It Ain't Easy Bein' Greens

Photography by: David Prince
It Ain't Easy Bein' Greens

Spinach is the Tom Hanks of the vegetable world--a popular, likable performer that routinely takes top honors. There's its all-star iron content, healthy level of fiber, and whopping amount of beta carotene (11,318 mcg per 1-cup serving).
Bonus points: Among fruits and vegetables, spinach contains the highest levels of quercetin, a cholesterol-foiling antioxidant. But lutein is this crisp, juicy green's secret weapon. Researchers at Heinrich Heine University in Germany found that lutein helps filter blue light (which can damage ocular tissues) and fortifies retinal cells. "And there's some research showing that lutein may block communication signals to cancer cells," Grotto says. According to preliminary studies from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, lutein also shows promise in preventing heart disease and stroke.

Romaine Lettuce
Romaine lettuce is sometimes called Cos in honor of its birthplace, the Greek island that also produced Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine. Of course, romaine by another name would still be more nutritious than nearly any other common salad green. Compared to iceberg lettuce, for example, romaine has three times more folate, five times more vitamin C, and nearly eight times more beta carotene. A recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with high blood levels of total carotenoids, including beta carotene, were 25 percent to 35 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women with low levels.
Bonus points: 1,087 mcg of eye- and artery-protecting lutein per 1-cup serving.

Savoy Cabbage
With its crinkled yellowish-green leaves, savoy cabbage is sweeter than its cousins thanks to its slightly higher sugar content. Per 1-cup serving, it contains a generous helping of folate (67 mcg) and nearly double the amount of fiber (4 grams) found in other types of cabbage.
Bonus points: The same sulfurous compounds that give cabbages their distinctive smell have been shown in numerous studies to foil the replication of cancer cells. In one recent investigation at New York Medical College, indole-3-carbinol inhibited the metastasis of prostate cancer cells. And a recent Danish study found that a side set of I3C called N-methoxyindole-3-carbinol did the same for colon cancer cells.

Suprise! Pale endive defies the rule that the darker the green, the more nutrients it contains. These spear-shaped leaves offer 650 mcg of beta carotene per 1-cup serving, along with 2 grams of fiber--double the amount found in most lettuces. But endive shines brightest in folate content: 71 mcg, or nearly one-fourth the recommended daily supply. In addition to reducing the risk of birth defects, folate may be crucial to mental health. Researchers at Tufts University found that patients with clinical depression had below-normal blood levels of folate (though whether the deficiency causes the depression or vice versa is yet to be determined). Also, a study at Harvard University found that depression lifted more efficiently in people who maintained high blood levels of folate while taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac or Paxil.