Remember when the most controversial contests centered on sports championships and political races? In the past few years, that spirit of competition rocked the food world. Someone, somewhere, declared kale the king of all superfoods. The big, tough leafy green was hailed as the key to good physical, mental and emotional health, arguably a step closer to immortality – or at least nirvana.
However, just as all giants eventually fall from grace, kale has lost some of its glow. Relatives and friends of the stately green were revealed as superior to kale in many ways. Nonetheless, no one denies the health benefits of kale. Nutritionists just want consumers to know about all the nutritious options. Eating a variety of healthy food is good for the body as well as the soul.
Nutrition Density Scores
This list was calculated based on nutrients per calorie. For example, a food with a Nutrient Density Score of 60 means that you can get approximately 60 percent of your daily requirement for the 17 nutrients on the list in 100 calories worth of food. Those vital nutrients include potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. Here’s how the top 15 leafy greens rank:
- Watercress: 100.00
- Chinese cabbage: 91.99
- Chard: 89.27
- Beet green: 87.08
- Spinach: 86.43
- Leaf lettuce: 70.73
- Romaine lettuce: 63.48
- Collard green: 62.49
- Turnip green: 62.12
- Mustard green: 61.39
- Endive: 60.44
- Kale: 49.07
- Dandelion green: 46.34
- Arugula: 37.65
- Iceberg lettuce: 18.28
Surprisingly, beloved kale ranks number 12 on the list. But, as Heather Mangieri, R.D., a nutritionist in Pittsburgh and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explained, this positioning isn’t all that matters.
Calorie density is important. The more calories you eat, the more satisfied you’ll feel. When you feel full, you’ll eat less. That’s why it’s important to find foods you like that are high in nutrients as well as physically gratifying.
Before you starting chowing down watercress, Mangieri advises consideration of calorie density per serving size to keep things in perspective. For instance, there are a mere 4 calories in a cup of watercress; kale has 33 calories in the same amount. “You’d have to eat a lot more watercress to get the same amount of calories—and therefore that same amount of nutrients—as in a smaller serving of kale,” Mangieri said. One cup of chopped watercress contains 0.2g fiber, 41mg calcium, and 112mg potassium. Conversely, one cup of chopped kale has 2.4g fiber, 100mg calcium, and 239mg potassium. Including this factor, kale wins again.
Mangieri noted that calorie content of greens and most vegetables is inconsequential, even for those trying to lose weight. She said, “Pretty much all vegetables are low in calories compared to the other foods we’re eating, and the majority of us need more of them, not less.”
Top Five Leafy Greens
Although you can’t go wrong with any of the greens on the list, here are some examples of the special benefits of the top five leafy greens. You can find the top 10 list plus the pluses of each one here.
If getting old scares you, start eating watercress. Its anti-aging properties are legendary. Measured gram for gram, it has 4 times more beta-carotene than an apple. Watercress also provides an impressive 238 percent of your daily-recommended dose of vitamin K per 100 grams. Carotene and vitamin K are known for keeping skin supple, youthful and glowing.
Often labeled Napa or celery cabbage, Chinese cabbage is rich in calcium and iron. Studies have shown that cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables can disable inflammation markers thought to promote heart disease.
If your family has a history of diabetes, chard could be your best protection against its development. The leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants that studies have shown may offer resistance to type 2 diabetes.
Many cooks discard beet greens and just eat the beet. However, this tasty part of the plant, great in stir-fry dishes. Research has shown the high fiber count in these greens significantly lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cartoon icon Popeye the Sailor Man credited his super strength to consuming massive amounts of spinach. He was right on track. The delicate green is one of the best sources for biceps-building iron. More good news is that it has also proven to be a strong appetite suppressant.
Other Superfood Considerations
Besides nutrients and calories, there are other factors to consider in your diet. So-called superfoods, including the aforementioned greens, have other important benefits. The best approach is to incorporate foods in every meal that are loaded with compounds such as antioxidants, fiber and fatty acids. This food group also includes a variety of consumables that have been linked to the prevention and healing of cancer, and other chronic diseases. Superfoods have also been attributed with regulating cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and increasing vitality and energy.