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Greens Guide! Which Are Best for Salad, and Why?

"Eat your greens!"

You've heard it from your mother since you were a kid, and these days, with juice shops on every corner, and restaurants competing for the best kale salad - there are more ways than ever to satisfy Mama’s wishes.

We can all agree that greens are a good thing - but all varieties are not created equal, and some can be more helpful for your dietary needs than others.  When you step up to a salad bar, you might waver between spinach, with it’s reputation for nutrition density, and romaine with it’s satisfying crunch.  But what if romaine was better for you than you thought (hint: it is).  Have you been struggling to chew through raw kale, thinking that raw foods are always better for you (hint: they’re not)?

Like everything when it comes to nutrition and diet, it's important to mix it up, especially when it comes to the types of greens you’re munching.

So, in honor of all the green surrounding Christmas Day - check out my guide below to learn why, and how, to eat your greens in all shades!



1 raw cup has 33 calories, 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber

Why it Rocks: Arguably the trendiest green right now (seriously, even McDonald’s is going to start serving it!) Kale is one of the most nutrient dense superfoods on the planet. It’s packed with powerful antioxidants, and vitamins B6, A and C -- as well as chlorophyll, which promotes healthy iron levels and binds with toxins to flush them from your body. Kale is one of the best sources of vitamin K, which can aid in prevention of osteoporosis by helping your body process calcium (which, kale also offers in good supply).

Things to Know: Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, meaning that it’s from the same family as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Over consuming raw, cruciferous veggies can lead to hypothyroidism. But don’t worry, making sure that you get enough iodine and selenium will combat the negative effects, and focus on the good stuff.

Prep Tips + Serving Suggestions: Steaming kale for 5 minutes makes it more digestible, more effective at reducing cholesterol, and greatly reduces the giotrogenic properties that can be harmful to the thyroid.



1 raw cup has 7 calories, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber

Why it Rocks: Spinach is incredibly nutrient dense in both vitamins and minerals, including K, A, manganese, folate, zinc, magnesium and selenium -- which are all crucial for iron absorption. It also boasts an overwhelming and unique combination of flavonoids and phytonutrients, making it a heart disease and cancer fighting powerhouse.

Things to Know: Spinach contains oxalates and insoluble fiber, both of which can keep you from absorbing calcium. It’s also on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list as one of the most important foods to buy organic.

Prep Tips + Serving Suggestions: Cooking spinach can dramatically reduce it’s folate content, among other awesome nutrients, so it’s best enjoyed raw. Just make sure to wash it thoroughly to avoid E. Coli!



1 raw cup has 8 calories, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber

Why it Rocks: Despite it’s light color, romaine has a good dose of a wide variety of minerals including magnesium, copper, manganese, folate and zinc -- so it’s great for your immune system, bones and muscles, and helps prevent heart disease and certain cancers. It’s also surprisingly high in protein (nearly 20% of it’s calories are protein!) and omega-3s. Plus, the elevated fiber and water content help it to keep your digestive system moving.

Things to Know: The white “milk” that leaks from Romaine stalks when cut, is called lactucarium, which can have relaxing properties similar to opium, minus the side effects!

Prep Tips + Serving Suggestions: There are more ways to eat romaine than doused in caesar dressing...try grilling whole heads of romaine for a simple and cheap appetizer that looks fancy!



1 raw cup has 7 calories, 0 grams of protein, 0 grams of fiber

Why it Rocks: Arugula is high in nitrates, which lower blood pressure and enhance athletic performance by helping your muscles use oxygen more efficiently. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and K plus calcium, which it absorbs well thanks to the K. A variety of B vitamins and folate make arugula good brain food.

Things to Know: Arugula, like kale, is a cruciferous vegetable, but is less mineral dense than other leafy greens. It’s also often called "rocket" or "rucola".

Prep Tips + Servings Suggestions: Arugula contains an enzyme called myrosinase (also found in mustard and wasabi), that, when combined with broccoli boosts specific cancer fighting compounds that can be lost in cooking.


Natalie Decleve is a bicoastal lifestyle correspondent and coach, specializing in “Inside Out Makeovers.” Find her herehere, and here!

    2 Discussions on
    “Greens Guide! Which Are Best for Salad, and Why?”
  • Hannah-Phoebe says:

    Sorry for the pedantry but I’m fascinated by the numbers here: if 20% of the calories in romaine are from protein and there are 8 calories in a cup, that would make 1.6 calories from protein. If 1g of protein is 4 kcal then i don’t understand how there can be more than 0.4g protein?!? my mind is boggled! help!

  • Sakara Life says:

    Hey Hannah-Phoebe! Via our author, Natalie, this conversion comes from Dr. Drew Ramsey during a lecture she attended on “brain food” — it is also backed up by the following sites that quote the protein content anywhere from 17-20%!

    20% – http://preventdisease.com/news/14/041214_10-Reasons-Should-Be-Eating-Romaine-Lettuce.shtml
    50% – https://www.nutrientrich.com/eat-for-health/lettuce-is-the-new-chicken.html
    17% – http://realfoodforlife.com/health-benefits-lettuce/

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