Beyond Kale: A Leafy Greens Primer

By Published On: 11 April 2014Last Updated: 17 January 2017

Nutritionally-speaking, kale is awesome...but let's not forget about all the other leafy greens that are available. Why let it have all the glory? Variety is the spice of life anyway, so let's explore a little.

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If there is one food heavily associated with a vegan diet, it is kale. Kale chips. Kale loaded green smoothies. T-shirts with kale-inspired catch phrases. You cannot escape the leafy green if you try. And the attention given to kale is certainly justified – it is a versatile vegetable that is nutrient dense while being low in calories. Nutritionally-speaking, it is awesome…but let’s not forget about all the other leafy greens that are available. Why let kale have all the glory? Variety is the spice of life anyway, so let’s explore a little.


Collard Greens
Photo: Marisa | Food in Jars

Can I get a holler for collards? This calcium-loaded vegetable has been rhymed about by the likes of Dr Dre and Run-DMC. It kind of doesn’t get much better than that, really. Best during the winter months, collards’ leaves are certainly a bit more hardy. So, they work best in dishes with a longer cooking time. I have actually steamed them and used them as wraps, which is a nice change of pace. Definitely having a bitter bite, you can combat that by adding vinegar, pepper and a bit o’sugar to collards if you choose. Collards (and kale) have been cultivated for thousands of years. If there is one thing this green has, it is staying power.


CabbagePhoto: wwarby

Cabbage – the word alone conjures up images of my German-borne grandmother standing over a boiling pot of cabbage on the stove. I joke with her that when she passes, I will adorn myself with a tattoo of the cruciferous veggie in her honour. She doesn’t find it flattering, but I do. Cabbage is one of my faves because I love CRUNCH! Slaw is one of the most common uses of cabbage, but it can easily be sauteed, pickled, fermented, stuffed, added to spring rolls, soups & salads, etc. And talk about variety – green, red, bok choy, Napa – there certainly is a cabbage out there with your name on it. Another thing is this veggie, packed with vitamins C & K, will last for weeks in the fridge when it is left as a whole head. (I have definitely had those “Oh snap – a week later & I still have a head of cabbage in here” moments). Plus, being a cruciferous veggie means it contains phytochemicals that may ward off cancer. And lest not forget, the Cabbage Patch Kids. I mean, it has to be a badass vegetable to spawn adorable doll babies.

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard
Photo: bec.w

Chard – it is so darn pretty. Red, purple, orange, or yellow stems with deep green leaves, chard is an easy way to add colour to a dish. Despite being referred to as “Swiss Chard,” this vegetable was actually first cultivated in Italy – and named after a Swiss botanist. Peak flavour is during the spring & summer seasons, and chard can be stored for up to a few weeks in the crisper. The younger varieties can be eaten raw while the more mature types can be cooked into things like soup or sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic. Just a half-cup (cooked) serving gives you all the vitamin A for the day, which is important for healthy eyeballs.


WatercressPhoto: tiny banquet committee

When I think about watercress, I think “Well, la dee dah.” Cucumber & watercress finger sammiches and ladies in fancy dresses. Maybe I just read too much Jane Austen? This leafy member of the mustard family indeed adds a bit of punch (similar to horseradish) to salads & sandwiches. Like all greens, watercress contains phytonutrients believed to ward off DNA damage. Hippocrates is believed to have given this particular green to his patients to purify their blood and it was prescribed to folks back in the day to prevent scurvy due to its vitamin C content. Its delicate leaves keep for about 5 or so days in the fridge, so don’t let it linger.


ArugulaPhoto: timsackton

Growing in popularity, arugula is a salad green that I find on my sandwiches in local eateries, and I ain’t complaining. It is more flavourful than just having a bit of plain lettuce in its place. It also works well in tomato-based foods, like pasta sauce, minestrone & pizza. Like all of the other mentioned leafy greens, arugula contains a fair share of vitamin K & accordingly, it can interfere with blood thinner medications. It might not be an issue for most YDV readers, but as a registered dietitian, I feel I need to throw that info out there.

So, that’s just a taste of the other greens that are out there. I didn’t even mention spinach, turnip greens, escarole, romaine, mustards, dandelion – and the list goes on. Get to the market. Buy your kale, but also add a new green or two to the mix. You can thank me later.


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HELLO! I'm KD Angle-Traegner.

Writer, activist, and founder of Four Urban Paws Sanctuary. I’m on a mission to help people live a vegan life. Read more about KD…