Renowned for their thick leaves and earthy flavor, collard greens are a culinary staple and a powerhouse of nutrients. They’re one of the first vegetables to pop up in my garden in the spring and I love incorporating them into soups and stir-fries. Here’s more on their health benefits and how you can make this versatile leafy green taste great (so even the kids will eat it!).

What Are Collard Greens?

Collard greens are one of those “green leafy vegetables” you’re always hearing about. They may also be a vegetable that’s harder to get kids to eat (more on that later). Collards and other leafy greens are the superstar veggies that can help you get enough calcium without dairy. But that’s not all they do.

Collards are also part of a family called cruciferous vegetables, or “brassica.” Other members of this family include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. However, radishes, turnips, and horseradish are also brassicas. 

Collards and other brassica vegetables are also known for a detoxification substance called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane may fight inflammation, support balanced hormones, and protect against chronic disease. It’s so sought after that it’s also available as a supplement (I use BrocElite).

While broccoli sprouts are the best food source, collards also provide this super nutrient.

Why Are Collard Greens Good for You?

Collard greens are an excellent way to get phytonutrients on an overall low-carbohydrate diet. Their carbohydrates primarily appear as dietary fiber. While not fully digested, fiber helps to maintain a healthy microbiome

Nutritional Breakdown of Collard Greens 

Collard greens are incredibly nutritious and rich in vitamins. They’re packed with vitamin A (as beta carotene), B vitamins (especially folate), and vitamin C. One cup of collard greens has over 300% of the daily value for vitamin A. It also provides over 50% of the daily value of vitamin C and nearly half (44%) of the daily value of folate. While folic acid is made in a lab, folate is the naturally occurring version.

Along with kale, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, collards are one of the best sources of vitamin K1. One cup of collards supplies 836 mcg of vitamin K1. That’s a whopping 1,045 percent of the recommended daily value! Collards also provide important minerals like potassium, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, supporting bones, muscles, and overall health. 

These vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are part of why collard greens are so beneficial to our health. You’ll notice they support many systems of the body, including the circulatory, gastrointestinal, and immune systems.

6 Health Benefits of Collard Greens

Here are six research-backed ways collard greens may support your overall health:

1. Promoting Heart Health 

Many nutrients in collards are known for benefitting metabolic syndrome and reducing the risk of heart disease. The fiber and potassium in collards help to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. This alone can help to lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.

2. Anti-Cancer Effects 

Collard greens provide vitamin A (as beta carotene) and vitamin C. For those reasons and more, collards support a healthy immune system. A robust immune response is critical for protecting the body against cancer. 

Collard greens also have compounds like glucosinolates and sulforaphane, which are both subjects of cancer research. Glucosinolates are compounds that are converted to isothiocyanate (ITC). ITC protects the cells from damage that could lead to cancer.

Increasing leafy green vegetables like collards in the diet is a known method for reducing cancer risk. Studies have shown benefits for prostate, breast, skin, bladder, oral, and colon cancers. 

3. Supporting Bone Health 

Along with vitamin K2 found in animal foods, the vitamin K1 in collard greens is crucial for bone health. Our bodies need vitamin K for calcium absorption and to reduce the risk of fractures. The combination of calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin D (from both plant and animal foods) helps guard against developing osteoporosis.

4. Good For The Eyes

Collards can also powerfully support eye health. An excellent source of beta carotene (pro-vitamin A) and lutein, collard greens can help maintain healthy vision over time. Getting plenty of leafy greens like collards may lead to a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration.

5. Anti-Inflammatory Properties 

Some compounds in collard greens have anti-inflammatory properties. For that reason, including them regularly may benefit conditions like arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Antioxidants in collards like lutein, carotenoids, and zeaxanthin help fight free radicals. The reduced oxidative stress throughout the body helps to lower inflammation.

6. Supporting Gut Health

The fiber in leafy greens supports digestive health by promoting a healthy microbiome. Ultimately, that can contribute to regularity and avoiding constipation. It may even support weight loss. Researchers have also found a unique sugar in green leafy vegetables called sulfoquinovose (SQ). This sugar helps feed good gut bacteria, supporting digestion.

Who Should Avoid Collard Greens?

Collard greens are an excellent food for the vast majority of us. However, those currently on blood thinning medications like Warfarin should be cautious.

Because collards are high in vitamin K (named after the German word Koagulationsvitamin), they promote blood clotting. That’s usually a good thing, as it keeps us from bleeding out in case of an injury. However, it also means foods high in vitamin K can interfere with how blood-thinning drugs work. If you plan on adding more leafy greens to your diet, be sure to keep your doctor in the loop. 

Occasionally, collard greens may come up on a food allergy test. If that’s the case, you’ll want to avoid them until your immune system is back in balance.

Collard greens otherwise don’t tend to have side effects — unless you eat large amounts. In that case, the fiber may cause uncomfortable bloating and digestive distress. A serving or two goes a long way!

What About Oxalates?

Some people may wonder whether collard greens are high in oxalates. Oxalates are compounds in certain plants that may cause health issues if your gut bacteria cannot break them down. 

Overall, collard greens are lower in oxalates than spinach, kale, and other leafy greens. If you’re limiting your oxalates because of hypothyroidism, kidney stones, or other health conditions, collards can be a safer option.

How to Get Your Collard Greens In

When shopping for collard greens, look for fresh-looking, dark green leaves with no blemishes or wilting. The freshest leaves come straight from the garden. They’re excellent sauteed on the stovetop with olive oil and garlic. However, they’re quite versatile and work well in many dishes. Here are some ways to incorporate more collards into your meals:

  • Salads: Finely chop or shred the greens and use them as a base for salads. Massage the leaves with olive oil and lemon juice to soften them, like you would kale. For example, substitute them for kale in this salad recipe.  
  • Soups and Stews: Add chopped collards to soups, stews, or broths. They add nutrients and a unique flavor. Try collards in place of kale in Sweet Potato Zuppa Toscana.
  • Wraps: Use blanched collard leaves as a healthier alternative to tortillas or wraps. Fill them with your favorite ingredients like hummus, vegetables, and your favorite protein. Raw collard greens are popular in raw food diets as wraps. Give it a try by using collards instead of chard in this delicious Chard Wrapped Salmon recipe. 
  • Stuffed Collard Leaves: Make stuffed collard greens by filling blanched leaves with a mixture of grains, beans, and spices, then rolling them up and baking or steaming them until tender.
  • Braised Collard Greens: Slow-cook collard greens with broth, onions, and your choice of seasoning until tender and flavorful. Red pepper flakes can add an extra zing. In the American South, collard greens are a popular side dish. Southerners like to flavor them with bacon fat and garlic and serve them alongside smoked pork.
  • Green Smoothies: You can also use them in smoothies for an added nutrient boost. They blend well with fruits and other greens like spinach. A high-speed blender works best for those tough leaves.  

Whether cooked or raw, collard greens offer a unique taste and texture that can complement a wide range of dishes.

Do you eat collard greens? What’s your favorite way to prepare them? Share with us below!


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