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 as 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 and 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 favorite 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 kale in this simple 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 steamed, 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 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.
More than just a garnish, this leafy green has a peppery taste and a full nutrient profile. One cup contains 27.7% of the RDV of vitamin K. It has a stronger flavor than other cruciferous greens on my list, yet is fun in lemon arugula salad or strawberry arugula salad, homemade arugula pesto, or as a pizza topping on my incredibly delicious plant-based pizza recipe.
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 number of nutrients:
- 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 kick-start your love for dark leafy beet greens with some of their favorite 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, 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 a 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 this carrot top smoothie.
If you really want to boost your next smoothie, toss in the carrot and its top.
How Often Should You Rotate Greens?
Most of the smoothie and meal recipes I create use kale or spinach. That’s because these are the most easily found and 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 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 farmer’s 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 and then storing them 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 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 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 Smoothie app., has hundreds 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 favorites.
What are your favorite 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!
After how many days its ideal to rotate spinach r else greens?
I have available with spinach..and very often coriander
And cabbage alao.
Beet greens r seasonal.
So what would be the way to rotate my greens..as i have only one or 2 greens
Jen’s fav thing to do is to switch out greens once a week. So if you’re only using 2 greens, use one the first week, the other the next, then switch back and forth week-to-week. This will keep any toxins from one particular green from building up in your system (which is rare, of course).
I recently bought a bunch of radishes with the leafy greens and wondered about using those. Are there any green vegetable tops that shouldn’t be consumed?
Hi Kim! Radish tops are totally fine to blend up – great idea! Many other ‘tops’ are great to add to your smoothies – especially carrot tops. We’d stay away from the leaves of potato and rhubarb plants though, as those can be toxic. When in doubt, check with a nutritionist or doc to be sure before consuming.
Way to blend while in college! That looks like a delicious smoothie. If you’re drinking it in place of a meal, I recommend adding a healthy fat + a protein to make it a complete meal. Not getting enough fats + proteins may be the reason for your 5pm slump and/or your feelings of grouchiness. You can read about our favorite fat + protein combos here: https://simplegreensmoothies.com/meal-replacement-smoothie
This is such a wide-ranging list! I know it doesn’t include every leafy green out there but it’s a great start for those of us who are looking to expand our smoothie ingredients beyond spinach and kale! 🙂
So glad we can help expand your tastebuds + help you find more great smoothie ingredients!
This is awesome! Can’t wait to look for some new leafy green options next time I grocery shop. I love that you can swap any green out in smoothie.
I love that, too! And I love experimenting with greens I wouldn’t normally think about using in my smoothies.
I have a question about your article about freezing greens in ice cube trays. You mention 2 cups spinach in the blender and 1/2 water. Do you mean 2 cups spinach and 1 cup water?
I love the green protein powder that I bought from you!!!!
Hi Meg! It should say 1/2 cup of water (sorry about that and we’ll get it updated). We use just a small amount of water because the main goal is to preserve the greens and we need just enough water to help blend them into a liquid you can pour into your ice cube trays. Start with 1/2 cup of water and if you feel like you do need more, add just a little at a time until your spinach (or other leafy green) is completely blended.
Also, so glad you love the homemade protein powder!!! 😀