Protect Your Health With Dark Leafy Greens
Do you eat enough dark leafy greens? It's time to expand your palate with these healthy choices.

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leafy greens Protect Your Health With Dark Leafy Greens

So, you've switched from using iceberg to Romaine lettuce in your salads to up your dark leafy green status. You're off to a good start, but it's time to expand your palate even more.

Leafy greens lead the pack as among the most nutrient-dense veggies for the least amount of calories. They come in many shapes, tastes and textures, including:

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Chicory
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Romaine lettuce

Leafy greens are great for weight control, plus they are rich in a host of important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As such, leafy greens may aid in disease prevention, too.

To your health
Leafy greens are well known for containing carotenoids. These are powerful antioxidants that include lutein and zeaxanthin. They also are loaded with calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, beta carotene (vitamin A), folate and fiber.

Some researchers say these nutrient-packed veggies may play a role in:

  • Helping to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration - common causes of blindness in older people
  • Maintaining bone health
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Protecting brain cells and helping to prevent dementia
  • Lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Preventing some kinds of cancer
  • Decreasing your risk of heart disease

Eating green
The beauty of cooking with greens is that they can be paired with so many dishes. They can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked in soups, stews, casseroles and sautés. Greens cook quickly, adding a nice convenience factor. Just be careful not to sabotage them with gobs of salad dressing, pork fat, excess salt or piles of fried chicken.

Here are more menu ideas to get you started:

  • Salads: Ditch the iceberg and perk up your salad with a dark green mix of Romaine, spinach, red leaf or radicchio.
  • Wraps: Make a wrap with tuna or turkey and add spinach or arugula for extra flavor.
  • Soups: Chop up kale, Swiss chard or mustard greens and add right to your favorite soup.
  • Stir-fries: Add chopped leafy greens to your next stir-fry.
  • Sautés: Collards, kale, Swiss chard or spinach are delicious when sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and a dash of Parmesan cheese.
  • Pasta: Lightly steam or sauté and add to pasta.
  • Pizza: Top a plain store-bought or homemade pizza with sautéed spinach.

Most greens can be found in supermarkets year-round, but freshness and quality can vary greatly. Look for crisp stalks with shiny, unblemished leaves. Peak season in most areas is from June through October, where you can look for them at local farm stands.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist
Created on 02/05/2009
Updated on 02/05/2009
Sources:
  • Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology. 2006;67(8):1370-1376.
  • American Dietetic Association. "Lettuce" introduce you to the world of green leafy vegetables.
  • Liu S, Serdula M, Janket S-J, et al. A prospective study of fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2004;27:2993-2996.
  • Alzheimer's Association. Adopt a brain-healthy diet.
  • American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that fight cancer: dark green leafy vegetables.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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