choi, also known as Chinese cabbage; and turnip greens and beet greens, which are literally the tops of the turnips and beets and can be sauteed like any other greens.
Corinne Garcia has been a writer and editor since 1999. After owning and operating two Montana-based publications, she worked as an editor for the Lee Enterprises newspaper company. Garcia has written for "Country Living," "Parents," "Women's Health," "Fit Pregnancy," "Marie Claire" and "Northwest Travel," among other publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Colorado State University.