Are you stuck in a rut when it comes to salads? Guess what, there’s a whole world beyond iceberg lettuce! Power up your salads with the following greens – you’ll reap several health benefits and your taste buds will be delighted!
Leafy greens form the base of many salads and set the tone of your salad. Discover their different flavors and textures. Sweet, bitter, earthy, peppery, or sharp, you’ll find leafy greens to suit every palate. Young, leafy greens tend to have small, tender leaves and be mild flavor. Mature plants generally have tougher leaves and stronger, more intense flavors making them more suited for cooking.
We’ve skipped the iceberg lettuce and show you some nutrient packed leafy greens that are packed with nutrients, and add texture and flavor to any salad. The following make great salad greens, but you can also cook these greens to add to various dishes or briefly sauté or wilt them before adding to salads.
Fresh greens are crisp, unwilted, vibrant in color and definitely not slimy or browning. As a general rule place greens in a plastic bag and put in crisper drawer in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wash thoroughly just before ready to use. Bunches of greens are often especially sandy may require several rinses.
You might also know it as: Rocket, rugola, rugula, roquette, rucola, Italian cress, Mediterranean rocket
Taste: peppery, slightly bitter
This slightly bitter and peppery green contains a chock-full of nitrate – over 250mg/100g! This natural form of nitrate has amazing health properties. Dietary nitrate protects the cardiovascular system by regulating blood flow and normalizing blood pressure1. Also, when absorbed dietary nitrate is converted to nitrite which our body reduces to nitric oxide in the stomach. This nitric oxide inhibits inflammation and platelet aggregation thereby reducing the risks of atherogenesis2.
Get the most out of your leafy green: If you’re not going to consume the arugula immediately after purchase, wrap it loosely in a thin kitchen towel and keep in an airtight container.
You might also know it as: Butter lettuce, Boston lettuce, and Bibb lettuce
Taste: sweet, mild
A type of head lettuce, this tender lettuce has a smooth texture and its most well know varieties are ‘Bibb’ or ‘Boston lettuce’, which are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (1223µg/100g) 1. Research suggests that these two antioxidant carotenoids reduce the risks of malignant melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer, by protecting the skin against UV radiation3, as well as filter light’s high-energy blue and blue-green wavelengths from the visible-light spectrum – in doing so, lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent cell damage in the eyes4.
How to buy: Look for butter lettuce with fairly large, loose heads with thick leaves and even green coloring.
How to eat: It’s subtle taste and crisp leaves means that Butterhead lettuce lends itself to countless uses. Butterhead lettuce makes for a wonderful salad. Also, its leaves are ideally sized for sandwiches, and the leaves are almost almost crisp and tout – perfect for making sandwiches. This also makes it great for using as a wrap.
Get the most out of your leafy green: Store in a perforated bag and refrigerate the lettuce at 35 to 40 degrees F within two hours of purchasing.
You might also know it as: Tat soi, spoon cabbage, rosette bok choy
Taste: mild, sweet, mustardy
Like all the members of the cruciferous family, bok choy not only adds a wonderful crunch to salads but it can also protect your DNA from mutations! Research reveals that when bok choy is cooked, the glucosinolate it contains is converted to isothiocyanates which promote death of cancer cells in leukemia5 and stomach carcinomas6, and inhibit the growth and survival of breast cancer and melanoma cells7.
How to buy: Look for a bok choy with firm stalks that is free of brown spots.
How to eat: Bok choy has a similar texture to that of baby spinach and is great in salads. So in a recipe you could swap one for another. Bok choy is infintely adaptable and stays crisp when cooked, so you can boil, stir-fry, or steam it. Mature bok choy is great in Chinese stir-fries.
Tip! The thick stalks of bok choy have a longer cooking time than the leaves. So separate the leaves from the stalks and sauté the white bits (stalks) first; turn off the heat and add in the shredded greens; mix gently to allow the residual heat to cook the leaves.
How to store: Wrap bok choy in paper towels and store in your refrigerators vegetable crisper compartment. Bok choy can be kept for up to a week.
Taste: mild, sweet
A form of kale, collard greens, are another member of the cruciferous family and are rich in indole-3-carbinol. Research suggests that indole-3-carbinol can help fight cancers of the breast, prostate, colon and reproductive tract as well as blood cancers8, and protect against malignancies of the reproductive system9.
How to buy: Look for collards with firm, dark green leaves. Avoid those with leaves that are yellowing, browning, or wilting.
How to eat: Collard greens shrink less than other greens when cooked, and so are great steamed, braised or sautéd. Collard greens do well when paired with strong flavors. Collard greens are awesome cooked with smoked or salted meats, especially bacon or sausage. And chiles, garlic, chiles too. Another tasty and colorful stand-in for tortillas in wraps or in “sushi” rolls.
How to store: Place collard leaves in a sealed plastic bag. Keep collard greens refrigerated n the crisper drawer for a maximum of 4 – 5 days. When you’re ready to use, rinse leaves thoroughly several times to remove dirt and grit.
Taste: pungent, spicy, bitter
Don’t like the sight of dandelions on your lawn? You’re right – they should be in your plate. This wild green is rich in luteolin, an antioxidant flavonoid which could help delay and even prevent memory loss. According to a lab study, luteolin can reduce inflammation in the brain of aged rodents. The most interesting finding is that this effect appears to restore memory to levels observed in younger mice10.
How to buy: Available in both red and green varieties, dandelion greens are delicious mixed with other greens in a salad.
How to eat: Because of their strong taste, they pair well with rich flavors such as bacon, goats cheese, egg yolk. Young dandelion leaves are delicious in salads. Larger greens taste best when they’re cooked. Chop leaves and add to soups, stews, or a crockpot dish. Finely chop leaves and steep in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain for a cup of fresh dandelion leaf tea. Add to salads in place of arugula.
Get the most out of your leafy green: Use the young leaves in a mixed-green salad – the larger leaves and young roots are more flavorful when slightly cooked.
You might also know it as: French endive, Belgian endive, Belgian chicory, witloof chicory, witloof
Taste: mild, bitter
Closely related to and often confused chicory, this spoon-like leaf is a great source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Not only does vitamin C boost the immune system but it has also been shown to limit UV-related DNA damage which can protect against skin cancer11 and delay the appearance of wrinkles by strengthening the skin’s collagen12.
How to buy: Select crisp firmly packed heads with pale, yellow-green tips. The lighter the endive, the milder the flavor.
How to eat: Eat raw in salads, steam, braise, stew or add to soups. It’s oval shape makes it ideal for appetizers such as dips or fillings. Cook briefly for milder flavor.
How to store: Protect the leaves from excess light, as Belgian endive becomes bitter when exposed to light. Keep them in a flow-pack pouch or wrap them in towels.
You might also know it as: Cavolo nero, black cabbage, Tuscan cabbage, Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale and Lacinato
Taste: mild, slight cabbage flavor
Besides being a potent cancer-fighting agent, kale is also packed with the carotenoid lutein. According to several research, individuals who regularly consume lutein have a 22% reduced risk of suffering from cataracts severe enough to warrant extraction13. Lutein also reduces inflammation and exerts a protective effect against atherosclerosis14.
How to buy: Select deeply colored, firm leaves. Avoid limp or yellowed leaves.
How to eat: Remove tough stems and boil, steam or sauté. Excellent with strong or rich flavors such as bacon, cheese, cream, garlic, lemon, onions, and potatoes. Great in green juices too. Stalk and all! Use kale for a different twist on a Caesar salad or add to pesto.
How to store: Keep in the coldest part of the refrigerator. After about 3 days the flavor intensifies and grows stronger, while the leaves become limp.
Get the most out of your leafy green: Don’t chop or tear kale before washing. Instead, swish the greens in a large bowl of water; throw the water away and repeat the rinsing process until the leaves are dirt-free.
You might also know it as: Cos lettuce
Taste: slightly sweet, subtle bitter
When you think of lettuce, you’re probably envisioning the crispy, crunchy, juicy leaves of Romaine lettuce. Synonymous with salads romaine lettuce are massively popular. Not only tasty, this salad green packa a pretty good health punch too. Compared to other types of lettuce, the Romaine is the richest in beta-carotene1, a potent antioxidant that can help prevent oxidative stress in the body by quenching free radicals and protect the skin against photo-aging, thereby reducing the risk of skin tumors.15
How to buy: Opt for lettuce that is vibrant green in color and firm , upright leaves. Avoid lettuce that is droopy and yellowing.
How to eat: Its smooth, firm texture and full-bodied flavor means it’s incredibly popular in salads, whether served alone or combined with other salad greens. And it is an absolute must for any true Caesar salad. But thanks to its firm texture it’s also great in sandwiches, burgers, in wraps and as wraps.
How to store: Don’t keep lettuce with or near apples, bananas or pears – these fruits are known to release ethylene gas, a ripening agent that will rapidly spoil the lettuce.
Taste: zesty, hearty
Popeye’s favorite green is also rich in several carotenoids which act synergistically to protect LDL particles from oxidative damage and so may reduce the risks of cardiovascular complications16. It may also help protect cells and DNA against free radical damage that can elicit cancer17.
How to buy: Go for vibrant dark green spinach leaves. Avoid wilting, bruised or yellowing leaves.
How to eat: Supremely versatile, great raw or cooked, use mild-flavored leaves in salads, and the more mature and fuller-flavored leaves of late summer and fall in soups and stews. Add to omelets, quiches, crepes, paninis, garden pastas, or sauté as a side dish. Cook quickly to retain maximum freshness and flavor.
How to store: Consume baby spinach as soon as possible after purchase and don’t keep this green for more than 3 to 4 days.
You might also know it as: Swiss chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, crab beet, bright lights, seakale beet, and mangold
Taste: tender, sweet, beet-like flavor
Closely related to beets, Swiss chard is rich in betaine – this compound is known to safely lower levels of homocysteine thereby reducing the risk of death from heart disease18. Swiss chard is also rich in potassium, a mineral that can help normalize blood pressure.
Varieties: Swiss chard has a white stem and dark green leaves. Rainbow chard has red, purple, yellow and white stalks. Red chard has red stalks with a reddish line into the leaves.
How to buy: Best time to buy is summer. Select chard with crisp stalks.
How to eat: Use Swiss chard like spinach. Wilt, sautée, braise, steam, add to soups, casseroles, pasta, or sauté for a quick side dish. Use raw in a winter salads, or blanch and dress with olive oil, lemon and salt. Chard has a heavier texture (and earthier taste) than spinach, requiring longer cooking.
How to store: Refrigerate the chard for three to five days at most in a towel. Do not wash it until you are ready to consume it.
You might also know it as: turnip leaves, turnip tops
Taste: spicy, sharp, bitter, similar to mustard greens
Rich in calcium, these leafy greens are also loaded with glucosinolates, natural components which have been shown to suppress DNA damage19 and reduce risks of prostate cancer by 32% when dietary intake is high20.
How to buy: Select greens that are crisp and deep green in color.
How to eat: Turnip leaves are smaller and more tender than collards. Use in salads or for cooking, and add to soups, stews, or simply sauté for an easy side dish. Cooking mellows the flavor.
How to store: Store unwashed in a perforated plastic bag.
- Webb AJ, Patel N, Loukogeorgakis S, et al. (2008) Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Hypertension.; 51(3):784-790.
- Bailey SJ, Winyard P, Vanhatalo A, et al. (2009) Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol.; 107:1144-1155.
- Bunning, M. (2007) Evaluation of Antioxidant and Sensory Properties of Multiple Cultivars of Colorado-grown Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.). PhD Dissertation. Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.
- Millen AE, Tucker MA, Hartge P, et al. (2004) Diet and melanoma in a case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev.; 13(6):1042-51.
- Krinsky NI. (2002) Possible biologic mechanisms for a protective role of xanthophylls. J Nutr.; 132(3):540S-2S.
- Watanabe M, Ohata M, Hayakawa S, et al. (2003) Identification of 6-methylsulfinyhexyl isothiocyanate as an apoptosis-inducing component in wasabi. Phytochemistry.; 62(5):733-9.
- Xu K, Thornalley PJ. (2000) Studies on the mechanism of the inhibition of human leukaemia cell growth by dietary isothiocyanates and their cysteine adducts in vitro. Biochem Pharmacol. 15; 60(2):221-31.
- Nomura T, Shinoda S, Yamori T, et al. (2005) Selective sensitivity to wasabi-derived 6-(methylsulfiny)hexyl isothiocyanate of human breast cancer and melanoma cell lines studies in vitro. Cancer Detect Prev.; 29(2):155-60.
- Aggarwal BB & Ichikawa H. (2005) Molecular targets and anticancer potential of indole-3-carbinol and its derivatives. Cell Cycle;4(9):1201-15.
- Vivar OI, Saunier EF, Leitman DC, Firestone GL, Bjeldanes LF. (2010) Selective activation of estrogen receptor-beta target genes by 3,3’-diindolylmethane. Endocrinology; 151(4):1662-7.
- Jang, S., Dilger, R. N., & Johnson, R. W. (2010). Luteolin inhibits microglia and alters hippocampal-dependent spatial working memory in aged mice. The Journal of nutrition, 140(10), 1892-1898.
- Nakamura, et al. (1997) Vitamin C abrogates the deleterious effects of UVB radiation on cutaneous immunity by a mechanism that does not depend on TNF-alpha. J Invest Dermatol; 109:20-24.
- Cosgrove, et al. (2007) Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. The American journal of clinical nutrition; 86(4): 1225-1231.
- Chasan-Taber L, Willett WC, Seddon JM, et al. (1999) A prospective study of carotenoid and vitamin A intakes and risk of cataract extraction in US women. Am J Clin Nutr.;70(4):509-16.
- Dwyer JH, Navab M, Dwyer KM, et al. (2001) Oxygenated carotenoid lutein and progression of early atherosclerosis: the Los Angeles atherosclerosis study. Circulation. 19;103(24):2922-7.
- Ross A. (2006) “Vitamin A and Carotenoids.” In: Shils M, Shike M, Ross A, Caballero B, Cousins R, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 10th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 351-75
- Karppi J, Nurmi T, Kurl S, Rissanen TH, Nyyssönen K. (2010) Lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene as determinants of LDL conjugated dienes in serum. Atherosclerosis.;209(2):565-572.
- Collaboration, H. S. (2002). Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association, 288(16), 2015-2022.
- Verhagen H, Poulsen HE, Loft S, van Poppel G, Willems MI, van Bladeren PJ. (1995) Reduction of oxidative DNA-damage in humans. Carcinogenesis.;16(4):969-70.
- Steinbrecher A, Nimptsch K, Husing A, Rohrmann S, Linseisen J. (2009) Dietary glucosinolate intake and risk of prostate cancer in the EPIC-Heidelberg cohort study. Int J Cancer ;125(9):2179-86.