The 13 Healthiest and Most Popular Greens to Eat

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022
Leafy greens provide essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that are important for your health. Some of the healthiest greens include watercress, spinach, and beet greens.
Leafy greens provide essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that are important for your health. Some of the healthiest greens include watercress, spinach, and beet greens.

Leafy greens provide essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that are important for your health. Here are some of the healthiest greens to include in your diet.


Watercress is a leafy green that grows near water. It belongs to the cruciferous family, like cabbage, broccoli, and kale, and is rich in antioxidants. These compounds neutralize unstable molecules that cause damage, called free radicals.

One study called watercress a top powerhouse food because it contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds in a small serving. For example, just 1 cup of watercress contains 330 milligrams of potassium and 250 micrograms  of vitamin K

It’s also an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which play an important role in eye health. Watercress has a peppery taste, and you can add it to a leafy green salad mix.

Beet greens

Beet greens are the leaves or stalks from the beet plant. The red beetroot is a popular vegetable, but the leaves are often discarded. Don’t throw them out, though. They’re safe to eat and packed with nutrients.

Beet greens are an excellent source of potassium and have even more than watercress at 762 milligrams per cup. They also contain high amounts of vitamin A and vitamin K, which are important for eye, blood, and bone health.


Spinach is a popular salad green, though you might also eat it as a side dish or in soups, sauces, and other dishes. It’s packed with magnesium and potassium and plant compounds like lutein.

Spinach is also a good source of folate, which is important for preventing brain and spine defects in pregnancy. The daily recommended amount of folate is 400 micrograms for adults and 600 while pregnant. You can get 116 micrograms from 1 cup of spinach.


Kale is another popular dark leafy green commonly used in salads, stir-fries, soups, stews, and other dishes. You might commonly see kale with ruffled leaves or with narrow, wrinkly leaves and a hard stem in the middle. It has a bitter peppery taste. 

Kale is rich in vitamins A and K, potassium, calcium, and other vitamins. One cup of raw kale has only 33 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrates, so it’s a low-calorie, nutrient-rich vegetable. While some types of greens wilt or shrivel up during cooking, kale holds its texture well. Just remove the hard middle rib or stem.


Chicory is a root vegetable that belongs to the daisy family. You can eat the root, but it’s also roasted and consumed like coffee. The greens are often added to salads and are packed with nutrients just like other dark leafy greens.

One cup contains only 23 calories and has high amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate. Chicory greens are also rich in fiber, which is important for digestive health and helps prevent constipation.

Swiss chard

Chard or Swiss chard is a type of beet, but it doesn’t produce a root you can eat. It has wide leaves and a crunchy stem with thick ribbing in the center. 

Young, small leaves are sweet and taste like spinach, while older, big leaves are bitter. You can use young chard in salads, but cook or steam up bigger chard to help with the taste.

One cup of raw Swiss chard is packed with iron, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Swiss chard is also rich in antioxidant plant compounds like syringic acid and kaempferol, which might help lower blood sugar levels.


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Bok choy

Boy choy is another healthy, cruciferous vegetable and is sometimes called Chinese white cabbage or pak choi. It has a white or green stalk with small green leaves and has a mild, sweet taste. You can steam it or add it to stir-fry or other dishes. 

Like other greens, it contains high amounts of potassium, calcium, folate, vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. It also contains lots of lutein and other carotenoids. Studies show that eating high amounts of cruciferous and other vegetables might protect against some diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Collard greens

Collard greens also belong to the cruciferous family. The leaves are smooth, broad, and dark with light stems and veins and are tough. They’re traditionally slow-cooked and served with meat and turn bright green when they’re done. 

Collards are a good source of vitamin A, C, and K, folate, and potassium. They’re also cholesterol-free and low in calories and fat, making them an excellent meal option.

Mustard greens

Mustard greens are leaves of the mustard plant. They are different types, but they’re usually broad, dark green leaves and sometimes curly. You can eat mustard greens in salad or roast or braise them along with other greens. Mustard greens are rich in vitamin A and vitamin C.

Romaine lettuce

Romaine lettuce is one of four major lettuce types and a common salad green. It has crisp, long, and upright leaves that are folded into heads. It’s very high in vitamin A and contains good amounts of folate, potassium, and vitamin K.


Arugula is a type of mustard green and is sometimes also called rocket or Mediterranean salad. It has a peppery taste and is a fancy or gourmet salad green. It’s one of the more nutritious salad greens, though it has a lower vitamin content than kale, romaine lettuce, and spinach.

Turnip greens

Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip root vegetable. As with beets, you might commonly eat the root and discard the leaves, but the greens are also very nutritious. Some turnip varieties are grown only for their leaves, which are bright green, tender, and mild-tasting. The leaves are a good source of folate, calcium, manganese, vitamins A, C, and K, and fiber.


There are different types, shapes, and colors of cabbage, including shades of green. Most cabbage has smooth leaves that fold together into a round head, but Savoy cabbage has crinkly leaves. You can eat cabbage raw, boil it or add it to soup or stir-fry, or ferment it and make sauerkraut. It’s an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and contains plant compounds that can help protect against disease.

Bottom Line

Greens are rich in nutrients you need for good health and compounds that might prevent disease. Aim to get two to three servings of greens or vegetables per day.

Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022
Advances in Nutrition: "Back to the Roots: Revisiting the Use of the Fiber-Rich Cichorium intybus L. Taproots."

Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy: "Syringic acid (SA)? A Review of Its Occurrence, Biosynthesis, Pharmacological and Industrial Importance."

BMC Genomics: "Characterization of the watercress (Nasturtium officinale R. Br.; Brassicaceae) transcriptome using RNASeq and identification of candidate genes for important phytonutrient traits linked to human health."

Colorado State University Food Source Information: "Collard Greens."

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: "Collard Greens."

Food Chemistry: "Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds of Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subspecies cycla) extracts." Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publishing: "Salad greens: Getting the most bang for the bite," "Vegetable of the month: Leafy greens."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Antioxidants," "Fiber," "Vegetables and Fruits," "Vitamin A," "Vitamin K."

Mayo Clinic Health System: "The many types and health benefits of kale."

Oregon State University: "Arugula."

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Folate."

Nutrients: "Beet Stalks and Leaves (Beta vulgaris L.) Protect Against High-Fat Diet-Induced Oxidative Damage in the Liver in Mice," "Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health."

Preventing Chronic Disease: "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach."

U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Beet greens, raw," "Cabbage, chinese (pak-choi), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt," "Chard, swiss, raw," "Chicory greens, raw," "Spinach, baby," "Watercress, raw."

University of Florida: "Romaine—Lactuca Sativa L."

University of Illinois Extension Watch Your Garden Grow: "Cabbage," "Mustard," "Turnip/Rutabaga."

University of Massachusetts Amherst: "Bok Choy," "Turnips."

University of Wisconsin-Madison: "Swiss Chard."