Turning Your Health Around With Turnip Greens

Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, which may be better known for its root. Turnips belong to the species Brassica rapa, along with bok choyrapini, and napa cabbage. They belong to the Brassicaceae family, along with mustardkalecollardswatercressBrussels sproutsarugularadishescabbagekohlrabibroccolihorseradish, cauliflower, daikon, land cress, rutabaga, and shepherd’s purse. Turnip leaves are smaller and more tender than collards, and they have a slightly bitter flavor.

Wild forms of the hot turnip and its relatives the mustards and radishes are found over west Asia and Europe. There is evidence that turnips were domesticated before the 15th century BC; they were grown in India at this time for their oil-bearing seeds. Both the Greeks and Romans developed several new varieties, and they were popular throughout Europe, especially before the introduction of the potato. Early European settlers introduced turnips to North America. They grew well in the South, where they became an integral part of Southern African-American cuisine. Plantation owners may have grown turnips for their roots, leaving the leaves for the enslaved Africans. Because Western African cuisine traditionally uses a wide variety of greens, the enslaved Africans readily adopted turnip greens. Turnip greens continue to be an important vegetable in traditional Southern American cooking.

Turnip greens may prevent cancer by providing nutritional support for three of your body’s systems that help regulate cancer development and prevention. Turnip greens can:

  1. Support detoxification: Most of us have been exposed to toxins from the environment and our diets, so we risk toxin-related damage that can eventually increase our risk of caner unless we give our bodies detoxification systems adequate nutritional support. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to eat turnip greens and other brassica vegetables regularly. Turnip greens supply antioxidants to boost phase I detoxification, and sulfur-containing nutrients to boost phase II detoxification. Turnip greens also contain phytonutrients called glucosinolates that can help activate detoxification enzymes and regulate their activity. Two major glucosinolates in turnip greens are gluconasturtiian and glucotropaeolin.
  2. Fight free radicals: The chronic presence of overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules and the cumulative damage to your cells by these molecules is called oxidative stress, and it is a risk factor for developing most types of cancer. By providing you with a broad array of antioxidant nutrients, turnip greens help lower your cancer risk by helping you avoid chronic oxidative stress in your cells. As an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and manganese, turnip greens provide the four conventional antioxidant nutrients, along with several other phytonutrients. Turnip greens provide hydroxycinnamic acid, quercetin, myricetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol, among other key antioxidant phytonutrients.
  3. Fight chronic inflammation: Like chronic oxidative stress and chronic weakened detoxification ability, chronic inflammation can significantly increase your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases (especially cardiovascular diseases). As an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), turnip greens provide you with two important anti-inflammatory nutrients. Vitamin K acts as a direct regulator of your inflammatory response, and ALA is the building block for several of your body’s most widely used anti-inflammatory messaging molecules. Glucosinolates in turnip greens may also provide important anti-inflammatory benefits.

Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase your risk of cancer. Turnip greens help fight bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

The anti-inflammatory benefit of glucosinolates in turnip greens may also help prevent the kind of chronic inflammation in your blood vessels that can lead to cardiovascular diseases. Turnips also protect your cardiovascular system by lowering cholesterol. Your liver uses cholesterol to make bile acids, which are molecules that help you emulsify, digest, and absorb fat. Bile molecules are stored in your gall bladder, and when you eat fat, bile is released into your intestine where it helps fat react with enzymes and eventually get absorbed into your body. When you eat turnip greens, their fiber binds with some of the bile acids in your intestine, so that the bile acids pass out of your body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, your liver replaces the lost bile acids by drawing cholesterol out of your blood, and your cholesterol level drops. The cholesterol-lowering ability of raw turnip greens improves significantly when they are steamed.

Another cardiovascular benefit of turnip greens is their folate content of 575 micrograms per 100 calories, an amount unsurpassed by most brassica vegetables.

One cup of cooked turnip greens contains 1098 micrograms of total carotenoids, 6588 micrograms of beta carotene, 12154 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin,  and 220% Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A. You get 140% of your DV for fiber from only 200 calories’ worth of turnip greens, which helps support your digestive system. Glucosinolates in turnip greens may prevent Helicobacter pylori overgrowth in your stomach or too much clinging by this bacterium to your stomach wall, helping to prevent ulcers.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Cooked Turnip Greens (144 grams)




vitamin K

529.34 mcg


vitamin A

10980 IU


vitamin C

39.46 mg



169.92 mcg



0.49 mg



5.04 g



197.28 mg



0.36 mg


vitamin E

2.71 mg


vitamin B6

0.26 mg



0.03 g



292.32 mg



31.68 mg



1.15 mg


vitamin B2

0.10 mg



41.76 mg


vitamin B1

0.06 mg


vitamin B5

0.39 mg



1.64 g



0.59 mg


omega-3 fats

23 mg





Turnip greens may be available with their roots attached. Look for turnip greens that are unblemished, crisp, and deep green in color. If you purchase greens with their roots attached, remove them from the root. Store roots and greens in separate containers, removing as much of the air from the containers as possible. Place them in the refrigerator, where the greens should keep fresh for about four days.

Rinse turnip greens under cold running water. Chop them into 1/2-inch slices for quick and even cooking. Sprinkle them with a little lemon juice and let them sit for a minimum of five minutes before cooking to help activate their myrosinase enzymes and increase the isothiocyanates in the greens.

Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with two inches of water. Steam turnips greens for five minutes and toss with lemon juice, garlic, salt or soy sauce, and black pepper or cayenne pepper to taste. A simple Southern-style way to serve cooked turnip greens is with beans and grains. You can also saute them together with their roots, especially if the roots are young and tender.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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