14 Healthy Salad Greens Ranked From Best to Worst

14 Healthy Salad Greens Ranked From Best to Worst

Planning to enjoy a healthy salad today? Selecting the right greens makes a big difference when it comes to getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.

You already know that eating salad is good for you — but not all salad greens are created equal. When choosing the base for your salad, go for the darkest greens you can find for the most nutritional bang in your bowl, says Kelly Kennedy, RD, staff nutritionist for Everyday Health. Whether it’s kale, nutrient-packed spinach, or crunchy romaine, nearly all greens have something to offer. “Where they differ is in the type and amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” explains Kennedy. Find out which salad greens are the most nutritious, and which ones are a little lackluster.

Kale Contains Vitamins, Phytonutrients, and Calcium

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Portion 1 cup cooked

Calories 42

Carbs 6 gram (g)

Fiber 5g

Protein 3.5g

Why It’s Healthy Kale is one of the trendiest salad greens for a reason — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), just one cup of cooked kale meets 19 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, which helps maintain good vision, a healthy immune system and reproductive system, and proper functioning of the heart, lungs, and kidneys. It also contains 23 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C, which is important for the growth and repair of all tissues in the body, and helps maintain a healthy immune system; and 412 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin K, which creates proteins necessary for normal blood clotting, builds stronger bones, and protects against osteoporosis. While slightly higher in calories than other greens, cooked kale provides about 14 percent of your daily requirement for calcium, which is essential for building and maintaining strong bones. 

Meal Prep Inspo “Kale is delicious raw or cooked,” says Kennedy. “It’s simple to prepare sauteed with some onions and garlic, amazing baked into ‘chips,’ and makes a great base for a salad.” For the salad, if you chop the kale into small pieces or allow it to sit in the dressing for a little bit before eating (or both), it becomes more tender, she explains. Kale also pairs well with roasted squash, nuts, seeds, and beans. “However you serve kale, just be sure to remove the tough ribbing first,” Kennedy adds.

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Spinach Has Vitamins, Iron, and Folate

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 7

Carbs 1g

Fiber 0.7g

Protein 0.9g

Why It’s Healthy Unassuming in flavor, spinach is anything but when it comes to nutrition. “The most nutritious salad greens are generally the darkest in color,” Kennedy says. And the dark, vibrant color of spinach hints at its nutritional profile: 1 cup has 16 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A, and all of your daily vitamin K, according to the USDA. When spinach is cooked, it’s an excellent source of iron (more than one-third of your daily requirement), vitamin C (20 percent of your daily requirement), and fiber, which is essential for digestive health, per the USDA. Spinach also contains more folate than most salad greens, according to Kennedy, which helps convert the food you eat into energy and produces healthy red and white blood cells. Pair spinach with strawberries, balsamic, and a sprinkle of feta cheese for a flavor-packed salad.

Meal Prep Inspo “Spinach also makes a great salad base,” says Kennedy. “What I love about having spinach on hand is that it can easily be incorporated into so many dishes without ‘taking over’ flavor-wise. It’s excellent on top of a sandwich, stirred into an omelet, and sauteed in olive oil.”

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Beet Greens Give You All Your Daily Vitamin K

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 8

Carbs 1.7g

Fiber 1.4g

Protein 0.8g

Why They’re Healthy “While most people throw the beet greens away or buy beets with the greens already removed, they’re actually very nutritious,” explains Kennedy, noting that beet greens contain 13 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A and all of your daily requirement for vitamin K, according to the USDA.

Meal Prep Inspo “Beet greens can be eaten raw or prepared in the same way as spinach or kale, by sauteing them with olive oil, garlic, and onions,” says Kennedy.

Swiss Chard Has Plenty of Vitamins A, C, and K

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 7

Carbs 1.4g

Fiber 0.6g

Protein 0.7g

Why It’s Healthy Swiss chard may be the healthiest green you’re not yet eating. A relative of the beet family, chard tastes similar to spinach, and it’s growing in popularity. While it does have a higher sodium count than other salad greens (with 77 g per cup), it also has more than double your daily requirement for vitamin K, 12 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin A, and 12 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, per the USDA. Consider combining chard with a few other greens to make your own mix. 

Meal Prep Inspo “Swiss chard has a distinct flavor that not everyone appreciates,” says Kennedy. “It tastes great sauteed with garlic and onions, and mixes into a quiche or frittata well. If you’ve tried it one way and didn’t like it, try cooking it a different way — you may be surprised!”

Dandelion Greens Contain Vitamins, Calcium, and Iron

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Portion 1 cup

Calories 25

Carbs 5.1g

Fiber 1.9g

Protein 1.5g

Why They’re Healthy Dandelion greens are so much more than “weeds.” According to the USDA, not only do they contain about 20 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C, vitamin B6 (which helps the body convert food into fuel, metabolize fats and proteins, maintain proper functioning of nerves, and produce red blood cells), calcium, and iron, they’re also high in prebiotic fiber, which helps to nourish the good bacteria in the microbiome, explains Kennedy.

Meal Prep Inspo “Dandelion greens are excellent in a salad, and can also be sauteed and enjoyed warm,” says Kennedy.

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Mustard Greens Provide Vitamin C and Folate

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 15

Carbs 2.6g

Fiber 1.8g

Protein 1.6g

Why They’re Healthy One cup of mustard greens gives you almost one-half of your daily requirement of vitamin C, all of your daily vitamin K, as well as folate, per the USDA.

Meal Prep Inspo “Mustard greens are excellent raw with oil and vinegar, as well as sauteed with olive oil and herbs,” says Kennedy.

Collard Greens Are a Good Source of Vitamin C

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Portion: 1 cup raw

Calories 12

Carbs 2g

Fiber 1.4g

Protein 1g

Why They’re Healthy Collard greens have all of your daily vitamin K. They’re also a good source of vitamin C (14 percent of your daily requirement), and have a small amount of vitamin E (an antioxidant), according to the USDA.

Meal Prep Inspo “If you’re not used to preparing collard greens (they’re more commonly consumed in the South), you’ll be surprised by how easy they are to cook,” says Kennedy. “Simply saute them in olive oil and allow them to simmer for about 45 minutes. Collard greens take longer to cook than other greens, but are worth the wait! They taste great raw, too.”

Watercress Has Vitamin C and Vitamin K

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 4

Carbs 0.4g

Fiber 0.2g

Protein 0.8g

Why It’s Healthy Popular in Europe, this salad green is often used in the United States as a mere garnish. But don’t underestimate the power of watercress in your diet. It’s more nutrient-rich than romaine and leaf lettuce; just 1 cup fulfills almost three-quarters of your daily requirement of vitamin K, and is a good source of vitamin C — 16 percent of your daily requirement — according to the USDA.

Meal Prep Inspo “Watercress makes a delicious addition to a salad, and if you love its peppery flavor, can even be enjoyed alone with just a touch of oil and vinegar,” says Kennedy. “Watercress can also be pureed into a soup for an extra dose of flavor and nutrition.”

Romaine Contains Folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin K

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Portion 2 cups raw

Calories 16

Carbs 3g

Fiber 2g

Protein 1g

Why It’s Healthy Romaine lettuce’s dark green color, long leaves, and crunchy texture make it a very popular salad base. Two cups of romaine fulfill about one-third of your daily requirement for folate, almost one-half of your daily vitamin A, and almost all of your vitamin K, per the USDA. To boost the nutritional value of your salad, mix romaine with some spinach or kale to pack in more antioxidants, or opt for a premixed blend. “Prepackaged salad green mixtures offer a wide variety of nutrients without you having to buy large quantities of each type of green,” says Kennedy. Tossing your salad greens with a small amount of healthy oil is also a great idea, as the oil adds a dose of healthy fat (and flavor) and can also improve your body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from the salad, she adds.

Meal Prep Inspo “Romaine lettuce has a great crunch and is delicious served in a salad or on top of a sandwich,” says Kennedy. “Romaine can even be lightly grilled for a unique, slightly charred flavor.”

10 Lettuce Gives You Almost All Your Daily Vitamin A

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Portion 2 cups

Calories 20

Carbs 2.7g

Fiber 1.4g

Protein 1.3g

Why It’s Healthy Leaf lettuce, whether red or green, looks bright and cheerful on your plate and has a mild taste, making it a great choice for children and picky eaters. Just 2 cups of green leaf lettuce give you about 80 percent of your daily vitamin A, says the USDA. However, like many salad greens, it’s a little low in fiber, so bulk up your salad by adding other high-fiber veggies such as broccoli, carrots, and legumes, Kennedy recommends.

Meal Prep Inspo “Most people know that red and green lettuce can be served in a salad or on top of a sandwich, but it’s also delicious sauteed, steamed, or grilled,” says Kennedy.

11 Butter Lettuce Is a Good Source of Vitamin A

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Portion 2 cups

Calories 10

Carbs 2g

Fiber 1g

Protein 1g

Why It’s Healthy Butter lettuce — including both Bibb and Boston varieties — has a soft, buttery texture and a slightly sweet flavor. It has a tightly folded head that is bright green on the outside, yellow on the inside, and is often sold with the roots attached to preserve freshness. The USDA indicates that butter lettuce is low in sodium, a good source of vitamin A (70 percent of your daily requirement), and has small amounts of iron and calcium.

Meal Prep Inspo “Also great as a salad or on top of a sandwich, the size of these lettuce leaves makes them a great bread replacement for anyone looking to go low-carb,” says Kennedy. “You can make a traditional sandwich and serve it on butter lettuce, or even roll the ingredients inside the leaves to create a sort of ‘wrap’ in place of a tortilla.”

12 Endive Leaves Are a Good Source of Folate

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Portion 1 cup raw

Calories 8

Carbs 1.7g

Fiber 1.6g

Protein 0.6g

Why It’s Healthy Endive leaves are another good source of folate, with 1 cup fulfilling about 18 percent of your daily requirement, per the USDA.

Meal Prep Inspo “Endive is excellent chopped and served in a salad,” says Kennedy. “Because of its firm texture, endive can be served in individual leaves with dip, or as a small rollup.”

13 Arugula Tastes Great, but Lacks Nutrients

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Portion 2 cups raw

Calories 10

Carbs 1.5g

Fiber 0.6g

Protein 1g

Why It’s Healthy If you’re looking for a peppery flavor to spice up your salad, arugula is the perfect base ingredient. However, it ranks near the bottom nutrition-wise, says Kennedy. Arugula is a tasty choice with some vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, according to the USDA, but it just doesn’t measure up to other greens for any of these nutrients. Mix arugula with more nutrient-dense options to pump up the flavor and the antioxidant power of your salad.

Meal Prep Inspo “Arugula has a strong, peppery flavor that some people can’t get enough of,” says Kennedy. “If this is you, it makes for a great salad all by itself. If the flavor is a bit strong for you, I’d recommend using it more as a condiment — adding a small amount to a salad or a few leaves on top of a sandwich.”

14 Iceberg Lettuce Is Low in Calories (and Nutrients)

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Portion 2 cups raw

Calories 16

Carbs 3g

Fiber 1.4g

Protein 1g

Why It’s Healthy Iceberg lettuce may be the most popular of all the salad greens, but it’s definitely not the healthiest base you can choose. While the low calorie count is comparable with other greens, the nutrient totals are not, according to the USDA. Still, the crispy and inexpensive green doesn’t have to be removed from the menu entirely. “If it’s the only way that you enjoy salad or it’s what’s being offered at a dinner you’re attending, then go for it and enjoy it as a nice contributor to your daily fluid needs,” says Kennedy. “However, if you like other, more nutrient-rich salad greens (and they’re available), you’d be better off nutritionally choosing one of those.”

Meal Prep Inspo “Iceberg lettuce can be used just like butter lettuce (as a salad, on top of a sandwich, or as a bread replacement),” says Kennedy. “I don’t usually recommend iceberg lettuce because there’s not much nutritional value to it — I usually tell people to just have a glass of water instead.”