Many of us grew up with iceberg lettuce as our only leafy green.  Iceberg lettuce is compromised of 95% water and has little nutritional value compared to the myriad of darker colored greens now on supermarket shelves. Leafy and cruciferous vegetable are considered power foods and should be included in your diet daily.


Green Vegetable Varieties

There are two major varieties of green vegetables: leafy and cruciferous. We need to include a variety of both for maintaining wellness.  

  1. Leafy greens, include spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, swiss chard, escarole, broccoli rabe, dandelion, watercress, romaine, green leaf lettuce.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables, include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, arugula, kohlrabi, mizuna, Chinese cabbage, bok choy.
  3. Non-green cruciferous vegetables include turnips, rutabaga, cauliflower and daikon radish.



Health Benefits of Eating Green & Cruciferous Vegetables

Green vegetables contain many important vitamins like Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, and folic acid.

These are all vital to help our cells function well and to fight off disease. However, many of us don’t get enough Vitamin K.  Vitamin K is important because it protects against osteoporosis and inflammation. Those on coumadin may be told to eliminate these from the diet because the Vitamin K affects INR results.   But because they are important for health and wellness, having a small amount regularly and getting your coumadin dose adjusted to accommodate for them may be a better approach. These vegetables are also high in fiber, calcium and iron and low in cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates.

Phytochemicals In Greens

Substances called phytochemicals– trace nutrients that help our body fight viruses, bacteria and cancer-causing free radicals- are abundant in all vegetables, including greens. The phytochemicals, particularly abundant green/cruciferous vegetables, include:

  1. Phenolic Acids– decrease inflammation, inhibit cancer cell proliferation, inhibit platelets, and act as antioxidants. Found in onions, parsley, cruciferous vegetables
  2. Indoles- Block cancer -causing chemicals before they damage cells. Found in cruciferous vegetables
  3. Isothiocyanates- Suppress tumor growth and induce protective enzymes. Found in cruciferous vegetables
  4. Carotenoids, i.e. Lutein- Antioxidants. Found in kale and other leafy greens. Studies show lutein reduces development of eye problems like macular degeneration, cataract, or glaucoma. Found in dark leafy greens like kale, turnip and mustard greens.
  5. Flavonoids- Block carcinogens, keep collagen in bone healthy, protect eyes and nerves from inflammation. Improve allergic symptoms. Found in foods like broccoli, cabbage, onions.

The table below illustrates the important health benefits of eating more greens. 

As the saying goes- Variety is the Spice of Life”.

To improve health and move toward wellness, move away from your tried and true favorites like iceberg, romaine lettuce, broccoli or cauliflower and explore some of the more adventurous veggies mentioned under the green vegetable varieties.

Enhancing Your Greens

Simple prep and cooking techniques can make your veggies really stand out!:   

  • Massaging the darker green leaves like kale with a bit of olive oil and salt will soften them and reduce the bitterness.
  • Making a protein filled green smoothie with spinach or kale is a great way have a nutrient and fiber dense meal or snack.
  • Roasting veggies like brussels sprouts will enhance their flavor.
  • Adding rutabaga to your mashed potatoes will give added flavor, nutrients and fiber.
  • Roasting a variety of root vegetables with your sweet potatoes will enhance the nutritional value.

Implementing More Greens Into Your Diet

Pledge to try a new green or cruciferous vegetable each week. Farmer’s Markets, Whole Foods and The Produce Box are good places to see some of the less common varieties. You can also find plenty of delicious recipes on line!  

Try to buy organic and local when you can. If money is limited, go to the Environmental Working Groups website and buy organic vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list.   Don’t worry about buying organic on the Clean 15 list as they are less contaminated with pesticides. Some local farmers grow organically but are not certified, so be sure to ask.


Freshly picked vegetables are always more nutrient dense.  Frozen veggies are often healthier than fresh if the fresh vegetable has been picked to ship more than a few days out.

It is time to Envy your Greens. Your body will thank you!