The Best Leafy Greens That Aren't Kale
Delicious, nutritious greens go way beyond kale. Here are seven leafy greens to add to your diet today.
In recent years, kale has gotten so much hype for being the “it” vegetable. People throw it into everything from smoothies, salads, soups and stews. I happen to be one of those people who love kale and use it often in my cooking. However as a dietitian, I’m also aware of the variety of other leafy greens that often get overlooked and are just as great when it comes to flavor and nutrition. On your next trip to the market, look out for these seven tasty leafy greens!
Incredibly flexible in the kitchen, chard is a leafy green that can be enjoyed raw in salads, or cooked in everything from omelets, soups and stews. Younger versus large leaves are better raw since they’re not as bitter. You may recognize chard for its colorful stems, which can vary from white, yellow and red. Stems can be finely chopped and cooked as well for added crunch and nutrition in recipes! This leafy green is high in vitamins A, C and K and is a good source of magnesium, copper and manganese. You can store unwashed leaves in plastic bags in the crisper of your refrigerator for up to three days for optimal quality.
A species of the mustard plant, this vegetable has leaves, seeds and stems that are all edible (hello, mustard). It’s known for its peppery flavor, making this leafy green a great option for the cooler months when you’re looking to make warming stews and soups. Cooking helps to break down its strong bitterness, but some people do enjoy adding them raw to salads. They’re high in vitamin C and K, and provide a good source of fiber, vitamin A and copper. For storing, wrap them in paper towels and store loosely in plastic bags in the high-humidity refrigerator bin for up to five days.
Often overlooked, watercress is actually measured as one of the most nutrient dense foods by the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index! It has over 28 essential vitamins, minerals and compounds and offers so much flexibility in the kitchen. Watercress is a great way to add freshness and crunch to your salads, sandwiches and cooked meals, and can be enjoyed cooked or raw. Leaves are usually green, but there is a wild red variety that has a distinct pepper flavor. Wrap the leaves in a paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to five days.
Celebrated throughout the Caribbean, callaloo is a leafy green that typically gets cooked down until tender alongside aromatics, spices and sometimes meats and seafood. Its soft stems can be finely chopped and cooked alongside the greens to maximize the vegetable and reduce food waste. You can find this green at some farmers markets and it's readily available in Caribbean markets. If you come across a callaloo recipe and can’t find it at your local market, you can easily sub it for collard greens, beet greens or chard.
It breaks my heart when I see beets in the markets with their leaves cut off. Many people don’t think to cook the leafy greens and stems attached to the beets, but you can and they taste incredible. They contain vitamins A, C and K, and are rich in antioxidants, similar to the beets themselves. They taste great cooked with your favorite savory dishes, and can be cut off from the beet and stored in paper towels in a plastic bag for up to four days.
Big in the south, collards are one of the most bitter leafy greens. However, when cooked down, they are perfectly tender and flavor-packed. They’re an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and their dark green color is an indicator of antioxidants. They have hardy leaves, which helps them last up to five days or even longer when stored in the fridge.
A member of the chicory family, you’ll likely find this vegetable among other leafy greens at the market. It's usually sold in bunches and looks very similar to lettuce. The texture of escarole holds up great in soups or stir-fries, but it can also be enjoyed raw in salads. In terms of nutrition, this green is a great source of vitamins A and K and also contains folate and antioxidants. Wrap in paper towels and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days!
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.