When it comes to vegetables, we’re never going to tell you that any are “bad” for you. That would be pretty unhinged of us. At the end of the day, anything is better than a family-sized bag of barbecue chips. But we want to challenge you to go the extra mile – to start eating the greens that give you the most bang for your bite (and buck).
Maybe we’ll be the first to break it to you, but not all green vegetables were created equally. The difference lies in their nutrient density. Vegetables like cucumber, romaine lettuce and celery are mostly water – they generally qualify as less nutrient-dense because they have less than 10% of your daily nutrients per 100% calories. This doesn’t make them bad, it just means you can probably do better.
So where should you turn when you’re wondering down the produce aisle?
Leafy Greens are the Best Greens
Leafy green vegetables are some of the best that you can eat for your diet – they’re rich in vitamins, high in fiber and low in calories (sign us up). Even better, a recent study showed that a sugar molecule called sulfoquinovose that is found in leafy green vegetables is essential for feeding the good bacteria in your gut, allowing them to colonize and prevent bad bacteria from taking over.
"Every time we eat leafy green vegetables we consume significant amounts of SQ sugars, which are used as an energy source by good gut bacteria," explains Dr. Goddard Borger, explaining how this sugar can be used to cultivate the growth of “good bacteria.”
Fancy sugar compounds aside, leafy greens like spinach and kale are great sources of fiber, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. These all work together to:
- promote healthy digestion
- prevent gastrointestinal problems like bloating and constipation
- improve cognitive ability
decrease your risk of chronic disease
In fact, enjoying a daily serving of leafy greens might even lower your risk for type 2 diabetes by 14%.
Compared to other veggies, the benefits of leafy greens are hard to ignore (is that why a Sweet Green salad costs $17?). When you’re wondering about the produce aisle, here’s how to make your picks.
The Greener, the Better
When shopping for greens, the general rule of thumb is: the deeper the green, the better. For example, greens like chard, kale, spinach, collard greens and arugula have substantially larger nutrient density than say…. iceberg lettuce (mostly because we know how much ranch dressing people are putting on top of that iceberg).
These dark green, leafy, nutrient-dense vegetables are going to give you the most gut healing properties, too. Linda Lee, M.D. encourages that people make an effort to incorporate these kinds of leafy greens into their regular diets, saying “eating a lot of fiber and leafy greens allow you to develop an ideal gut microbiome.”
We all know that when your gut microbiome is thriving, so are you. So the next time you find yourself at the store, listen to your gut. Swap one of your cucumbers for a bunch of kale, and then pat yourself on the back – you’re one step closer to your best gut ever.