Leafy Green Vegetables for Weight Loss: A Healthy Way to Shed Extra Pounds

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on August 18, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on September 12, 2021

It’s important to know that not all calories are created equal. Different foods get processed in different metabolic pathways in our bodies, leading to significant effects on your hunger and the number of calories you burn daily (1).

When it comes to low-calorie foods, leafy greens contain several properties that make them the perfect weight loss diet. Kale, spinach, collards, and Swiss cards are just some of the vegetables that fall in this group. Besides being low in calories, each of these vegetables is low in carbohydrates yet loaded with fiber (1).

Leafy greens are a great addition to your diet. If you’re planning to lose weight, eating leafy greens is a great way to eat more without gaining more calories. This can be explained by several studies that show meals and diets that are low in energy density allow people to consume less calories overall (1).

Plus, you’ll be happy to know that leafy greens are incredibly nutritious,  chock full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals like calcium, which has been proven to also aid in fat burning in some studies (1).

Vegetables and Fat Loss

“Eat your vegetables.” – While it rings a bell as your mom tells you this more times than she should, eating your leafy greens is indeed important for your overall health.

Now that you are on a journey towards weight loss, what you eat in general is crucial to achieving your weight loss goals (2).

Getting rid of fat belly is not a one-time process, but it requires a consistent amount of effort. More so, it is not about doing crunches every day. Instead, it’s about consuming the right, healthy foods – and this includes vegetables (3).

Consuming vegetables is a natural way to boost your belly-fat burning process and achieve your weight loss goals. Instead of investing in “empty calories,” it’s time to make changes to your diet and consume healthy fruits and vegetables to achieve your body goals faster (3).

Leafy Greens: What Are They?

Also known as dark green leafy vegetables, edible plant leaves, green leafy vegetables, or simply “greens,” leafy greens are healthy foods that can help complete a balanced diet. They are typically rich in nutrients and fiber yet are low in calories and fat (4).

As their name implies, leafy greens are called so due to their green color and edible leaves. More so, leafy greens are edible plant leaves; while a person can eat them raw, some of these leafy greens may require cooking (4).

Leafy greens are also known as super foods, as they are incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals. Given that they are high in fiber yet low in calories, leafy greens also aid in weight management. Plus, with its special plant compounds, leafy greens also lower your risk of some cancers, osteoporosis, and heart disease (5).

In this article, we are going to uncover the wonderful health benefits of different leafy greens, and offer some tips on how to include them in your diet (2).

The nutritional profiles of green leafy vegetables are generally associated with several health benefits. As recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, adults should vary their vegetable intake and aim to fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables (4).

Leafy Greens to Add to Your Diet

Leafy green vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They offer tons of health benefits, including a reduced risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and mental decline (6).

Here are some of the healthiest leafy green vegetables to include in your weight-loss diet:

1. Kale

We can safely refer to Kale as “king of the greens” because of its nutrient-dense nature. To give you a hint, a single cup of this leafy green offers 206 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement, 134 percent for vitamin C, and 684 percent of vitamin K (2).

More so, Kale is also rich in antioxidants like lutein and beta-carotene, which help reduce the risk of diseases brought about by oxidative stress (2) (6).

Kale belongs to the cabbage (or Brassica) family. It is characterized by tough center stems and long sleeves that curl at the ends. It is rich in fiber. In line with this, a 2018 study suggests that consuming high amounts of dietary fiber may help prevent Type 2 diabetes (4).

According to the USDA, a cup (or 118 grams) of cooked Kale contains (4):

  • Calories: 43 (4)
  • Fiber: 4.7 g (4)
  • Carbohydrates: 6.3 g (4)
  • Fat: 1.4 g (4)
  • Protein: 3.5 g (4)
  • Sugars: 1.4 g (4)

Along with this, Kale is also recognized as the “poster child of leafy greens,” given its potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, K, B6, and C (5).

How to Eat Kale

To reap the most benefits of Kale, particularly its vitamins A, C, and K, it’s best consumed raw, as cooking potentially reduces the nutritional profile of the vegetable (6). Its slightly bitter flavor is good in salads, especially when paired with something sweet like diced apples or dried fruit (5).

Some other ways you can prepare Kale is by steaming, stir-frying, or roasting kale leaves then breaking them up into “chips (5).” Kale chips are a popular healthy snack, though they don’t contain the same amount of nutrients as raw kale (2). Another way to make this delicious snack is by baking drizzled Kale with salt until crisp. You can also use other spices for a variety of flavors (7)

You can also add Kale to smoothies, use it as a side dish sautéed with garlic and olive oil, or use the leaves to replace lettuce in a salad (2). The following recipes for Kale shows how versatile the leafy green vegetable can be (7):

  • Kale Chips (7)
  • Smoked Turkey, Kale and Rice Bake (7)
  • Kale, White Bean and Pork Soup (7)
  • Kale and Potato Hash (7)
  • Kale, Sausage and Lentil Skillet (7)
  • Indian Spiced Kale and Chickpeas (7)

Note that the best variety of this leafy green would be leaves and stalks that are firm and deep green. Store these up to five days max in your fridge. Longer span after that would otherwise make your kale toughen (5).

2. Collard Greens

Also known as collards, collard greens are loose leafy greens that come from the cabbage family, which are closely related to spring beans and kale (2) (4) (6). Their texture is the same as cabbage (2). As a matter of fact, their name comes from the word “colewort (6).” They also have a slightly bitter taste (2). Collard greens have large, fanlike leaves and tough stems (4).

As a member of the cabbage family, collard greens grow in a bouquet. Their large leaves collect soil, so make sure to rinse them well before use (5).

Collard greens are a good source of folate (vitamin B9) (6) and vitamins A and C. Surprisingly, a cup of cooked collard greens contains 1,045 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin K (2).

Vitamin K is also essential to weight loss, as it promotes good bone health. In one study of 72,327 women aged 38 to 63 who took vitamin K daily reported that the said participants had a lower risk of having hip fractures (2) (6).

This specific link between vitamin K and bone health is crucial if you are trying to lose weight. With healthy bones, you can have more than enough strength to accomplish your fitness goals (2). In addition, it is also recognized for its role in blood clotting (6).

Collards are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium and folate. As per the USDA, 1 cup (or 190 g) of cooked chopped collard greens contains (4):

  • Calories: 62 (4)
  • Fiber: 7.6 g (4)
  • Carbohydrates: 10.7 g (4)
  • Sugars: 0.8 g (4)
  • Protein: 5.2 g (4)
  • Fat: 1.4 g (4)

In addition, one serving of collard greens contains 338 micrograms of vitamin A, which is more than a third (for men) to a half (for women) of the daily requirement (5).

How to Eat Collards

You can have collard greens in sandwiches, raw salads, or even as wraps. If you prefer them cooked, simply steam collard greens for ten minutes and season them with herbs and spices to keep their nutritional value (2).

Although you can eat them raw, they can be bitter and tough to chew, which is why many people prefer to also braise them (4).

A lot of beloved soul food and Southern recipes necessitates for collard greens to be slowly cooked with pork. But, if you prefer to cut the saturated fat, skip the meat and sauté them in a little oil and season them with your choice of spices (5).

In addition, here are some collard greens recipes to try:

  • BBQ Baked Bean, Collard Green and Sausage (7)
  • Pasta with Collard Greens and Tomato Sauce (7)
  • Spicy Meatloaf with Collard Greens (7)
  • Collard Green and Black-Eyed Pea Soup (7)
  • Crushed Red Potatoes with Winter Greens (7)
  • Grits and Greens Casserole (7)

3. Spinach

Of course, how can we not miss on Popeye’s favorite snack? – Just as how it was portrayed in the cartoons, spinach does come jam-packed with several vitamins and nutrients. In fact, a single cup of raw spinach provides more than enough vitamin K and holds up to 56 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A (2).

Spinach is another leafy green that contains several vitamins and nutrients, which include iron, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and folic acid (4). It’s also packed with folate, which plays an essential role in red blood cell production and prevention of neural tube defects in pregnancy (6).

Pregnant women, in particular, need sufficient amounts of vitamin B6 (folate). In one study, it was found that one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk factor of spina bifida (especially in the first trimester of pregnancy (6) is to increase folate intake (2).

In addition, a 2016 review suggests that spinach may help with the delay of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, it also contains carotenoids, which helps prevent eye disease and maintain eye health (4).

With this, the natural compounds of this mild-tasting green helps to stave off a host of health issues from age-related eye problems and anemia – the lack of iron. Given the leafy green’s combination of low sodium and high potassium, spinach also helps to control your blood pressure (5).

Just like other leafy green vegetables, they are great for burning belly fat and are extremely nutritious. A lot of studies were conducted on the subject of its fat-burning capabilities, and the very healthy green came out as the winner of the category (3).

As per the USDA, 1 cup (or 30 g) of raw spinach contains (4):

  • Fiber: 0.7 g (4)
  • Calories: 7 (4)
  • Fat: 0.1 g (4)
  • Carbohydrates: 1.1 g (4)
  • Sugars: 0.1 g (4)
  • Protein: 0.9 g (4)

Its nutrient profile is also impressive, as one cup (or 30 grams) of raw spinach provides a whopping 181 percent of the daily recommended vitamin K intake, 56 percent of the daily recommended intake for vitamin A, and 13 percent of the daily recommended intake for manganese (6).

How to Eat Spinach

Spinach is known to be incredibly versatile, so you can eat it raw or easily add it to your eggs, soups, smoothies, sauces, and salads (2) (5) (7). Add a little cooked or blanched spinach to your breakfast or lunch to set your body on track for some major fat burn (3). Best of all, you can have them either steamed or sautéed (7).

Some scrumptious spinach recipes that you can try for breakfast, lunch, or dinner includes (7):

  • Chickpea, Spinach and Squash Gnocchi (7)
  • Mini Parmesan Spinach Cakes (7)
  • Inside Out Lasagna (7)
  • Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Spinach (7)
  • Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Portobellos (7)
  • Rice, Cheddar and Spinach Pies (7)

4. Arugula

Also known as colewort, rocket, rucola, and rucoli, arugula is a leafy green usually used as garnish or as part of salads. Like other leafy greens, arugula is rich in nutrients like vitamins A, B9, and K. It is also one of the best sources of dietary nitrates – a compound that increases blood flow and reduces blood pressure by widening your blood vessels – which increases blood flow (2) (6).

Arugula is a leafy green that belongs in the Brassicaceae family. It has one of the highest sources of calcium and natural nitrates which increase blood flow to help you exercise more effectively (6).

The wispy leaves of these pungent greens may seem fragile, but they are more nutrient-dense compared to carrots, tomatoes, and even sweet potatoes. Thus, they can help you avoid any chronic disease as part of a healthy lifestyle  (5).

Apart from adding them to your weight loss snack, arugula can also be used cosmetically and medicinally (6).

As per the USDA, half a cup (or 10 g) of raw arugula contains (4):

  • Fat: 0.1 g (4)
  • Fiber: 0.2 g (4)
  • Calories: 3(4)
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 g(4)
  • Protein: 0.3 g (4)
  • Sugars: 0.2 g (4)

If you are planning to grow or harvest them yourself,  note that these are easy to grow regardless if you’re planning to plant them in your garden or indoors (5).

How to Eat Arugula

Unlike other leafy greens, arugula is best eaten raw and is commonly used as toppings for sandwiches, pizza, and wraps. You can also serve it as a side salad by adding a drizzle of extra virgin oil along with some salt and pepper. Arugula can also serve as a base for salad recipes (2).

Try adding grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and spices with this leafy green for a protein-packed salad. A lot of people also use these leaves as a substitute for basil in pesto (2).

Arugula is a versatile leafy green with tender leaves and a sharp, peppery flavor. Some people often eat it raw in salads and sandwiches, while others prefer it as an additional ingredient in soups and vegetables (4) (7). Not only will you get the right amount of vitamins you need for the day, but your meal will also have an added crunch (7).

Here are some tasty snacks and dishes to make with the leafy green arugula:

  • Green Pizza (7)
  • Bean and Salmon Salad with Anchovy-Arugula Dressing (7)
  • Warm Chicken Sausage, Arugula and Potato Salad (7)
  • Ravioli with Arugula and Pecorino (7)
  • Grilled Eggplant, Arugula and Portobello Sandwich (7)
  • Roasted Spring Vegetables with Arugula Pesto (7)

5. Swiss Chard

Swiss chard, or simply chard, is made up of dark green leaves with a thick richly-colored stalk that is either red, white, yellow, or green in color. Plus, you’ve probably seen large leaves and brightly-colored stems of the “rainbow” variety of Swiss chard (5) (6).

Swiss chard is often used in Mediterranean cooking and comes from the same family as spinach and beets (6). It is also called sea kale or leaf beet (4). It has an interesting earthy taste, and is rich in vitamins and minerals like potassium, manganese and vitamins A, K, and C (6).

Its nutrients help keep your bones and brains healthy, while also lowering your blood pressure and improving how well your food moves through your gut. Also, it is a rich source of iron (5).

Aside from this, Swiss chards also contain compounds called polyphenols. A 2021 study suggests that these compounds can potentially stop cancer cell growth (4).

According to the USDA, one cup (or 36 g) of raw Swiss chard contains (4):

  • Calories: 6.8 (4)
  • Carbohydrates: 1.4 g (4)
  • Sugars: 0.4 g (4)
  • Fat: 0.1 g (4)
  • Protein: 0.6 g (4)
  • Fiber: 0.6 g (4)

Swiss chard also contains a unique flavonoid known as syringic acid – a compound that is potentially beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels. However, note that these were minor animal studies and there is still more human research needed to support the claims that syringic acid could aid in blood sugar control (6).

A study of 120 overweight adults found that those who consumed twice as many vegetables lost more weight and experienced better satiety (2).

How to Eat Swiss Chard

While a lot of people typically throw away the stems of the Swiss chard plant, these parts of the leafy green plant are not only crunchy but are also highly nutritious (6).

To make the most of these leafy greens, try adding all parts of the Swiss chard plant to dishes like soups, tacos, or casseroles (6).

It is also recommended for one to consume Swiss chard with foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, to absorb its nutrients even more. If you’re planning to cook them, treat chards as how you would spinach and its stems, like asparagus (5).

Here are some other interesting Swiss chard recipes to try:

  • Skillet Gnocchi with Swiss Chard and White Beans (7)
  • Swiss Chard with Shallots, Pancetta and Walnuts (7)
  • Acorn Squash Stuffed with Chard and White Beans (7)
  • Layered Mashed Potato, Chard and Mushroom Casserole (7)
  • Stuffed Swiss Chard with Marinara (7)
  • Bacon Swiss Chard Quesadillas (7)

Other ways to consume Swiss chard is by:

  • Adding it to stews and soups (2)
  • Mixing it in a green salad (2)
  • Adding a few leaves of this to your favorite smoothie (2)
  • Sautéing with garlic and olive oil for side dish (2)
  • Using it as pizza crust toppings (2)

Points to Ponder

Leafy greens are a must-have for anyone on their weight loss journey. Packed in essential nutrients and vitamins, leafy greens offer all your body needs to transform into a fat-burning aid (2). Regular consumption of these greens can benefit your health and prevent health conditions (4).

Try these leafy greens now to get the most nutrition you need while losing weight. To get the most out of these nutritious vegetables, consume a mixture of cooked and raw leafy greens (5).

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/20-most-weight-loss-friendly-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3
  2. https://cuttingcalories.com/leafy-greens-and-weight-loss/
  3. https://www.ndtv.com/food/weight-loss-top-9-vegetables-to-include-in-your-diet-to-burn-belly-fat-1885607
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/green-leafy-vegetables
  5. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-know-your-leafy-greens
  6. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/leafy-green-vegetables#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
  7. https://www.urbnfit.com/blogs/news/10-best-leafy-greens-to-lose-weight
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