S3E12. The Leafy Greens Rabbit Hole

I’m not one to shy away from going down rabbit holes and this week found me tumbling my way down to Wonderland once again.

It all started with a report I read of a study published in Neurology this month that found (upon autopsy) that people who most closely adhered to the Mediterranean Diet had far fewer harmful plaques and tangles in their brains than those who did not.

What was surprising about the result, though, was that almost all of the benefit was found to be associated with consumption of leafy greens. I don’t want to get this wrong, so here is the finding verbatim: “People who ate at least seven servings of leafy greens per week had brains that looked 19 years younger than the brains of people who ate greens once a week or never.”

The authors, in typical researcher understatement, suggested that the findings are “enough for people to consider adding more of these vegetables to their diet.” 

Duh! Ya think?

After reading that, I packed my bags for the rabbit hole!

First question: What are leafy greens?

A quick google search answered that pretty definitively: “Leafy greens include various types of lettuce (e.g., romaine, Bibb, butterhead, Boston, arugula, spring mix, red leaf, green leaf, etc.) as well as spinach, Swiss chard, watercress, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale.

Since I was headed down a rabbit hole, though, I asked which were the most beneficial in terms of nutrients. The ranking, from most to least, is: kale, microgreens, collard, spinach, cabbage, beet greens, watercress, romaine, Swiss chard, arugula, endive, bok choy and turnip greens. (Keep in mind that they are all good for you. This ranking is like seeding the Top 10 basketball teams in the country.)

I then got to thinking about the 7 servings part. That’s one serving per day. Since (1) I don’t consider leafy greens a breakfast food (and my breakfast granola is already a complete and completely filling meal) and (2) I don’t really eat a lunch, the math compels me to (3) get my one serving at dinner every night.

But what, I asked, is a serving of leafy greens?

Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the leafy green rabbit hole!

Of all the options, spring mix with baby spinach is the one I most prefer. It frequently forms the base for a large salad with multi-colored peppers, red onions, mushrooms, avocado, tomatoes, salmon or anchovies, dulce and an olive oil dressing. (It’s also how I most often honor the research suggesting that brightly colored vegetables are better for you.)

But 7 nights a week? I don’t think so.

So exactly how much spring mix do I need to nibble to reach my daily quota?

Back to the google. Several reputable sites agreed that one serving was equal to 2 cups of loosely packed leafy greens.

‘Loosely packed,’ though, is not a clearly defined term, now, is it?

I tried putting spring mix into a measuring cup, but the act of grabbing the leaves and getting them into the cup inherently led to some amount of packing. When I poured it out into a bowl, it was definitely more than what I would consider a reasonably-sized serving, but I couldn’t see any way to pack it more loosely. 

Come to think of it now, isn’t ‘loosely packed’ pretty much an oxymoron?

Then it occurred to me that I could look at my spring mix’s package for guidance. I knew there would be a nutrition label on it that indicated serving size and how many servings there were in the container.

Are you ready for this?

The label said that there was 1 serving per container.

Are you kidding me???

The label also told me that the contents weighed 5 ounces or 142 grams. So back to the google I went once again to see how much a serving weighed. The answer was a little ambiguous: 60-90 grams, depending on the vegetable. Using the midpoint of 75 grams would suggest that there are really 2 servings in that package, not 1. 

Even if I went with that formula, though, it was still an impossible quota to meet.

It seemed that implementing the dormouse’s urging to  ‘feed your head’ was not as easy as it ought to be!

Deep from within the recesses of my early memory banks, though, an image surfaced of Archimedes dropping objects into his bathtub and discovering that they displaced an amount of water equal to their volume.

‘Eureka!’ I cried.

I’ll empty out the container of leafy greens and fill it with water using a measuring cup. That will tell me exactly how many 2-cup servings there are in the container.

I’ve kept you guessing long enough. Four. There are exactly four servings in a 5 ounce package of loosely packed leafy greens.

And that amount meets the eye test. It looks like a reasonably-sized side salad.

I can handle that. 

Needless to say, there are any number of ways to satisfy your leafy green requirement other than doing it all with spring mix. You can cook spinach, kale, mustard or collard greens, for example. But I’ll leave it up to you to figure out the serving size for each of those.  😀



  1. Andy Howard says:

    A ‘serving size’ is whatever the packager/seller decides that it is. They can’t really change the nutritional content of the product, but can manipulate what appears on the Nutritional Facts box by changing the Serving Size, and thus the Servings per container, and calories/etc per serving.
    Often this is just practical, to match the # of pieces in an inner pack.
    In the case of your bag of loose salad greens, They’re not really declaring a serving size, just 1 serving = the whole bag, since how much you use is up to you.

    For example, today at the store I noticed a box of Twinkies. Packed in inner sleeve of two pieces. Serving size = 2 pieces. Calories per serving 260.
    Also a box of Hostess Cupcakes, packed 1 each. Serving size = 1 piece. Calories per serving 160.
    Is a ‘serving ‘ of Twinkies really 2 Twinkies? Not for me at least.
    Took photos, but can’t seem to post them here in the comments box.

    Also brought to mind an odd piece of trivia when thinking about serving size
    (also AKA a ‘helping’):
    The last two lines from the little remembered 3rd verse of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song:

    You’re all invited back again to this locality
    To have a heaping helping of their hospitality

    How many heaping ‘helpings’ of hospitality are contained in an episode of Beverly Hillbillies???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points all. Apparently, this rabbit hole extends well beyond the point at which I left it. 😀


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