The World's Healthiest Foods
Mustard greens

Spunky and soulful describe the taste of mustard greens that add a pungent, peppery flavor to recipes in which they are featured. Although they are available throughout the year, they are in season from December through April when they are at their best and most readily available.

Mustard greens are the leaves of the mustard plant, Brassica juncea. The leaves of mustard greens can have either a crumpled or flat texture and may have either toothed, scalloped, frilled or lacey edges. In addition to providing wonderfully nutritious greens, this plant also produces the acrid-tasting brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard.

 


Health Benefits

Mustard greens are jampacked with nutrients. They provide good to excellent amounts of 8 vitamins, 7 minerals, dietary fiber and protein. And if that were not impressive enough, being a member of the Brassica family along with broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, they also feature the health-promoting phytochemicals known as glucosinolates.

Free-Radical Scavenging Power

One of the unique features of mustard greens is that they are an excellent source of three notable anti-oxidants: vitamin E, vitamin C and vitamin A (through their concentration of beta-carotene). These three nutrients team up to scavenge free radicals, which are excessively interactive molecules that not only cause damage to the molecules with which they interact, but have been linked to a host of different diseases and health conditions. Beta-carotene and vitamin E exert their protective actions against free radicals in the lipid-soluble areas of the body, while vitamin C balances out the job by working in the body’s water-soluble environment. By providing anti-oxidant protection in both the water and fat-soluble areas of the body, mustard greens may offer great benefit to individuals with conditions ranging from asthma to heart disease to menopausal symptoms ...just to name a few.

Breathe Easier with Mustard Greens

Vitamin C works to neutralize the free radicals that are responsible for causing smooth muscle contraction and airway constriction in asthma. Additionally, it assists with the breakdown of histamine, one of the inflammatory chemicals that is overproduced in asthma and many other immune-related disorders.

Vitamin E and beta-carotene compliment vitamin C by working to scavenge free radicals that lurk in fat-soluble environments. People who get more vitamin E have a lower risk of developing asthma, while increasing vitamin E intake has also been shown to improve lung function significantly. With regard to beta-carotene, people who eat a diet low in this important nutrient (or vitamin A, the vitamin that can be made from it) tend to be at a greater risk for asthma. But that’s not all when it comes to the benefits mustard greens can offer to help individuals with asthma. Mustard greens are also a very good source of magnesium, a mineral that helps smooth muscle cells, like those lining the bronchial tubes and lungs, to stay relaxed rather than constricting themselves and the airways of which they are a significant part. Adding mustard greens to their diets is one way that many persons with asthma can help improve their health since studies show that magnesium levels are low in many individuals with asthma.

Protection against Emphysema

Another reason you'll breathe easier when mustard greens are part of your healthy way of eating? They're an excellent source of pro-vitamin A. If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as mustard greens, part of your healthy way of eating may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.

While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.

Baybutt's earlier research had shown that rats fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.

In his initial research, Baybutt took just weaned male rats and divided them into two groups, one of which was exposed to cigarette smoke, and the other to air. In the rats exposed to cigarette smoke, levels of vitamin A dropped significantly in direct correlation with their development of emphysema. In the second study, both groups of rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, but one group was given a diet rich in vitamin A. Among those rats receiving the vitamin A-rich foods, emphysema was effectively reduced.

Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema. And if they have a poor diet, forget it." If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, protect yourself by making sure that at least one of the World's Healthiest Foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as mustard greens, is a daily part of your healthy way of eating. (October, 21, 2004)

Take Mustard Greens to Heart

Mustard greens contain numerous nutrients that can contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system, including the anti-oxidants, vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C.

The vitamin E supplied by mustard greens is instrumental to a host of different mechanisms that reduce the development of atherosclerosis, including protecting LDL (bad) cholesterol particles from oxidation and decreasing platelet clumping. Dietary intake of vitamin E and vitamin C is thought to be associated with a compound called paraoxonase, an enzyme that inhibits LDL and HDL oxidation. Beta-carotene, like vitamin C, is also able to increase vessel dilation and reduce vessel spasm. One study has shown that patients with the lowest level of beta-carotene intake had almost twice the risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) compared to those with the highest intake. Low levels of vitamin C have also been associated with higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (good)cholesterol.

In addition, mustard greens also feature concentrated amounts of other nutrients that can keep your heart healthy. Included among them are vitamin B6, folic acid and magnesium.

Mustard greens are a very good source of vitamin B6, which has been shown in studies to decrease platelet clumping and thereby decrease risk of thrombosis (clot formation). Blood vitamin B6 levels tend to be lower in coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction patients, and some believe that low blood vitamin B6 levels may actually be useful as an indicator of risk for myocardial infarction.

One reason for this belief is that vitamin B6 along with folic acid, another nutrient of which mustard greens are an excellent source, is instrumental for preventing the buildup of homocysteine, which contributes to atherosclerosis through its ability to damage the blood vessels, keeping them in a constant state of injury. In fact, folic acid is so important for cardiovascular function that a major 1995 study concluded that consumption of 400 micrograms per day of folic acid could prevent 28,000 cardiovascular deaths per year in the United States.

Magnesium is necessary for normal blood vessel tone and function. Since mustard greens are also a very good source of magnesium, they may be able to help lower lower high blood pressure and may even decrease the risk of heart attack.

Supporting Women’s Health

Mustard greens may also be good for women going through menopause. They provide nutrients that are supportive of bone health. They are an excellent source of calcium, a higher intake of which can help to prevent bone loss that usually occurs at this stage of life. Women with osteoporosis also have low bone magnesium content and other signs of magnesium deficiency, so mustard greens would once again be helpful since they also provide concentrated amounts of this mineral. In addition, as noted above, the vitamin B6 and folic acid in mustard greens help to reduce the buildup of homocysteine. This plays an important role in promoting bone health, since homocysteine can obstruct collagen cross-linking, resulting in poor bone matrix and osteoporosis. One study showed that even postmenopausal women who were not considered deficient in folic acid lowered their homocysteine levels simply by supplementing with folic acid by itself.

In addition to bone health, the nutrients in mustard greens can help women who are going through this life passage in other ways. Magnesium has also been shown to be helpful in reducing stress and promoting normal sleeping patterns. Vitamin E, which was also mentioned earlier as an anti-oxidant found in mustaard greens, has also been shown to decrease the occurrence of hot flashes that many women experience around menopause.

Phytochemical Power for Cancer Prevention

Mustard greens are members of the Brassica family of vegetables, whose other members include vegetable superstars such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Over the years, these vegetables have received a great deal of attention for their unique health-promoting properties. In addition to the extensive palette of vitamins and minerals they provide, mustard greens, as well as the other Brassica vegetables, also contain phytochemicals known as glucosinolates, members of the organosulfur chemical family. In plants, glucosinolates react with an enzyme called myrosinase that converts them into related active compounds known as indoles and isothiocyanates.

Indoles and isothiocyanates appear to reduce the potential of carcinogens through their ability to beneficially modulate liver detoxification enzymes. They inhibit certain enzymes that normally activate carcinogens and also induce other enzymes that help to dismantle active carcinogens. These are the primary mechanisms through which these derivatives of compounds found in mustard greens are thought to contribute to preventing cancer.

Sulforaphane, a compound formed when cruciferous vegetables such as mustard greens are chopped or chewed, is already known to trigger the liver to produce enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing chemicals, inhibit chemically-induced breast cancers in animal studies, and induce colon cancer cells to commit suicide. Now a new study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows sulforaphane also helps stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth. (October 19, 2004)

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one July 2004 study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in guinea pigs, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as mustard greens, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on 73 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and 146 similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during follow-up between 1993 and 2001. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.(August 1, 2004)

Description

Mustard greens are the leaves of the mustard plant, Brassica juncea. In addition to producing these wondrously nutritious greens, this plant also produces the acrid-tasting brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard.

Spunky and soulful describe the taste of mustard greens. Their pungent, peppery flavor adds a zing to any recipe in which they are featured.

Mustard greens come in a host of varieties that each have distinct characteristics and adding these brilliant leaves to your food preparations will certainly enhance the beauty of any meal. Most mustard greens are actually emerald green in color, but some are not green at all but rather shades of dark red or deep purple. The leaves of mustard greens can have either a crumpled or flat texture and may have either toothed, scalloped, frilled or lacey edges. Mizuna is one type of mustard green that is oftentimes available in stores.

History

Mustard greens originated in the Himalayan region of India and have been grown and consumed for more than 5,000 years. Mustard greens are a notable vegetable in many different cuisines, ranging from Chinese to Southern African-American. Like turnip greens, they may have become an integral part of Southern cuisine during the times of slavery, serving as a substitute for the greens that were an essential part of Western African foodways. While India, Nepal, China and Japan are among the leading producers of mustard greens, a significant amount of mustard greens are grown in the United States as well.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Mustard Greens:

For basic mustard green preparation, wash the leaves and fold in half with the top of the green folded inward. Cut along the stem and remove. Or, if you plan to cook the greens for a long time, such as when using them in soup, you can keep the leaves intact with their center stem.

The easiest way to clean the leaves is the same way you would clean spinach: place the mustard greens in a large bowl of tepid water and swish them around with your hands. This will allow any sand or dirt to become dislodged. Remove the greens from the water, empty the bowl, refill with clean water and repeat this process until no sand or dirt remains in the water (usually two or three times will do the trick).

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Young mustard greens make great additions to salads.

Serve healthy sautéed mustard greens with walnuts and lemon juice.

Adding chopped mustard greens to a pasta salad gives it a little kick. One of our favorite combinations is chopped tomatoes, pine nuts, goat cheese, pasta and mustard greens tossed with a little olive oil.

For a simple meal with a southern flair, serve cooked mustard greens with beans and rice.

Healthy sauté mustard greens, sweet potatoes and tempeh and serve alongside your favorite grain.

Safety

Mustard greens contain goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid mustard greens for this reason. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in mustard greens.

Mustard greens are among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating mustard greens. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid mustard greens, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat mustard greens 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Greens, Mustard, Boiled
1.00 cup
21.00 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 4243.40 IU 84.9 72.7 excellent
vitamin C 35.42 mg 59.0 50.6 excellent
folate 102.76 mcg 25.7 22.0 excellent
manganese 0.38 mg 19.0 16.3 excellent
vitamin E 2.81 mg 14.1 12.0 excellent
tryptophan 0.04 g 12.5 10.7 excellent
dietary fiber 2.80 g 11.2 9.6 excellent
calcium 103.60 mg 10.4 8.9 excellent
potassium 282.80 mg 8.1 6.9 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.14 mg 7.0 6.0 very good
protein 3.16 g 6.3 5.4 very good
copper 0.12 mg 6.0 5.1 very good
phosphorus 57.40 mg 5.7 4.9 very good
iron 0.98 mg 5.4 4.7 very good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.09 mg 5.3 4.5 very good
magnesium 21.00 mg 5.3 4.5 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg 4.0 3.4 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.61 mg 3.0 2.6 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Baybutt RC, Hu L, Molteni A. Vitamin A deficiency injures lung and liver parenchyma and impairs function of rat type II pneumocytes. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5):1159-65.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Jackson SJ, Singletary KW. Sulforaphane inhibits human mcf-7 mammary cancer cell mitotic progression and tubulin polymerization. J Nutr. 2004 Sep;134(9):2229-36.
  • Jarvik GP, Tsai, NT, McKinstry LA et al. Vitamin C and E intake is associated with increased paraoxonase activity. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2002 Aug 1;22(8):1329-33.
  • Li T, Molteni A, Latkovich P, Castellani W, Baybutt RC. Vitamin A depletion induced by cigarette smoke is associated with the development of emphysema in rats. J Nutr.<./i> 2003 Aug;133(8):2629-34.
  • Pattison DJ, Silman AJ, Goodson NJ, Lunt M, Bunn D, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Day N, Symmons DP. Vitamin C and the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis: prospective nested case-control study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Jul;63(7):843-7.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 17:45:01
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation