5 Dark Leafy Greens To Add To Your Diet & Their Health Benefits

September 6, 2023

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I'm Madeleine!

I’m the girlfriend you text when you’re scratching your head reading labels in the grocery store, the confidante you blurt your “I can’t tell anyone else!” bathroom shenanigans to and the handy science nerd who comes through with the best cost-cutting, time-saving health tips you don’t know how you ever lived without.


Confession time! I’m all about those dark, leafy greens in my diet. Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, you name it! These nutrient-packed greens are my go-to for a healthy boost.

Not only are they loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they also provide immune support and help prevent chronic diseases.
By incorporating these greens into your diet (even just twice a week!), you’re not just adding flavor and color to your meals – you’re nourishing your body with essential elements!

There are so many options when it comes to selecting dark, leafy greens, from mustard greens to beet greens to spinach. But, to keep things simple, here’s a list of five of my favorite greens, along with some of their amazing health benefits.

1. Kale: A Powerhouse of Nutrients

I think when most of us hear “dark leafy greens” we immediately start thinking about kale. And, you’d be correct to do so. Kale is definitely one of the more impressive of the leafy greens on the market today.


Kale is packed with essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K and minerals like calcium and iron. It also contains antioxidants that help combat oxidative stress.

In fact, kale is higher in Vitamin C than most other greens. Surprisingly, one cup of chopped kale has more vitamin C than an orange!

Not to mention that kale is also a great source of vitamin K. One raw cup of kale contains almost 7 times the recommended daily amount of Vitamin K.

There are two forms of Vitamin K —  K1 and K2.

Vitamin K1, which is the vitamin you get from eating leafy greens, is important for the regulation of blood clotting, bone metabolism, and regulating blood calcium levels. Without vitamin K, the body cannot produce prothrombin, a clotting factor that is necessary for blood clotting and bone metabolism.

Vitamin K2, which is found in most animal and fermented foods, helps activate proteins, is important for bone health and may help in preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. (You can read more about Vitamin K2 here if you’re interested).

One cup of raw kale (about 67 grams) contains:

  • Vitamin A: 206% of the Daily Value (DV) (from beta-carotene)
  • Vitamin K: 684% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 9% of the DV
  • Manganese: 26% of the DV
  • Calcium: 9% of the DV
  • Copper: 10% of the DV
  • Potassium: 9% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 6% of the DV

Don’t forget to wash your greens!

It’s important to note here that, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), kale is one of the most likely crops to have residual pesticides. According to EWG’s analysis of 2017 Department of Agriculture test data, “nearly 60 percent of kale samples sold in the U.S. were contaminated with residues of a pesticide, such as DCPA, the Environmental Protection Agency considers a possible human carcinogen.”

To help mitigate your exposure to these pesticides, EWG recommends buying organic kale whenever possible. If not possible, try to wash your kale leaves extensively.

A simple way to effectively wash your produce, according to a new study from The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is by soaking them in a solution of baking soda and water.

Here’s how:

  • Fill a large bowl with water and a teaspoon of baking soda. I follow Arm & Hammers suggestion to add 1 teaspoon baking soda to every 2 cups cold water.
  • Add leafy greens to water and baking soda mixture.
  • Soak your greens for about 10-12 minutes. I personally like to leave my greens soaking as I work on other tasks around the kitchen. Kill two birds with one stone.
  • Using your hand swish leaves around in the water a few times.
  • Drain and rinse leaves using a strainer.
  • Remove leaves from strainer and place on kitchen towel and pat dry. Or, if you have a salad spinner, spin leaves dry.

2. Swiss Chard: Antioxidant-Rich and Versatile

Dark Leafy Greens Swiss Chard

I love Swiss chard. I will often just sauté the leaves and stems with a bit of olive oil and garlic and add a dash of salt and pepper. Super simple and tasty!


Like kale, one cup of Swiss chard will help fulfill your daily Vitamin K and A intake. It has a bit less Vitamin C than kale, but don’t be fooled; this is another dark, leafy green you should add to your diet.

This colorful leafy green is also high in fiber and antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid, which may help prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Plus, as most of the leafy greens on this list, it’s a good source of calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin E.

One cup of cooked Swiss chard (175 grams) contains:

  • Calories: 35
  • Protein: 3.3 grams
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Fiber: 3.7 grams (about 15% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI))
  • Vitamin A: 214% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 53% of the RDI
  • Vitamin E: 17% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 716% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 10% of the RDI
  • Copper: 14% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 38% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 29% of the RDI
  • Iron: 22% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 27% of the RDI

What about oxalates?

Dark leafy greens like Swiss chard, collard greens, and spinach contain high oxalate levels. This mineral decreases the body’s calcium absorption and can lead to kidney stones.

If you’re prone to kidney stones, you may want to limit your intake of foods such as spinach, collard greens, beets, etc., shares the Cleveland Clinic. If this is something you’re concerned about, please speak with your healthcare professional.

3. Collard Greens: A Cruciferous Powerhouse

Collard Green Dark Leafy Greens

Collard greens have never been a part of my regular diet. Not because I don’t like them, just because I’ve never really cooked with them. But after reading about the health benefits of these little cruciferous vegetables, you can bet I’ll be adding them to my diet!


Collard greens are a great source of calcium and vitamins A, B9 (folate), and C. Like kale, these greens are packed with Vitamin K; one cup (190 grams) of cooked collard greens packs 1,045% of the DV for vitamin K. 

Not to mention that collard greens are a great source of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion, promotes regular bowel movements, and supports a healthy gut microbiome. One cup of cooked and chopped collard greens contains 7.6 grams of fiber, 27% of your daily value.

Cancer-Fighting Greens

Collard greens, like other cruciferous vegetables, contain compounds that have shown potential for cancer-fighting properties. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), these vegetables contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing chemicals that, when chewed, are broken down into bioactive compounds such as isothiocyanates, which may have the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, promote apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells, and disrupt the formation of blood vessels that supply tumors.

Collard greens are also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect cells from oxidative stress and reduce the damage caused by free radicals, which can, shares NCI, “contribute to cancer development and other health conditions.”

However, it’s important to note that clinical studies linking cancer prevention in humans with cruciferous vegetables are relatively limited. More research needs to be conducted, but you can read more about it here

Spinach a healthy dark leafy green

Spinach is one of the most popular and commonly eaten leafy greens. And for good reason, too. This little green is versatile, delicious, and nutrient-rich.  


Spinach is packed with folate, vitamins K and A, and magnesium. Magnesium is essential for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA

Folate in spinach?

Did you know just one cup of raw spinach (30 grams) contains 58.2 mcg of folate? That’s 15% of the recommended daily value for the average adult.

Folate, or B9, is essential for various biological bodily functions. It plays a crucial role in cell division, DNA synthesis, and the formation of red blood cells and certain amino acids. In fact, you might be familiar with this vitamin if you’re thinking about getting pregnant or pregnant, as folate is essential during pregnancy due to its role in fetal development and prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs). 

Folate vs. Folic Acid?

Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 that comes directly from food sources, such as dark leafy greens.

Folic acid is the oxidized synthetic compound used in dietary supplements and food fortification.

I won’t get into the weeds of folate vs. folic acid in this post, but if you’re interested, Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE, wrote a great piece on the differences between folate and folic acid. You can read it here: Folate: Why It’s Superior to Folic Acid for Pregnancy (even if you don’t have MTHFR).

  • Protein: 5.3 grams
  • Carbs: 24.4 grams
  • Fiber: 4.3 grams
  • Vitamin A: 377% of the RDI
  • Vitamin C: 29% of the RDI
  • Vitamin E: 19% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 1111% of the RDI
  • Folate: 66% of the RDI
  • Iron: 36% of RDI
  • Calcium: 24% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 39% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 84% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 24% of the RDI


1) Due to its high levels of oxalate, which, as I mentioned above, minimizes iron absorption, consider cooking/wilting spinach before consuming it. Gently cooking spinach will make it easier for your body to absorb more iron.

2) To further help absorb iron, consider pairing it with Vitamin C-rich foods such as kale, red bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, etc. Vitamin C enhances non-heme iron absorption, helping your body absorb more

5. Dandelion Greens: Unexpected Nutritional Power

Dandelion Greens Healthy Dark Leafy Greens

Have you ever looked at a dandelion and thought it was just a pesky weed? Well, I’ve got some news for you! Dandelions are actually super nutritious and can be a great addition to your diet. Turns out, these “weeds” are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.


Similar to the other greens on this list, dandelion leaves are high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and plant-based calcium.

Just a fair warning, dandelion greens can taste quite bitter. But, this bitterness is partly due to the chemical compound glucosinolates (the “anti-cancer” fighting compound I mentioned above). And, it’s precisely this bitterness that gives dandelion leaves their unique flavor and powerful health benefits.  

Dandelion leaves have been used for centuries in traditional medicine for their potential to support liver health. It’s been found that these pesky weeds may actually stimulate bile production and help with liver detoxification. Obviously, it’s important to note here that while dandelion leaves have a history of use in traditional and herbal medicine for liver and digestive support, their specific effects are still being studied by scientists.

And, if that’s not enough to convince you, dandelions are, similar to all the greens on this list, rich in antioxidants. So, if you’re looking for a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet, consider adding some dandelion leaves to your meals. 

One cup of raw dandelions (55g) contains:

  • Protein: 1.5 grams
  •  Fiber: 1.9 grams
  •  Vitamin A: 112% of the RDI
  •  Vitamin C: 32% of the RDI
  •  Vitamin B6: 7% of RDI
  •  Vitamin K: 535% of the RDI
  •  Folate: 4% of the RDI
  •  Iron: 9% of the RDI
  •  Calcium: 10% of the RDI
  •  Magnesium: 5% of the RDI
  •  Manganese: 9% of the RDI
  •  Potassium: 6% of the RDI

Add a variety of dark, leafy greens to your diet.

Including these dark, leafy greens in your diet adds variety and flavor to your meals. It provides a wealth of nutrients that contribute to a healthier lifestyle. So, whether you enjoy them raw in salads, sautéed as a side dish, or blended into smoothies, these greens offer various benefits that can positively impact your overall health and well-being.

Where can I find leafy greens?

I’ve been able to find most of my leafy greens at the following:

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