7 Leafy Greens: A Nutritional Comparison

leafy greens in wire basket

Not all leafy greens are created equal. You’ve probably heard the hype about kale and spinach. Do other greens even come close? 

The truth is, although some greens are more nutritionally dense than others, there is not one specific green that beats all others in the level of each individual nutrient. So it’s important to rotate different plant leaves through your diet. A general rule of thumb is the darker the leaf color and the more variety in color and plants, the better off you are.

Here is a general overview of seven of the most common leafy greens, and a side-by-side comparison of the levels of a few of their minerals and vitamins.

1. Kale

Kale has developed a reputation for being one of the most healthy plant foods available, with a high level of nutrients in its leaves. When compared to other plants, it is lower in specific nutrients—for instance, kale contains less calcium than does spinach, collard greens, and arugula—so again, it is important to rotate different plant leaves through your diet. Kale can be a bit difficult to chew when raw, so try rubbing the leaves in olive oil, or lightly steaming before eating them.

2. Spinach

Spinach was Popeye’s green of choice for good reason—it is substantially higher than the powerhouse kale in calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and folate. It also has a mild flavor that makes it easy to pair with a variety of fruits and vegetables or to blend up in smoothies.

3. Swiss Chard

With a rainbow variety of stems, Swiss chard can add color to your plate—and a load of nutrients to boot. While it has a higher level of sodium than other greens (77 mg per cup), it runs close to spinach with the level of nutrients it offers.

4. Romaine

Many people choose romaine lettuce for salads because of its mild taste, fresh crunch, and versatility in recipes. It is not the most nutritionally dense leafy green, but it is high in folate and vitamin A, and can easily be mixed with other greens.

5. Collard Greens

Collard greens are frequently eaten in the Southern U.S. regions, but deserve attention everywhere for their health benefits. Collard greens provide nearly twice the amount of calcium as spinach and are high in potassium and magnesium, too.

6. Arugula

Arugula has a spicy taste that can add flavor to a variety of salads and dishes. Its overall nutritional value is generally lower than other green leafy vegetables, but it contains more calcium than kale, provides a good source of antioxidants and fiber, and combines well with the more nutrient-dense spinach.

7. Iceberg

Iceberg lettuce may be the most popular choice for salads, but with a low vitamin and mineral count, its contribution to your health is low. While it’s not actually bad for you, opt for other lettuce types for your salads to help increase your daily nutrient intake.

Side-By-Side Comparison

The following table, created with information from the USDA Food Composition Databases, compares different minerals and vitamins found in these seven leafy greens per 1-cup serving.

 

Calcium
(mg)

Potassium
(mg)

Magnesium
(mg)

Vit E
(mg)

Vit C
(mg)

Vit A
(IU)

Vit K
(ug)

Folate
(ug)

Kale

24

79

8

0.3

19

1598

113

23

Spinach

30

167

24

0.6

8

2813

145

58

Swiss Chard

18

136

29

0.7

11

2202

299

5

Romaine

16

116

7

0.1

2

4094

48

64

Collards

84

77

10

0.8

12.7

1807

157

46

Arugula

32

74

9

0.1

3

475

22

19

Iceberg

13

102

5

0.1

2

361

17

21

*mg = milligrams  |  *IU=International Units  |  *ug = micrograms

As you can see, not one of these leafy greens is highest in all nutrients. You’ll get the most out of these greens if you mix them up and maintain a variety of them in your diet. Certain conditions, such as clotting disorders or kidney stones, can be affected by the nutrients and other substances in leafy greens, so if you have a concern, be sure to check with a healthcare professional before changing your diet.

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*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

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About the Author

Valerie Sjoberg, L.Ac.

Acupuncturist, Holistic Health Coach, Writer, and Editor
Valerie’s interest in healing began in her early twenties when doctors told her she would need to give up running and other physical activities forever due to debilitating back injuries. This spurred an exploration into mind-body and alternative medicine, which ultimately healed her back and allowed her to resume the activities she loved. Today, she works as an acupuncturist and health coach to help activate others’ self-healing abilities, and is inching toward a master's degree in nutrition and functional medicine. She is also a professional writer and aims to accumulate enough words and inspiration to write a novel someday.Read more