Dark, leafy greens are the rock stars of the produce department: Nutrition powerhouses like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, watercress, arugula and mustard greens have been shown to prevent everything from cancer to heart disease while keeping your body and brain in top shape. As an ingredient, however, they can be a little intimidating—mostly because we often don’t have a clue how to cook with them. But these surprisingly versatile vegetables can pep up salads, stir-frys and pizza—heck, they can even give chips a run for their money in the snack department. Read on for the 411 on six good-for-you greens and recipes that wow—without a lot of work.
Kale Arguably the king of the leafy greens, kale scored No. 1 in a ranking of 84 veggies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. Crammed with nutrients, notably vitamins K, A and C and calcium, kale is also a cancer-fighting superpower. Kale’s 45 flavonoids combine antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits to help fend off bladder, breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancer, says Ron Edwards, D.C., M.S., certified clinical nutritionist and integrated cancer nutritionist in Culver City, Calif. Noggin-nourishing antioxidants in kale also keep the brain sharp as you age. Heartier than spinach with a bitter bite, the versatile veggie works in stir-frys, soups and omelets.
Watercress This subtle-looking superfood can go head to head with milk for calcium, bananas for potassium and oranges for vitamin C. And its concentration of isothiocyanates—anticancer phytochemicals that help prevent lung, colon and breast cancer— really set it apart. “In addition to having major anti-cancer properties, watercress can help lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure, and improve fertility, mental clarity and bone health,” says Joey Shulman, D.C., registered nutritionist in Toronto and author of The Last 15 (Wiley). A natural diuretic, watercress adds a peppery bite to dishes for a measly 4 calories per cup.
Swiss chard In addition to iron, protein, folate and fiber, nutrient-packed Swiss chard also boasts vitamins K, A and C. Chard is more colorful than your average greens, with stems ranging from red to purple. Thank its wide array of phytonutrients for its flashy appearance. “The phytonutrient compounds in chard act as a natural anti-inflammatory, lowering the risk of chronic inflammation and fending off disease,” says Shulman, who adds that its blood sugar regulating properties could also benefit those with type II diabetes. Milder than spinach, chard can be eaten raw or simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil.