Which Salad Greens Are the Most Nutritious?

Kale on the left, mustard greens on the right

Since I’m eating nuttin’ but salads these days, I want to be sure I’m getting adequate nutrition. There are about 40 essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, “essential” meaning necessary for life and health.

I haven’t found a good source yet for estimates of non-vitamin anti-oxidants and other non-essential nutrients. There are probably hundreds of these that are not essential for life, but optimize health and longevity.

FitDay makes it easy to compare multiple nutrients in various foods. Their standard analysis includes fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, riboflavin, selenium, thiamine, and zinc.

I compared 12 salad greens for content of these 18 nutrients. Here’s how they stack up, with the most nutritious first and least nutritious last. If two cups of the item provide at least 20% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for a specific nutrient, I’ve listed it in parentheses.

  1. Dandelion greens (vitamins A, vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, iron, riboflavin)
  2. Kale (vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, copper, iron, mangenese)
  3. Brussels sprouts (fiber, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, iron, manganese, thiamine)
  4. Cabbage, green (vitamin C)
  5. Spinach (vitamin A, iron, manganese)
  6. Chard (vitamin A, vitamin C)
  7. Celery
  8. Cucumber
  9. Collards (vitamin A, vitamin C)
  10. Lettuce, romaine or cos (vitamin A, vitamin C)
  11. Lettuce, green leaf (vitamin A)
  12. Lettuce, presumptively iceberg

Dandelion greens and kale are the clear stand-outs, a coin toss to declare one better than the other. Brussels sprouts and cabbage have very similar profiles. Spinach and chard were close. Iceberg lettuce doesn’t have much to recommend it. The list above is essentially one of descending nutrient density.

To learn more about nutrient density, visit Marty Kendall at Optimising Nutrition.

Have I left out any of your favorite salad greens?

Steve Parker, M.D.

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