Collard, mustard and turnip greens, longtime staples of Southern cuisine, are all members of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also includes cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Low in calories, these green leafy vegetables contain high levels of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals -- plant-based compounds with medicinal properties. If you’re looking for nutrition-packed vegetables that will fill you up and not out, you can’t go wrong cooking up a “mess of greens,” as they say in the South.
Rich in Antioxidant Vitamins
Much of the quest for healthy foods in recent years has focused on nutrients with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants scavenge the free radicals that are believed to cause certain illnesses as well as age-related cell deterioration. Your body produces free radicals -- atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons -- as a byproduct of metabolism, which is the conversion of food into energy. Collard, mustard and turnip greens are a rich source of vitamins A, C and E, described as the “holy trinity of antioxidants” by cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra, author of “Lower Your Blood Pressure in Eight Weeks.”
A cup serving of cooked collard greens contains 15,417 international units of vitamin A, more than three times the Daily Value, or DV, set by the Food and Drug Administration. Mustard and turnip greens are not far behind with 8,852 and 10,980 IUs, respectively. Turnip greens provide 39.5 milligrams of vitamin C, or 66 percent of DV, compared with 34.6 and 35.4 milligrams, respectively, for collard and mustard greens. A cup of turnip greens has 2.7 milligrams of vitamin E’s alpha-tocopherol, or 14 percent of DV. Close behind are mustard and collard greens with 1.69 and 1.67 milligrams, respectively.
Lung Cancer Risk
A team of U.S. cancer researchers evaluated data from a large-scale community health study to determine the relationship, if any, between lung cancer risk and eating cruciferous vegetables. Researchers found that study subjects who regularly ate cruciferous vegetables had a significantly lower incidence of lung cancer than those who did not. This link between cruciferous vegetable intake and a relatively lower cancer risk also held true for former and current smokers. Researchers published their findings in the October 2010 issue of “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.”
Calcium has a number of health benefits but is best known for the part it plays in developing and maintaining strong bones. Collard greens contain a rich supply of calcium – 266 milligrams, or roughly 27 percent of DV, in a cup serving. This compares with 197 milligrams for turnip greens and 104 milligrams for mustard greens. For those who don’t -- or can’t -- include calcium-rich milk in their diets, nutritionist Liz Applegate recommends two generous servings of greens or another dark green leafy vegetable daily. Applegate, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Encyclopedia of Sports & Fitness Nutrition,” notes that the calcium in greens also helps keep blood pressure in check and reputedly has a role in cancer prevention.
Collard, mustard and turnip greens are among the richest food sources of vitamin K. A cup of collards has 836 micrograms of the vitamin, more than 1,000 percent of DV. Turnip and mustard greens are also rich in the vitamin with 529 and 419 micrograms, respectively. Although relatively uncommon, vitamin K deficiency occurs in those suffering from liver disease, malabsorption and serious burns, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. The nutrient plays a key role in your blood’s coagulation process, and a deficiency can lead to uncontrolled bleeding. Your body also needs vitamin K to optimize its use of calcium in the building and maintenance of bone.
- Oregon State University: Micronutrient Information Center -- Cruciferous Vegetables
- USDA National Agricultural Library: Nutrient Data for Collards, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- USDA National Agricultural Library: Nutrient Data for Mustard Greens, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- USDA National Agricultural Library: Nutrient Data for Turnip Greens, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt
- Food and Drug Administration: Appendix F -- Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients
- Lower Your Blood Pressure in Eight Weeks; Stephen T. Sinatra
- Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: Cruciferous Vegetable Intake and Lung Cancer Risk -- A Nested Case-Control Study Matched on Cigarette Smoking
- Encyclopedia of Sports & Fitness Nutrition; Liz Applegate
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin K
Don Amerman has spent his entire professional career in the editorial field. For many years he was an editor and writer for The Journal of Commerce. Since 1996 he has been freelancing full-time, writing for a large number of print and online publishers including Gale Group, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Greenwood Publishing, Rock Hill Works and others.