overhead shot of several different leafy greens, all of which you can be added to your next smoothie

The Ultimate Guide to Leafy Greens

POSTED ON 9.15.2020

The shining stars of green smoothies are the leafy greens— chock full of phytonutrients, protein, vitamins, antioxidants…the list goes on.

The shining stars of green smoothies are the leafy greens— and today I’m taking a deep dive into my love for greens and why you should love them too.

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 research by 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), or as plants in their own right. Leafy greens 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 leafy greens list

circle of dark leafy greens listed with labels of each type: Bok choy, kale, cabbage, chard, arugula, carrot tops, romaine, collard, beet tops, spinach

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 fave 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. The National Library of Medicine states that kale has the highest level of antioxidants when consumed raw, yet does retain some health benefits when cooked.

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.

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, or blended in a smoothie. Loaded with fiber, folate, vitamin B6, and antioxidants which help fight inflammation.

Bok Choy
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 or 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. 1 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 salad, pesto, or as a pizza topping on my incredibly delicious plant based pizza recipe in Simple Green Meals.

ceramic bowl filled with raw baby spinach leafy greens


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

Beet Greens
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 fave recipes.

Looking to put a pep in you 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
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 salads? Then use romaine as a food wrap with some hummus + fresh veggies!


Carrot Tops
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. If you really want to boost your next smoothie, toss in the carrot + its top.

just washed dark leafy greens on a cutting board

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 leafy 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. Plus, frozen greens can really help keep that smoothie cool.

big stalks of curly kale leafy greens on wooden table top

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! Click here to get it.

What are your fave 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!

Ingredients, Plant-Based Diet

Top 7 green smoothie recipes OF ALL TIME!
About Jen Hansard

Mom of 2, ran across the Grand Canyon and lover of smoothies, coffee & tacos. I transformed my family's health with a plant-based diet. I also found myself again along the way.

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  1. Sobia says:

    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
    Plz guide

    • Simple Green Smoothies says:

      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).

  2. Kim Thompson says:

    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?

    • Simple Green Smoothies says:

      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.

  3. SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

    Hey Nick,
    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/recipes/meal-replacement-smoothie

  4. Jessica says:

    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! 🙂

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      So glad we can help expand your tastebuds + help you find more great smoothie ingredients!

  5. Erin says:

    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.

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      I love that, too! And I love experimenting with greens I wouldn’t normally think about using in my smoothies.

  6. Meg says:

    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!!!!

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      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 Protein Smoothie Boost!!! 😀

  7. Sonya Tanner says:

    I like spinach or kale. I need to try the Dandelion greens!

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      Sonya, def give the dandelion greens a try! And don’t forget a banana to balance out the slightly bitter taste of the greens. 😉 Let us know what you think after you try them!

  8. Dawn says:

    Can I use Bok Choy as the green in a smoothie?

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      Hey Dawn! You can definitely use bok choy in your smoothies. It has a mild taste, similar to cabbage so keep that in mind when deciding which fruits to mix in (I might use fruits that are on the sweeter-tasting side).

  9. Jason R Cox says:

    I am thinking of growing cardoon. What do you think?

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      Jason, we are always fans of kitchen gardens and growing your own produce. 🙂

  10. Lori says:

    I always like to use spinach + kale or spinach + power greens in my smoothie. I buy it in bags. In a pinch, i.e. I’m out of bagged greens, I forage from the “weed patch”, a.k.a. my yard and get wild dandelion, plantain, herbs, violet leaves, whatever.

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      Lori, I love that you forage in your backyard! There’s so much good stuff out there that most of us call “weeds” and it’s great that you take advantage of what’s right outside your door. 🙂

  11. Michelle Fox says:

    How do I find smoothies that use each of these greens? Do you just substitute for whatever greens you are eating that week? Also, do you have recipes for smoothies that “flip the ratio” as you mentioned to have more greens than fruit?


    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hey Michelle,

      Most of our recipes you can swap the greens for whatever you have on hand or to keep up your rotation. Also we do not have specific recipes for the “flip ratio” because you can use that with any recipe we have. We like to keep our recipes easy and versatile. All you have to do is find a recipe you like and simply switch the fruits and veggies amount and your smoothie will be “less sweet”.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Flo says:

    Hi wow very helpful tips. Love juicing. Just learnt from a friend that she adds amaranth leaves to her smoothies! I didn’t know that.

    Do you have recipes?

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Flo,

      While we don’t have any recipes with amaranth leaves (yet!), don’t let that stop you! Our recipes are here to inspire you, so don’t hesitate to change it up + try adding amaranth leaves to any of our recipes!

  13. Al F says:

    One of the best investments that I have made was in a Vitamix blender! I’m loving mine every morning to make my green smoothie. There are other great blenders on the market as well. To our health!

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Al,

      We love Vitamix too! Nothing beats a powerful multi-purpose blender!

    • Deborah Korch says:

      I also just bought a Vitamix. It’s powerful and slightly freaks me out. I now can safely get rid of my other 2 juicers that also won the intimidation game.

    • SGS Rawkstar Carissa says:

      Hey Deborah,

      That is so exciting!!! I bet you are loving it already. It can be really intimidating though so I definitely get that. Pretty soon it will feel like second nature and that you’ve had it forever 🙂

  14. Keeny says:

    I am doing a 10 day green smoothie cleanse. I use a power blend of greens (chard, spinach and kale) everyday. Is this a bad idea?

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Keeny,

      Worried about oxalate build-up while using your power blend? Try not to sweat rotating your leafy greens so much. Your body is wise enough to let you know when it’s time to change things up.

      Just a reminder, alkaloid build-up is rare. And if you do experience any symptoms, they’re very mild and they don’t last long. Nothing that will send you to the doctor’s office. You might just take a few days break from green smoothies and jump right back in!

  15. Yvonne Scott says:

    Hi, I am overweight and had high blood pressure. My friend and I decided to lose weight together. She lives in NY and I live in Florida. She turned me on to smoothies, but mostly fruits. I was using an orange, an apple, a banana, strawberries and blueberries and coconut water. I was losing weight, but then I gained 3 lbs! I spoke to my dr and asked how that was possible? Whammo, he said I was consuming way too much sugar from all that fruit. So, I began to stop the fruit smoothies and moved to kale, spinach, celery, carrot and threw in some frozen strawberries and a handful of frozen blueberries. For liquid I use coconut water with no added sugars or fruit. Now, the last 2 dr visits were particular, when I asked about my pressure IT WAS SO MUCH LOWER, the first time I figured it was just a fluke, but when it happened again at a different dr I WAS STYMIED. Why was my pressure changing (I never took pressure meds) then it hit me…THE GREENS! I couldn’t believe I actually was doing something that made such a healthy difference. However, I’ve been using the same ingredients for a month now and I just bought another giant bag of both kale and spinach. How am I doing? How can I incorporate other greens, and is broccoli thrown in raw…just florets? What about the leafy green part of celery, I have been tossing it in the garbage. PS I throw in some Bobs Redmill unmodified potato starch or a green unripened banana for resistance starch. What am I doing right and what am I doing wrong? Thanks for your knowledge, it is appreciated, Yvonne

    • SGS Rawkstar Amanda says:

      Hi Yvonne,

      It sounds like you’re rawkin’ it + and I’m so excited to hear you’re reaching your health + wellness goals with green smoothies! We love blending with a variety of greens. Some of my favorites are kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, and beet greens!

      And you can definitely add the celery greens, other great veggies to add are beet + carrot greens. And no waste!!

      And yes, just toss the broccoli in raw! Here’s one of my favorite recipes to add broccoli to…

      Also, if you’re using your green smoothie as a meal replacement, have you tried adding protein + healthy fats? We suggest adding them to ensure you’re fueling your body with a complete meal. Check out our favorite meal replacement booster combos here…


      Hope this helps! And reach out with any questions!

  16. Mel Mohan says:

    I started doing green smoothies in the summer of 2015 I had them everyday twice a day. In February I was at the doctor with kidney stones due to high oxalate build up. I was advised to lay off the green smoothies for awhile (which was very hard for me as I loved the energy it gave me) and am just getting back into them. I want to rotate my greens, but am not really sure what to mix with each type of green for optimal flavour…..any suggestions?

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Mel,

      Variety is the fruit of life! I love switching up my leafy greens. So while one of our recipes may call for spinach, change it up + try it with chard or kale! Don’t hesitate to experiment.

  17. Rachelkaren says:

    What can I mix with greens in a smoothie that will overpower the green coloring? My husband will not drink “anything green”

  18. Sean K. says:

    Thank you for this website! I started drinking a green smoothie for breakfast about a month ago and so far its the best dietary change I’ve made (27 y/o male with limited cooking skills but great ordering out skills).
    I have 2 questions for you,

    1. I have been using a green powder (Amazing Grass Green Superfood) but now I’m worried of Oxalate build up from the mix of the same greens daily. Do these powders contain oxalate?

    2. I workout in the morning and like to add a scoop of protein to my smoothie, do you have any recommendations for protein packed smoothies? I use plant-based protein blends but now I’m worried about rotating them (typically quinoa, hemp, pea, chia blend).

  19. Lyndsey Russell says:

    Could you choose 2 veggies (1 each from a different family i.e. one week kale and chard then the next week spinach and cabbage) to put in or would you only recommend 1 each time? I ask as my favourite smoothie has spinach, kale, broccoli, celery, mango and pineapple and I’ve had this everyday for about 2 weeks now but I’m worried about the poisoning thing

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Lyndsey,

      You definitely could! We love mixing up our leafy greens. We simply suggest taking a week off from a specific family of greens. For example…blend crucifers and apiaceae this week, then next week blend up amaranth and asteraceae. Also, everyone’s body is different and has different sensitivities to oxalate build-up. So it’s always important to listen to your body when determining how often to rotate your greens.

  20. Ed says:

    I’ve been using spinach as my staple ingredient for green smoothies twice a day (for 2 years now)

    I tend to rotate the other ingredients such as Broccoli, Kale, Celery twice a day (morning I might toss in Broccoli and at night I’ll toss in Kale and Celery)

    It has been working for me since, no doctor visits or anything!

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Ed,

      YAY! We love changing up our veggies + leafy greens. We’ve also found that oxalate sensitivity is different for everyone.

  21. Beverley says:

    I wash all my fruits and veg in vinegar to get rid of toxins.. is this ok?

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Beverly,

      Washing your greens with vinegar and water is a great way to remove bacteria and pesticides from your leafy greens. But it’s still important to rotate your greens, to prevent toxin build-up from the natural toxins that occur within the plant.

  22. Mum 3.0 says:

    I tried carrot tops, say with pears and some apple juice, but they do not mix well when I put everything together in the blender. Do you have any tip for these tops?
    Thank you!

  23. Jana says:

    1. What are ur thoughts about using green powder product instead of raw greens if no access to fresh produce?
    2. What’s the 411 re spinach not allowing body to absorb calcium? I want to increase calcium intake to build bone density & not sure if spinach should be eaten separately from calcium-rich foods or if that’s false. Thx!

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Jana,

      Personally, we’re all about fresh leafy greens. But when raw greens aren’t accessible, green powder is a great option! Worried about spinach preventing calcium absorption? While oxalates prevent calcium absorption from spinach, we reach for plant-based options like broccoli, okra, + almonds.

  24. Nd says:

    If all leafy greens have a small amount of toxins, how does rotating help? It seems that Oxalate build-up would still occur unless you completely refrain from leafy veggies for a few days or week. Someone previously ask if cooking the veggies helps reduce or prevent toxin build-up, but the question wasn’t really answered. Instead, rotating veggies was again recommended. Months ago Dr. Oz recommended only consuming raw leafy green veggies 2-3 times a week. He advised to cook veggies slightly beforehand if you consume daily. Have you researched this option? If so, do you feel there is significant nutrient lost if you lightly steam veggies? Thanks!

    • SGS Rawkstar says:

      Hi Nd,

      Great questions! The leafy greens in each family have similar “DNA,” each including their own minor level of toxins. By rotating family types of leafy greens you’re not only preventing a toxic build-up, you are also feeding your body a variety of nutrients. Therefore it’s not necessary to take a break from leafy greens, but simply rotate between greens.

      We prefer to get our veggies raw to obtain the maximum nutrients and they make our smoothies super yummy. But if you want to cook your greens before blending to help further prevent toxin build-up, a light steam will help!

      Hope this helps!

  25. Lucy Khan says:

    How much spinach or Kale should I add to smoothie? 1-2 cups of spinach? Is that too much?

    • SGS Rawkstar Jen says:

      That’s perfect! We recommend 1 cup leafy greens for 1 serving of smoothie— and our recipes typically make 2 servings (so we say 2 cups leafy greens). Make sure to check out our recipes section where you’ll find a bunch of recipes to get you started!

  26. John says:

    I have been doing green smoothies for almost 4 years now. These are amazing things I drink a quart in the morning and a quart in the evening. Same thing every day. Spinach, Kale, chard, flax seeds, sun flower seeds, chia seeds, avocado, and tofu. I can’t eat sugars or carbs except for what is in the nuts and seeds I eat. after reading your article I have decided to start rotating my vegetables not because of any problems from eating the same thing every day but to get the extra nutrients that this will give me.

    • SGS Rawkstar Jess says:

      You’re a Rawkstar, John! So glad we inspired you to rotate your veggies. Happy blending! 🙂

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