It goes without saying that salads are healthy. Yet, it is important to understand that not all leafy greens are created equal. In fact, some greens tend to be a lot more nutritious than others.
Per serving, leafy greens are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They are loaded with essential micronutrients and antioxidants to ward off disease. Additionally, they have some of the highest levels of nitrates, which become a heart-healthy compound (nitric oxide) in the body. Leafy greens also contain active plant compounds called phytochemicals that can actually lower inflammation and preserve the health of arteries.
The list below shares the top six leafy greens for cardiovascular health based on their unique nutrient profiles. The fun thing about these greens is that you can easily interchange them in each of the recipes.
So when you’re about to order your next salad at lunch be sure to take a moment to think about which greens will best benefit your health and heart.
Microgreens are premature leafy greens, such as those of arugula, kale, or spinach, which have been harvested about 10-14 days after germination. While these tiny greens may seem miniscule, they actually pack in a large amount of nutrients. In fact, research has revealed that microgreens have up to 4-40 times higher levels of nutrients than those found in mature plants1. Think of the same nutrients you would find in mature plants like arugula or kale and the amounts of those same nutrients being amplified in these tiny plants. High nutrient levels of vitamin A, K, C and E can be seen in many of these microgreens.
Due to the microscopic and colorful aesthetic of these greens, they have become widely popular with chefs as garnishes. These microgreens are also highly flavorful, and so a little bit is all that is needed for a flavorful nutrient boost to any meal. Today, you can find these tiny greens at your local health food store or farmers’ market. When sourcing your microgreens, the most colorful types will also be the most nutritious ones.
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Mircogreens like arugula or kale are great for the heart as they have very high levels of natural nitrates, which get converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is very beneficial for the heart. It dilates blood vessels, boosts blood flow and can even lower blood pressure.
Try it! Use microgreens in this Charred Rainbow Beet & Pistachio Salad. Start your morning with an Egg White Omelette with Avocado & Microgreens. Make a Green Goddess Smoothie using microgreens. Or whip up a summer salad using microgreens as the base and top with fresh berries, capers, fresh herbs, olive oil and vinegar.
Beetroot greens are the green, leafy tops of beets that are highly nutritious and considered a SUPERfood. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and natural nitrates. Specifically, beetroot greens are loaded with vitamin A, C, K and even some key B vitamins like folate. They also contain essential trace and major minerals including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. And a cup of beetroot greens provides roughly 5 grams of fiber, beating out several grains in the fiber category.
Beetroot greens also contain a wide array of phytonutrients, which are plant compounds that fight chronic disease. Specifically, they contain carotenoids, including the antioxidant and disease-fighting plant pigments: lutein and beta-carotene. Read more about beetroot greens here.
You can incorporate the beet greens into many of the same dark, green leafy vegetable recipes that you use normally. Rather than toss those greens in the trash, use them to boost the nutritional status of your next salad!
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Beetroot greens are one of the best foods for your ticker. They are rich in a compound called betaine, which is a protective amino acid. Betaine is a methyl donor and is needed to convert homocysteine to methionine in the body. High levels of homocysteine have been shown to lead to plaque buildup, blocked arteries and contribute to heart disease.
Try it! Make a side dish out of beet greens, bacon fat and garlic. Boost your breakfast routine with a Sweet Potato, Egg and Beet Green bowl. Or whip up some Broccoli, Beet Green and Avocado soup for a quick and nutritious dinner staple.
This nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetable is related to kale and is highly nutritious.
It is rich in essential vitamins and minerals along with high levels of antioxidants. Some of the most notable nutrients include high levels of vitamin A, C, K and a proper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids for health. These plant-based omega 3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid) are beneficial and research has shown they can decrease inflammation and protect the heart. For this reason, this unique nutrient array has been shown to preventative against chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. This is a very heart-healthy and anti-aging vegetable.
This green has a peppery, mustard-type of flavor. It’s a great green to add to salads, sautéed vegetable dishes or even to throw in your morning green juice.
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Watercress has a unique ratio of calcium, magnesium and potassium minerals, which helps to support normal blood pressure. Watercress also contains naturally high levels of nitrates, which become nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide can lower inflammation, decrease blood pressure and block platelets from sticking together.
Try it! Enjoy a light, summer salad of watercress, apple, avocado and ginger dressing. Feeling under the weather? Try some Watercress and Chicken Soup to boost immune function and support rapid healing. Or cook some wild-caught salmon with watercress sauce for the ultimate heart-healthy dinner.
Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable that contains unique sulfur compounds, which give it a distinctive bitter taste but also some powerful anti-cancer properties. Arugula also contains high levels of chlorophyll, a protective plant pigment known to prevent against chronic disease and aid in detoxification of the body. Additionally, arugula contains a high level of vitamins A, K, C along with folate and calcium to support overall health, immune function, and cardiovascular function.
The leaves of arugula have a distinctive tangy, peppery flavor that makes them great to cook with.
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Arugula has a high level of nitrates, as well, which benefit the heart by lowering blood pressure and improving endothelial function. It also contains an antioxidant known as alpha lipoic acid, which has been shown to decrease oxidative stress, protect against oxidation of LDL and aid in blood pressure regulation2.
Try it! Create some Paleo Arugula Pesto for your zucchini noodles. Or try a summertime salad of Wild-Caught Salmon and Arugula. If you’re feeling like a morning detox, blend up this Arugula Green Juice.
Kale is one of the most well known greens due to its recent rise to superfood status. It is high in vitamins A, C and K, which are great for immune function, boosting collagen production and proper blood clotting, respectively. This leafy green contains folate, a B vitamin needed for brain function and cognition.
Kale also contains disease-fighting antioxidants, which are responsible for kale’s vibrant, dark color. These antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, are also important for eye health and preventing macular degeneration. In fact, part of kale’s superfood status is attributed to its exceedingly high levels of lutein compared to the rest of the leafy green vegetables out there.
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Kale is naturally loaded with cardioprotective minerals like potassium and zinc. Potassium is a mineral that is responsible for lowering blood pressure and maintaining steady heart rhythms. Potassium is an all-star player in regards to heart health because it can regulate heartbeats, muscular activity of the heart and nerve control. Zinc, a mineral found in kale, is also critical to the heart as it protects the muscle from oxidative stress and weakening.
Try it! Make a heart(y) dish for dinner such as a Sweet Potato, Kale and Chicken Skillet. Try this recipe for Kale Chips for a healthy road trip snack! Or try a nutritional summer salad such as Lemon, Basil, Kale Salad with Avocado.
Swiss chard, also known as Roman Kale, is chock full of nutrients. It contains vitamins A, C and K as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium and iron. Swiss chard is one of the leafy greens that holds the highest levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K is crucial to blood clotting. It is also key to heart and bone health as it is able to pull calcium out of the blood and into bones and teeth where it belongs.
The stems of Swiss chard can range in color from red to yellow to green, making them great color additions to any meal. There are also white stem varieties of Swiss chard. This green has a slightly bitter taste and is in the same family as spinach and beets.
❤❤ Heart Health Tip: Since Swiss chard is a member of the same family as beets it also has a high level of nitrates, which are protective to the heart. Again these turn into nitric oxide and can dilate the blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Because nitric oxide relaxes the heart’s muscle cells, it can actually help to ward off angina, or chest pain, which usually occurs when the heart doesn’t get enough blood.
Try it! Make a tasty and colorful side dish of Swiss Chard with Lemon and Ginger. Or give this Italian Swiss Chard “Spaghetti” a whirl. If you’re in the mood for a healthy, summer brunch try out this Heirloom Tomato Swiss Chard Eggs Benedict.
Short on time?
Give a greens powder a try. They are great for adding to morning juices and smoothies or sprinkling into dishes.
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