December 16, 2017
Beyond Kale: 5 Other Super Greens

Beyond Kale: 5 Other Super Greens

by Leslie Goldman  

For several years now, kale has reigned supreme as the king of the leafy greens, expanding from the farmer’s markets and health-food stores that were once its primary domain into mainstream supermarkets and even big-box warehouse retailers like Costco.

That popularity is well deserved; kale has impressive levels of vitamins and minerals and a unique, pleasantly bitter taste. But now that Starbucks offers kale smoothies and McDonalds is testing baby kale in salads, it seems that America’s super green may be losing some of its exotic allure. In fact, in a 2015 Zagat survey of 10,000 U.S. diners, 30 percent said they are “over” kale.

What’s more, despite its reputation as the supergreen to beat, it turns out that kale isn’t even the most nutrient-dense of the dark leafy greens. A 2014 CDC study rated the key nutrient density and fiber of the so-called powerhouse fruits and vegetables on a scale of 1 to 100. Kale fell markedly below a slew of other greens, including watercress, chard, and beet, collard, and turnip greens. Even romaine lettuce scored higher than kale.

If you've got kale fatigue, then, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Read on for information on five of kale's most formidable challengers, each distinctly flavored and packed with nutrients.

Chinese cabbage

The name “Chinese cabbage” can refer to a number of different but closely related greens that originated in Asia. Ranked just below watercress in the CDC nutrients study, the different Chinese cabbages are high in vitamins A and C. The most commonly found in markets in the U.S. are Napa cabbage and bok choy. Napa cabbage is large, tightly packed, and oblong-shaped with thick pale stems topped with lacy leaves, in a pale to light green color. Bok choy has similarly thick stems but its leaves are bright green and looser. Chinese cabbages generally have a mild, slightly bitter taste.

Try it: Napa cabbage is a main ingredient in kimchi, the spicy fermented side dish from Korea. Bok choy is often used in stir-fries, such as this shiitake, tofu and bok choy dish.

Collard greens

These large, fan-shaped greens are a staple of Southern cooking and, like other intensely colored leafy plants, are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and other healthful substances. Collards are also a good source of fiber and iron, and they’re equaled only by turnip greens in their high level of calcium.

Try them: Substitute collard greens for cabbage in this cabbage, chickpea and pasta soup, or lightly steam anduse them in place of a flour tortilla when making burritos. (Just don’t overcook them as they’ll emit an unpleasant sulfur smell.)

Spinach

Eaten raw, one cup of fresh spinach—often packaged and sold in its “baby” form, which is more tender than mature spinach—is an excellent source of many nutrients, especially folate and vitamin A. Cooking spinach provides other benefits, such as making some of the vitamins more available for the body to use.

Try it: This spinach and lentil salad is packed with raw spinach goodness. Or sauté spinach with a bit of garlic and olive oil for a healthy side dish.

Swiss chard

This leafy green, originally from the Mediterranean region, delivers 214 percent and 716 percent of your daily vitamin A and vitamin K needs, respectively, in each ¾-cup serving. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that play a role in maintaining healthy vision. Rainbow chard, with its red, pink, yellow and orange stalks, is also rich in betalains—pigments found in red fruits and vegetables that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. People with diabetes in particular may want to make chard a regular part of their diet, since it has been found to lower blood sugar levels by enhancing insulin secretion from the pancreas.

Try it: You’ll often find the slightly bitter green wilted into soups, stews, and curries. This recipe for Swiss chard with curry spices will give you a tasty introduction to this green.

Watercress

This peppery green scored a perfect 100 in the CDC study. Packed with vitamin A and iron, watercress also has so much vitamin C that it was eaten as a cure for scurvy hundreds of years ago. In a small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that eating watercress helped to protect cells from DNA damage during intense exercise.

Try it: Commonly used in salads and soups, watercress has a sharp flavor that plays well with the sweet carrots in this roasted salmon, watercress and lentil salad recipe.

Also see Greens: Nutrient Powerhouses.