Dark Green Vegetables
Melanie Ng

Dark Green Vegetables

This Food Talk Features blog is about all things green! Well… Green vegetables! Dark green vegetables support a healthy heart, digestive system, and everything in between. Learn why we love this veggie sub-group.

Each month this year, we are featuring a different food group or sub-group as part of our Food Talk Features Series. Last month, we learned about red and orange vegetables! Their bright colors are from beta-carotene. Eating enough red and orange vegetables will help with eyesight, skin health, and immunity. Check out more from that blog here. 

This month, we’re diving into another vegetable sub-group: Dark green vegetables! Other vegetable subgroups include: 

  • Red and orange vegetables 
  • Beans, peas, and lentils   
  • Starchy vegetables  
  • And other vegetables. [1] 

Wooden bowl of raw and cut broccoli florets

 

What’s so special about dark green vegetables? 

Dark green vegetables are grouped together because of their dark green color. These veggies are a great source of the following: 

  • Fiber  
  • Folate 
  • Vitamins C and K 
  • Minerals like iron and calcium 
  • Antioxidants 
  • And even more! [2] [3] 

This sub-group is a nutrient powerhouse! Dark green vegetables are also naturally low in calories, sodium, and fat.  

Eating dark green vegetables is an easy way to add fiber into your diet. Fiber is important for keeping us full between meals. This helps with weight management. Fiber also helps to control blood sugar. It does this by slowing down the movement of sugar into the bloodstream. In the process, fiber picks up cholesterol in the blood to improve cholesterol levels. Finally, it attaches to other food to slow digestion and support a healthy digestive system. [4]  

close up pregnant woman in blue shirt assembling a salad with spinach leaves

Folate (folic acid) helps the body make red blood cells. Enough folate is very important for women who may become pregnant. [5] Iron is also needed for healthy blood cells—iron gives blood its red color!  

Other nutrients like vitamin K and calcium are needed for healthy bones. Read more about bone health in our Healthy Bones and Aging blog. 

Vitamin C and antioxidants support our immune system for a long and healthy life. Dark green vegetables are full of many antioxidants! Antioxidants may help to prevent chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. [2] [3] [6]  

Smiling senior woman reading a book while sitting in the kitchen, eating salad

Examples of dark green vegetables are: 

  • Broccoli 
  • Greens, such as collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale 
  • Spinach 
  • Dark leafy greens like watercress 
  • Lettuce like romaine, dark green leafy lettuce, endive, and escarole 

 

How much do need? 

1 cup of broccoli florets or cooked leafy greens counts as a 1-cup-serving of dark green vegetables. 2 cups of raw leafy greens count as a 1-cup-serving, too. This is because of how loose the leaves are when they are uncooked.  

People should aim for 1-3 cups of total vegetables a day. However, sub-group suggestions are based on how much we should try to eat every week. 

Check out the Weekly Vegetable Subgroup Table from MyPlate below to learn how many servings of dark green vegetables to aim for each week: 

Table of amount of vegetables to eat each week, separated by sub-group and age group/life stage. The first column is highlighted green for dark green vegetables.

  • Children (2-8 years old): ½-1 cup 
  • Girls (9-18 years old): 1 ½ cups 
  • Boys (9-18 years old): 1 ½-2 cups 
  • Women (19-50 years old): 1 ½ cups 
  • Women 51 years and above: 1 ½ cups 
  • Men (19-50 years old): 2 cups 
  • Men 50 years and above: 1 ½ cups 

Chard, kale and arugula in a white mesh bag on a blue table.

 

Enjoying Dark Green Vegetables 

Dark green veggies grow well in Georgia and home gardens! UGA SNAP-Ed includes plenty of these veggies in our recipes because they are common and affordable. Check out these yummy ways to enjoy dark green veggies: 

collard corn bread muffins in a cloth lined bowl next to a butter jar

 

Written by Melanie Ng, PhD Student | Edited by Leslie Davis, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES and the Nutrition Education Team 

Posted: March 15, 2021 

[1] MyPlate: Vegetables 

[2] UK Ag Extension—Dark Green Leafy Vegetables 

[3] EatRight—Dark Leafy Greens 

[4] EatRight—Fiber  

[5] NIH—Folate Fact Sheet 

[6] USDA ARS—Dark Green Leafy Vegetables 

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