Increasing vegetable consumption, especially green vegetable consumption, is a primary way to improve your health, including in your 50s and beyond.
Vegetables are always going to come out on top as a favorite food recommendation from dietitians. Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, other disease-fighting compounds, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some of the specific diseases that vegetables battle on our behalf are age-related chronic conditions.
Increasing vegetable consumption, especially green vegetable consumption, is referenced repeatedly through research and by nutrition professionals as a primary way to improve your health, including in your 50s and beyond. Here we take a closer look at these green vegetables and ways to boost intake to help you live life fully in your later years.
Spinach is a high-fiber food that can add volume, color, and texture to your favorite recipes. Whether eaten cooked or raw, this leafy green vegetable offers a nutritious punch without adding any fat or natural sugars to your diet—helpful if you’re monitoring either of these.
Spinach Nutrition Facts
Three cups of spinach (85g) provide 20.4 calories, 2g of protein, 3g of carbohydrates, and zero fat. Spinach is a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.
Sodium: 64.6 mg
Vitamin K: 410mcg
Vitamin C: 24mg
Most of the carbohydrates in spinach are from fiber, making it a very filling vegetable. Along with other leafy greens, it may be considered a “free” food on a low-carbohydrate diet because it provides fiber while being low in calories.
Spinach also ranks close to zero on the glycemic index. This means that it will have minimal impact on your blood sugar levels.
There is no fat and no cholesterol in spinach. But adding a little fat to your spinach-containing meal may help your body absorb more of its beta-carotene—especially if the spinach is raw or in the form of a steamed puree.
There are 2 grams of protein in three cups of fresh spinach. That means spinach has almost as much protein as it does carbohydrates.
Vitamins and Minerals
Three cups of fresh spinach provide more than three times your daily vitamin K needs (340%). You also get roughly 25% of your recommended vitamin C intake and 10% of your suggested potassium intake from a three-cup serving of spinach.
Cooking spinach increases its concentration of vitamin A. You will get 64% of your daily value in a half-cup serving of boiled spinach.
There are approximately 20 calories in three cups of spinach, or just under 7 calories per cup. That makes its calorie count similar to that of kale, which provides 7.2 calories per cup (raw).
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that deteriorates the central part of the retina, or macula, and leads to visual impairment. Spinach contains vitamin A and the carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin, which all play an impactful role in protecting the eye against sun damage and eye changes due to aging. There is evidence that shows the average American diet includes just one to three milligrams a day of lutein and zeaxanthin while about six milligrams per day have been associated with decreased risk of AMD.
You can reap spinach’s eye health-supporting benefit whether you eat the leafy green fresh, canned, or frozen.
Kale is a member of the cabbage (Brassica) family and is often labeled a superfood because it is so high in nutrients per calorie.1 Kale is also low in fat and high in fiber, making it a great addition to almost any diet for the substantial nutritional and health benefits it provides.
Different varieties of kale provide different eating experiences. Some are more pungent, for instance, while others have a fairly mellow flavor. This enables you to choose the variety that you enjoy most.
Kale Nutrition Facts:
One cup of raw kale (20.6g) provides 7.2 calories, 0.6g of protein, 0.9g of carbohydrates, and 0.3g of fat. Kale is a great source of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as potassium and calcium. The following nutrition information is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Vitamin A: 49.6mcg
Vitamin K: 80.3mcg
Vitamin C: 19.2mg
One cup of raw kale contains less than a gram of carbohydrate. Most of this carbohydrate is in the form of fiber (0.8 of the 0.9 total grams). The remainder consists of a small amount of naturally occurring sugars.
The glycemic load of kale is estimated to be 3, making it a low-glycemic food. Glycemic load indicates a food’s impact on blood sugar and, unlike the glycemic index, takes portion size into account when estimating this effect.
There is almost no fat in kale. However, the way that you prepare this green superfood may change the nutrition it provides. If you cook kale in butter or oil, for instance, or rub olive oil on the leaves before roasting them or adding them to a salad, there will be additional fat.
Kale provides less than 1 gram of protein per one-cup serving. The protein it does contain is easily digestible.
Vitamin and Minerals
Kale is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. As a plant-based source of calcium, it is a favorable addition to vegetarian and vegan meal plans. Kale also provides a good amount of potassium, along with trace amounts of manganese, copper, and some B vitamins.
One cup of raw kale contains only 7.2 calories. When compared to other leafy greens, kale has slightly fewer calories than a cup of shredded iceberg lettuce (10 calories) and slightly more calories than a cup of spinach (6.7 calories).
Kale is a low oxalate, calcium-rich vegetable. Oxalate is a compound that inhibits calcium absorption, so finding a veggie that packs in the calcium, while keeping oxalate at bay, is key for bone health. Adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D are crucial nutrients in building and maintaining strong bones.
After age 50, bone mineral density begins to significantly decline as bone breakdown outpaces bone formation, thus leaving us more prone to bone diseases such as osteomalacia or osteoporosis.
If throwing kale into a salad isn’t your thing, try making kale chips by mixing a couple of handfuls with a tablespoon of olive oil and baking in the oven until crispy, or blending into a smoothie.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the Brassica genus of plants. It’s a type of flower and has a thick, central stalk with grayish-green leaves and green florets (there are some purple varieties). It is versatile and easy to find in most grocery stores.
Broccoli is considered to be one of the most nutritious vegetables and, when cooked properly, it can really be a delicious addition to any meal plan.
Broccoli Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one cup (91g) of raw, chopped broccoli.
One cup of raw, chopped broccoli contains only 31 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and very little sugar (1.5 grams). More than a third of the carbohydrates found in broccoli come from fiber (2.4 grams), making it a filling, heart-healthy food choice.
The glycemic index (GI) for broccoli is 10. The glycemic index is an estimate of how a food affects your blood sugar levels. Broccoli is a low GI food, which means that it has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels.
Broccoli has only a trace amount of fat and is cholesterol-free. It does, however, contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Consuming two cups of broccoli delivers nearly 0.5 grams of this anti-inflammatory fatty acid.2
For a vegetable, broccoli has a significant amount of protein, 2.5 grams per one-cup serving. But you still should include other protein sources in your diet to meet your daily needs.
Vitamins and Minerals
Broccoli is bursting with vitamins and minerals. It’s an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C, providing over 81mg, or about 135% of your daily needs. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, important in bone health and wound healing. You’ll consume 116% of your daily recommended intake in a one-cup serving of broccoli. It’s also a very good source of the B vitamin folate, and a good source of vitamin A, manganese, potassium, and other B vitamins.
Minerals in broccoli include manganese, potassium, and phosphorus.
Osteoarthritis is the most common chronic joint disease, and it’s estimated that 40 percent of people over 65 have some type of osteoarthritis.
An anti-inflammatory style of eating is the best dietary approach to protecting our joints. Broccoli is a vegetable that is included in this eating pattern and contains a compound called glucosinolate.
Some research, like this randomized controlled trial published in 2017 in Scientific Reports, has found glucosinolates can prevent cartilage destruction, thus protecting joints.
Increase broccoli intake by dunking it in a ranch dip as a snack solution or mixing it in with your next macaroni and cheese.
4. Romaine Lettuce
As a dietitian, I like to debunk the myth with my clients that romaine (and iceberg) lettuce doesn’t have nutritional benefits.
In fact, romaine lettuce, and other leaf lettuces, contain serious amounts of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. And because romaine lettuce is so well-liked, accessible, and affordable, it is the easiest “gateway” green to recommend increasing in our diets.
Romaine lettuce comes in at under 10 calories a cup and this is especially helpful with keeping weight in check as body weight becomes harder to stabilize after 50 years old. Try using romaine lettuce as a wrap or boat for your next spring roll or taco.
5. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard and other leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses: They are very low in calories, carbs, sugars, and fat, but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Thanks to these nutrients, chard has many health benefits, and is a valuable addition to your diet. Swiss chard and other chard varieties are easy to cook, versatile, and readily available.
Swiss Chard Nutrition Facts
One cup of raw Swiss chard provides just under 7 calories, 0.7g of protein, 1.4g of carbohydrates, and 0.1g of fat. Swiss chard is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, and magnesium. The nutrition information is provided by the USDA.
Vitamin K: 299mcg
The last vegetable to make the list is Swiss chard. Dark leafy greens are called out in the “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay” (MIND) diet as a food to have every day.
The MIND diet is rooted in eating patterns found in the DASH and Mediterranean Diet, with additional emphasis on foods that have been linked to better cognitive function and delayed cognitive decline.
A randomized controlled trial manuscript of the MIND diet published in Contemporary Clinical Trials in 2021 confirms that dark leafy greens are a core piece of the MIND diet that are likely protective against the age-related disease Alzheimer’s dementia. Swiss chard does can be a welcomed addition to a stir-fry or mixed into your next soup recipe.