The Leafy Greens Guide | Not All Leafy Greens are the Same
Step aside salad; you’re no longer the only way to get dark leafy greens into my diet. I’m sharing a leafy green list of greatness with you as well as how to use greens in a smoothie like the best green smoothie (or salad or soup or anything) as well asa why it’s good to rotate your greens and try something like a kale banana smoothie every so often. Ready, set… go green!
Table of Contents
What are Leafy Greens?
Leafy greens are super important for a healthy diet. They’re nutrient dense, green veggies that provide tons of vitamins and minerals. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a daily serving of leafy greens can lead to slower age-related cognitive decline.
Greens can be found as the tops of other plants (here’s looking at you, carrot tops + beet greens), or as plants in their own right. They come in all shapes, sizes, textures, shades and seasons. They aren’t even all in the same plant family.
If your taste buds have ever balked at something dark green and leafy, never fear! I’ve got some great new options for you to blend.
The Ultimate Dark Leafy Greens List
I often talk about rotating your greens. This is because greens come from all different plant families, each offering different health benefits. Yet if spinach is your jam, no worries! Your body will tell you when it’s time for a leafy green change-up. Read on to learn about some different types of greens, as well as my fav options in each family.
Having a health issue? Kale can help with that. Seriously, kale is at the top of the superfood chain. With 684% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, 206% of the RDV of vitamin A and 134% of the RDV of vitamin C, this dark leafy green packs a health punch. Kale has the highest level of antioxidants when consumed raw, yet does retain some health benefits when cooked. Try this fruity kale smoothie.
Like their other cruciferous family members, collard greens are great cancer fighters. They are also pretty good at helping your body digest foods properly with all the fiber inside. They are most popular as a steamed, dark leafy greens, but adding them raw to your smoothies will provide greater health benefits. Try some alkaline recipes to experiment with collards.
Cabbage is yet another example of a cruciferous cancer-fighting leafy green. This veggie can actually be purple, red, white, or green, but is definitely still considered a leafy green. I love using cabbage as a plant-based taco shell, blended in a cabbage smoothie or just roasted cabbage with light seasoning. Loaded with fiber, folate, vitamin B6 and antioxidants which help fight inflammation.
This unique green vegetable is typically grown and harvested in China. Full of vitamins A and C, bok choy ranks high for nutrient density as well. All parts of the plant can be used: shredded in a salad, my vegetarian ramen, cooked in soup or blended in a smoothie.
It’s hard to beat spinach when talking about nutrient packed greens. Just one leaf contains a sampling of more than 20 different nutrients. The list of benefits is nearly as long as the amount of nutrients:
- cancer fighting
- blood pressure lowering
- bone strengthening
- cardiovascular helping
- brain boosting
- skin smoothing
- vision improving
- inflammation reducing
- energy increasing
I recommend branching out and trying beet greens for your next smoothie! They include a wide variety of nutrients, and can easily be substituted in any recipe with spinach, kale or chard. Our friends at Epicurious will kickstart your love for dark leafy beet greens with some of their fav recipes.
Looking to put a pep in your leafy green step? Chard is a colorful, dark leaf known for its ability to regulate the body’s blood sugar. Translation? If diabetes or maintaining blood sugar levels is a concern then add this veggie to your regular rotation. Perfect for the afternoon smoothie pick-me-up!
Romaine lettuce is good for the heart and low in calories. The vitamin C and beta-carotene content help to lower cholesterol and prevent build up on artery walls, which reduces the risk of heart attack.
Not a fan of lettuce salads? Then use romaine as a food wrap like I do in these Thai lettuce wraps or blend it into this gazpacho soup recipe.
Who knew those frilly greens on the tops of carrots could come in handy? #nofoodwaste Filled with chlorophyll, which can fight against tumor growth and acts as a cleansing agent, carrot tops are the perfect addition to smoothies like in this carrot top smoothie.
If you really want to boost your next smoothie, toss in the carrot + its top.
How Often Should You Rotate Greens?
Most of the smoothie/meal recipes I create use kale or spinach. That’s because these are the most easily found + affordable leafy greens available at the grocery store. Plus, they are in different leafy green families, so it makes rotating my greens easy peasy.
Alkaloid Build Up
Why is it important to rotate through this leafy green list? All greens have small amounts of toxins. If you only consume greens from one family, your body may start to experience alkaloid build up. This is very rare, and easy to avoid. Just try a new/different leafy green every once in a while.
I recommend rotating your greens once a week. This way, your body doesn’t get too much of a good thing in one leafy green family, and you get the chance to reward your body with new nutrients from a different green family.
Basically, by rotating greens on a regular basis, you avoid building up the toxins from one green. And, this gives you a reason to try that new fun green you’re always eyeing at the farmers market.
While our green smoothies are super easy to swap out one green for another, I’ve also got a meal planner full of plant based recipes. Rawk the Year makes finding new recipes a breeze, and helps you incorporate the whole rainbow into your week. This meal planner also equips you with the kitchen skills to change up your veggies with ease!
Freezing Your Leafy Greens
Ever wonder how to use up all that beautiful produce you just bought, before it starts to wilt? Even though I make green smoothies daily, I still find that my greens never stay fresh as long as I need.
To lengthen the shelf life of those leafy greens, and make rotating your greens as easy as opening your freezer, I came up with a way to freeze your greens. This way, you can have your greens and eat them too! Since I typically buy spinach and kale at Costco, I found that freezing them in ice cube trays then storing in freezer containers is the perfect solution to maximizing the freshness.
Bonus: frozen greens can help keep that smoothie cool.
Leafy Greens FAQs
You’ve probably heard of spinach, kale and lettuce. But leafy greens also include carrot tops, beet greens, swiss chard, arugula and more! They can grow all on their own, or be found on the tops of other plants (like broccoli, beets and carrots).
All leafy greens are incredibly nutritious and great to mix into your diet. Kale and spinach are probably the most nutrient-dense, yet you need a variety of greens (and other fruits and vegetables) for the best health. Don’t be afraid to give a new one a try next time you’re at the store. You might just be surprised by mustard greens, bok choy and more!
Greens don’t just take place in salads or garnishes for burgers. You can use them in green smoothies, all kinds of pesto, filling for stuffed mushrooms or potatoes… pretty much in anything you want! Next time you are grocery shopping, grab a new-to-you leafy green and get adventurous with how you prepare it.
The Ultimate Green Smoothie App
Our amazing app, Daily Blends, has 100s of recipes ready for you to work your way through the leafy greens list! You can sort by the ingredients you have on hand, or the type of smoothie you want to try. It’s a great app to try a new recipe and catalog your favs.
What are your fav leafy greens? Drop a comment below and let me know if this list has inspired you to try a new ingredient, or if you’ve got a new green for me to try!