One of the best sources of nutrients in vegetarian diets (or in any diet) are dark leafy greens. Leafy greens include beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach and turnip greens.

Leafy greens supply the body with magnesium, potassium, calcium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K and carotenoids. Carotenoids are protective: they are antioxidants which neutralize free radicals. Carotenoids also activate detoxification enzymes which rid the body of cancer-causing chemicals. Another function of carotenoids is to protect the eyes. Spinach is a great source of carotenoids .

Dark leafy greens are also a great source of calcium. While a cup of milk contains 276 mg of calcium it also contains 146 calories and eight grams of fat. Five of milk’s grams are saturated. A cup of lightly steamed collard greens contains 266 mg of calcium, turnip greens contain 200 mg of calcium and dandelion greens contain 150 mg of calcium.

Leafy greens contain very few calories and provide trace amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Greens are high in fiber, leading to slower digestion and very little rise in blood sugar. These powerhouse foods lower levels of the natural compound homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are toxic and contribute to clogged arteries.  The folate and vitamin B6 keep it under control. The minerals magnesium, potassium and calcium in greens facilitate fluid regulation. This helps to lower blood pressure.

A word about calcium oxalates is necessary in any discussion about greens. Calcium oxalates are created when oxalic acid combines with calcium. Oxalic acid occurs naturally in plants, animals and humans. Calcium oxalate has been linked to kidney stone formation in those who have a sensitivity towards kidney stones as well as those who already have kidney issues.

Some leafy greens contain high levels of oxalates. These include beet greens, collards, spinach and Swiss chard. Calcium oxalates bind some of the calcium in greens so it is not available to the body. The vitamin C in greens helps to absorb calcium and inhibit the effects of oxalates. Adding foods with vitamin C, e.g., red peppers, facilitates calcium absorption too.

As long as you eat a variety of greens and are not prone to kidney stones, the oxalate issue is not a concern.  Consumption of a very high protein diet provides a greater risk than greens for those with kidney stone sensitivities.