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Turnip Greens


Health Benefits

At the intersection of living where our daily choices can make the difference between health and disease, turnip greens definitely give your health the green light. Turnip greens are supercharged with so many different nutrients, their consumption can help prevent or heal a wide range of health conditions. Since turnip greens are an excellent source of vitamin A (through their concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folate, copper, calcium, and dietary fiber, three examples of conditions for which they may be of special importance are rheumatoid arthritis, colorectal cancer and atherosclerosis.

Relief from Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you are concerned about rheumatoid arthritis, turnip greens are a good food to add to your shopping list. The beta-carotene in turnip greens is important because low levels of vitamin A, which can be formed in the body from beta-carotene, are associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin A supports the proper function of the immune system as well as helps the body to produce and maintain healthy membranes, including the synovial membrane that lines our joints. The vitamin C and vitamin E provided by turnip greens work in concert to quench free radicals that can otherwise exacerbate joint damage. Since rheumatoid arthritis can cause bone loss - thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis - the calcium provided by turnip greens is also of special benefit. And, as an excellent source of the mineral copper, turnip greens may again help those with rheumatoid arthritis since copper is necessary for the production of connective tissue, which is damaged in this autoimmune condition.

Help Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Turnip greens' boast significant amounts of each member of a stellar antioxidant combination: vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. Not only does vitamin C decrease levels of free radicals in all water-soluble compartments of the body while helping to maintain good immune function, but some studies have shown that vitamin C can help to decrease the incidence of colon tumors. Turnip greens' vitamin E is also of special benefit. Studies have shown that those with the greatest intake of vitamin E have approximately one-third the risk of developing colon cancer compared to those with the lowest intake of this fat-soluble antioxidant. Beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant in its own right and can be converted in the body to vitamin A, has been shown in some studies to decrease the risks of developing both colon and rectal cancer. Turnip greens also serve as an excellent source of calcium, and higher intakes of this important mineral have been associated with a significant decrease in the risk of colon and rectal cancer. The excellent dietary fiber content of turnip greens adds yet another plus in their ability to provide potential protection against colorectal cancer.

Protective Actions Against Atherosclerosis

Turnip greens are loaded with antioxidant nutrients that protect against atherosclerosis. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene work in concert to help to quench free radical levels, thus minimizing platelet clumping and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) oxidation, two mechanisms central to the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, 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. As an excellent source of both vitamin B6 and folate, turnip greens may also help prevent atherosclerosis or its progression since both these nutrients help keep levels of homocysteine, a molecule potentially damaging to blood vessel walls, low.

Protection against Emphysema

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 turnip 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 turnip greens, is a daily part of your healthy way of eating. (October, 21, 2004)


Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, better known for its tasty root. Turnip, which scientifically known as Brassica rapa, belongs to the Cruciferae family, a cousin to other health-protective giants including kale, collards, cabbage and broccoli.

Turnip leaves are smaller and more tender than their cousin, collards. Their slightly bitter flavor is delicious. Turnip greens are an important vegetable in traditional Southern American cooking.


Turnips are an ancient vegetable that is thought to have been cultivated almost 4,000 years ago in the Near East. Both the Greeks and Romans thought highly of the turnip and developed several new varieties. Its widespread popularity in Europe has continued, although since the advent of the potato, it is less widely cultivated than it once was.

Turnips were introduced into North America by the early European settlers and colonists. They grew well in the South and became a popular food in the local cuisine of this region. Turnip greens, which became an integral part of Southern African-American cuisine, are thought to have been adopted into this food culture because of the role they played during the days of slavery. Supposedly, the slave owners would reserve the turnip roots for themselves, leaving the leaves for the slaves. As Western African cuisine traditionally utilizes a wide variety of green leaves in its cooking, the African slaves adopted turnip greens as a substitute and incorporated them into their foodways.

How to Select and Store

Turnip greens are usually available with their roots attached. Look for greens that are unblemished, crisp and deep green in color.

If you have purchased turnip greens with roots attached, remove them from the root. Store them in the refrigerator separately wrapped in a perforated plastic bag. They should keep fresh for about four days.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Turnip Greens:

For basic turnip green preparation, wash the leaves and fold each leaf in half with the top side of the green folded inward. Cut along the stem and remove. 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 like you would clean spinach. Place them in a large bowl of tepid water and swish them around with your hands. This will allow any sand and 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:

Serve healthy sautéed turnip greens seasoned with some tamari, lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Make a simple meal with a little Southern inspiration. Serve cooked turnip greens with beans and rice.

Healthy sauté turnip greens, sweet potatoes and tofu, and serve alongside your favorite grain.

Use turnip greens in addition to spinach when making vegetarian lasagna.



Turnip 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 turnip greens for this reason. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in turnip greens.

Turnip 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 turnip greens. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium into the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid turnip greens, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat them 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 amount represents; the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Not all of our Daily Value standards are obtained from the FDA. In most instances, we used FDA Daily Values when available because they are widely recognized and apply to both men and women. However, when unavailable, we've used other science-based research to establish nutritional standards. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read more about our Food and Recipe Rating System.


Greens, Turnip, Cooked
1.00 cup
28.80 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 7917.12 IU 158.3 99.0 excellent
vitamin C 39.46 mg 65.8 41.1 excellent
folate 170.50 mcg 42.6 26.6 excellent
manganese 0.49 mg 24.5 15.3 excellent
dietary fiber 5.04 g 20.2 12.6 excellent
calcium 197.28 mg 19.7 12.3 excellent
copper 0.36 mg 18.0 11.3 excellent
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.26 mg 13.0 8.1 excellent
vitamin E 2.48 mg 12.4 7.8 excellent
tryptophan 0.03 g 9.4 5.9 very good
potassium 292.32 mg 8.4 5.2 very good
magnesium 31.68 mg 7.9 4.9 very good
iron 1.15 mg 6.4 4.0 very good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.10 mg 5.9 3.7 very good
phosphorus 41.76 mg 4.2 2.6 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg 4.0 2.5 good
vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.39 mg 3.9 2.4 good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.09 g 3.6 2.3 good
protein 1.64 g 3.3 2.0 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.59 mg 3.0 1.8 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
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%

In Depth Nutritional Profile for Turnip Greens


  • 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, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • 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.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

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This page was updated on: 2004-11-21 00:06:10


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