Both the root and the leaves of the turnip are edible, but turnip greens refer specifically to the stem and leafy green part of the plant.
Turnip greens are among the top foods in terms of the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) score. A group of cruciferous vegetables, including turnip greens, all earn the highest possible score of 1,000 points.
This is one of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Contents of this article:
Turnip greens are known as cruciferous vegetables and boast a wealth of nutritional benefit.
One 55-gram cup of raw turnip greens contains:
- 18 calories
- 0.82 grams of protein
- 0.17 gram of fat
- 3.92 grams of carbohydrate, 1.8 grams of fiber and 0.45 gram of sugar
They are also a rich source of minerals:
- 104 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.61 mg of iron
- 17 mg of magnesium
- 23 mg of phosphorus
- 163 mg of potassium
- 0.1 mg of zinc
A 55-gram cup of raw turnip greens contains 22 mg of sodium, so it is not advisable to add salt when cooking or eating this vegetable.
Turnip greens provide important vitamins.
A 55-gram cup of raw leaves contains:
- 33 mg of vitamin C
- 105 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 318 mcg of vitamin A
- 138 mcg of vitamin K
The recommended daily intake of vitamin K is 120 mcg for men and 90 mcg for women, so a cupful of raw turnip greens provides more than one day's recommended amount.
One cup of the leaves also provides more than a third of the daily intake of vitamin A, which is 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg for women, and more than a third of the daily requirement for vitamin C.
Turnip greens also contain more than 250 mg of nitrate levels for every 100 grams of leaf, which is a very high level.
Possible health benefits
The high levels of nutrients in turnip greens can enhance health and help prevent disease.
Other nutrients offer further benefits.
Healthy skin and hair
Turnip greens can help maintain healthy skin and hair, because of their high vitamin A content.
Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair. It also plays a role in sebum production, and sebum keeps the hair moisturized.
Vitamin C is important for building and maintaining collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair. It also provides benefits for the immune system.
Hair loss can result from iron deficiency. An adequate intake of iron-containing foods, such as turnip greens, can help prevent this.
A lack of iron in the diet can also affect how efficiently the body uses energy. Turnip greens are a good source of iron, as are spinach, lentils, and collard greens.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in developed countries, and a leading cause of anemia.
Eating foods that are high in vitamin C with foods that are iron-rich maximizes the body's ability to absorb iron.
Turnip greens alone are an excellent source of both vitamin C and iron.
The vitamin K and calcium in turnip greens help to ward off osteoporosis and keep the skeleton strong.
Adequate vitamin K consumption can improve bone health by improving calcium absorption, reducing urinary excretion of calcium and acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins.
One 55-gram cup of raw turnip greens provides 138 mcg of vitamin K, well above the daily need.
Turnip greens also provide one of the highest calcium contents per gram of any fruit or vegetable.
Vitamin A, phosphorus, and magnesium also promote bone health, and these too are present in turnip greens.
Cancer prevention and treatment
Turnip greens and other cruciferous vegetables contain nutrients that may offer protection against cancer.
Sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound, is what give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite. It also seems that sulforaphane can offer some protection against cancer.
Early results suggest that the compound can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells.
This could make sulforaphane-containing foods useful in preventing different types of cancer.
Grilling foods at high temperatures can produce heterocyclic amines, which experts have linked to some cancers. Eating green vegetables as a side may help negate these effects.
As an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C, turnip greens can help fight the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer.
Turnip greens are high in fiber, providing 5 grams per 1 cup. Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels, and that people with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 25 g of fiber day for women, and 38 g a day for men, up to the age of 50 years. After that, women should have 21 g a day and men 30 g.
Turnip greens also contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid. This has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.
Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy or autonomic neuropathy associated with diabetes. It may protect brain tissue, offering benefits for people with dementia and those who have had a stroke.
However, most studies have used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid, and it is unsure whether oral supplementation would produce the same benefits.
Turnip greens are high in both fiber and water content, which help to prevent constipation, promote regularity and maintain a healthy digestive tract.
Fertility and pregnancy
For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as spinach, beans, pumpkin and green beans may promote fertility, according to Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications.
Adequate folic acid intake is also needed during pregnancy, to protect the fetus against neural tube defects.
Turnip greens are a good source of both folic acid and iron.
Sleep and mood
The choline in turnips greens can assist sleeping patterns and mood.
Turnip greens contain choline, an important nutrient that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory.
Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat, and reduces chronic inflammation.
Folate, also found in collard greens, may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body.
Homocysteine can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These hormones regulate mood, sleep, and appetite.
Exercise and athletic performance
Dietary nitrate has been shown to enhance vasodilation and improve muscle oxygenation during exercise.
It may also improve the quality of life for those who lack oxygenation because of cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic disease.
Leafy green vegetables like turnip greens and arugula are among the top sources of nitrates.
Consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.
A review of studies on the health benefits of vegetables concludes that "a high daily intake of these foods promotes health."
They can promote a healthy complexion, increase energy, and lead to an overall lower weight. They may also help prevent some eye diseases, dementia, and osteoporosis.
How to incorporate more turnip greens into the diet
Fresh turnip greens should have firm, deep green leaves. Smaller leaves will be tenderer with a milder flavor. Turnip greens will keep fresh in the refrigerator.
People can eat turnip greens:
- raw in salads or on sandwiches or wraps
- braised, boiled, or sautéed
- added to soups and casseroles
Combined with black-eyed peas and brown rice, they make a healthy version of a southern favorite.
Here are some other ways to used turnip greens:
- Add a handful of fresh leaves to an omelet or scramble
- Blend a handful of greens into a fresh juice or smoothie
- Sauté greens in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Eat as a side dish or top your baked potato.
Avoiding frying in bacon fat or lard or overcooking as this will can trigger a potent and bitter sulfur taste.
Potential health risks
People who are taking blood-thinners, such as Coumadin, or warfarin should avoid suddenly eating greater or smaller quantities of foods containing vitamin K because it plays a role in blood clotting and it may affect the drug's action.
Nitrate-containing vegetable juice that is improperly stored may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite, a potentially harmful substance. This can contaminate the juice.
Anyone who is at risk of cardiovascular disease should ask their physician before starting a high-nitrate diet.
Nitrate can cause vasodilation so a high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate, or nitroglycerine, or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.