Kale is definitely one of the healthiest vegetables in the world, and one of our favorites here at BlenderBrain. But the fact is, for all practical purposes there are an infinite number of vegetables to try! In this article, I will focus on other, less fashionable leafy greens.
For most people, greens are the healthiest food out there. One of the best ways people can figure out what the healthiest vegetables are is using the ANDI score, developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutritional Density Index.” This measure represents a food’s overall nutritional content per calorie. It’s a lot like measuring like the number of miles per gallon your car is getting. How much nutrition are you getting for each calorie you eat? In a certain sense, the higher the ANDI score number, the healthier the food! Kale measures 1000 on the ANDI score list, which is the highest the measure goes.
If you want to read a deep technical article about the ANDI score measurement, check out the article on Dr. Furhman’s website at this link. He’s got a pretty thorough ranking of foods there too that’s very easy to understand – and not just greens. Doctor Furhman is a food scientist and an overall cool guy who advocates for increasing your vegetable intake. I met him in New Jersey once when I was demonstrating the Vitamix 5200 at a Whole Foods Market, and I still feel starstruck. This other website called Nutrientrich also has a great list of foods with ANDI scores.
Green leafy vegetables are going to blow the socks off of any of those expensive heavily marketed “super foods,” like goji berries, raw chocolate beans, flax seeds, etc. Cheap greens will provide nutrition that will overshadow any expensive powder; don’t believe the hype! This is not to say your flax seeds and powders are worthless — their nutritional content is of course very different than even the healthiest vegetables. The message I’d like to convey here today is that greens are the best foundation for healthy eating. Those other foods are great to consider, but only after the greens are taken care of. So let’s get started.
Rotate Your Greens: mixing up the healthiest vegetables
This is another key message of the article you’re reading, so I’ll repeat it. Say it with me know: “ROTATE YOUR GREENS!” The healthiest vegetable to drink in today’s smoothie is the one you haven’t had in a while. Remember this: Don’t turn into a “Kale Snail.” It’s better to be a “Sale Whale!” We love to grab the green that’s on sale at the store, because oftentimes they’re promoting something good that we haven’t had in weeks or months.
Eating healthy and meeting your goals isn’t about finding out the healthiest vegetable in the universe and using it every time. There are so many great and healthy vegetables out there! The real goal needs to be finding the healthiest vegetable to eat this time. If you see a green you haven’t had in a while or maybe haven’t tried before, consider getting it instead of buying more of the one you just ran out of! The reason is, the ANDI score gives us a good idea of which vegetables are more nutritious, but that doesn’t mean it’s the sole consideration in constructing an optimal diet. Think of it this way: even though they have extra vitamins, you wouldn’t want to eat too many of those delicious multi-vitamin gummy bears in one sitting. Too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing!
I think it was Einstein who said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
While everyone knows kale is one of the healthiest vegetables, there are several other common leafy-greens that also measure the maximum 1000 on the ANDI score list. Nonetheless, here’s some food for thought. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Well, apples have an ANDI score of only 53. Even flax seeds are only ANDI score 103. This is important to remember! Even though cabbage is only ANDI score 454, it’s still enormously healthy – much more nutritionally dense per calorie than most foods out there, like those seeds and powders people keep adding to their smoothies instead of greens! To be clear: vegetables are the real superfoods.
Greens are healthy. They are way healthier than any fruit, and taking advantage of their variety is the best way to use them. But where to even start? Fear not – I have rounded up our favorite greens that we like to use at home. I’ve also included the family categories for each green, so that you can rotate through greens from each plant family. One week, cabbage family; next week, amaranth family. And so on and so forth.
Our top 10 favorite Greens Beyond Kale
#1. Cabbage – ANDI score 454 (Cabbage family)
Cabbage is among the healthiest, most versatile and mildly flavored vegetables available. It’s cheap, and can be prepared in 10,000 ways. A head will keep in the fridge for weeks and remain edible, ready for you when you need that extra healthy ingredient. We eat cabbage for breakfast in smoothies, cabbage for lunch on sandwiches, and cabbage for dinner in stir fry – sometimes all in the same day!
Green cabbage is what we usually use, but if you want to enjoy a bright color, you can try red cabbage too! It has a stronger flavor, but you might enjoy it. Use cabbage a little at a time to add some extra value to your smoothies. I’ll usually saw off an inch or so each day to blend up, and a cabbage will last about a week if we don’t cook it all away.
#2. Baby Bok Choy – ANDI score 895 (Cabbage family)
This often overlooked vegetable has many uses. You can of course cook it, but it’s mild flavor is perfect for a smoothie as well! This will likely be the first green we blend for our kids one day. Justine prefers bok choy over cabbage because she thinks there’s less of an aftertaste. We love to buy our baby bok choy in the nearest Chinatown, or at Costco, our favorite place to find some of the healthiest vegetables in huge quantities. Both have fantastic prices on this often overlooked staple green. I want my baby bok baby bok baby bok…
Also pictured here below the baby bok choy is Chinese broccoli. If you’re in Chinatown, keep an eye out for it! It’s in the same family as baby bok choy, and a little stronger in flavor – somewhere between bok and kale. We use it all the time in smoothies, and cooked on the stove.
#3. Collard Greens – ANDI score 1000 (Cabbage family)
These are a great option for people who want nutrition like kale, but feel that the flavor is a little too strong. Compared to kale, collards are less earthy-tasting, but maybe a little more sour in flavor. Both are very similar nutritionally, but collard greens actually have half the calories per cup compared with kale. Honestly, I’m not the type to count the calories of my greens…but, if you’re eating a “keto,” “atkins,” or “low carb” type diet, every carb counts. If you are looking for the lowest of calories, then also try out our #7 green, chard.
I usually like to remove the collard green stem before blending. They still good for your health, but it may taste a little stronger and bitter. If that’s what you like, add it in! Sometimes I’ll even save the stem for another day when I’m using a different green, and blend them all together.
Collards are a wonderful staple green. If you’re using kale regularly, you should use collard greens just as often.
#4. Mustard greens & Watercress – ANDI score 1000, Arugula – ANDI score 604 (All from Cabbage family)
I grouped these three together because they all have a bit of a peppery flavor. Most people who like food with a little spicy kick will agree that these greens will taste best in a vegetable juice. I like to drink sugar free full-fiber vegetable juice about half the time to keep my sugar intake down, and these are an excellent match for that flavor. It’s the healthiest thing on our site, and I’m pretty sure it will give you super powers!
Once Justine and I accidentally bought mustard greens thinking it was a bunch of kale, and we used it in our frozen mango based green smoothie. I love spicy food, so no biggie. Justine is more sensitive to peppery flavors, and she was able to handle it just fine as well. Give it a try once or twice to see if what you think! These peppery greens are packed with nutrition and can be a great way to add variety to your routine.
#5. Baby Spinach – ANDI score 707 (Amaranth family)
This is a great beginner green because of the mild flavor. It’s perfect for getting children and adults accustomed to the green smoothie color. If you have a picky person, start by making a nice sweet smoothie that is just BARELY green. Start with the fruit, and just put a pinch of spinach in to get them hooked on the green color. Then, increase the amount over time. Don’t get carried away too quickly! Be patient, it’s worth the wait.
For experienced green smoothie drinkers, spinach is also important. It’s in a totally different family of plants from kale, collards, and cabbage. That means they possess a very different nutritional balance. If you have a strong green in your recipe already and want some extra super nutrition without making the flavor too strong, add some baby spinach to kick the recipe to the next level.
#6. Parsley, Cilantro, Mint, and other herbs – ANDI score about 450 (Various families, mostly Umbellifers family)
Herbs are among the healthiest vegetables out there, and most people never think of them as a real food.
Add some extra flavor to your mix; a pinch of herbs will be a great addition to supplement your base green. A big handful of bok choy or baby spinach will taste fine, but with a handful of mint your smoothie will be bright and unique! They also add wonderful variety in nutrition because they descend from totally different plant families than larger staple greens.
You can also just use a whole bunch of herbs if that’s what you have! You can add a little tequila to your mint-lime smoothie if it’s a mojito kind of day 🙂 Cilantro pairs well with almost any citrus. Parsley is ultra nutritionally dense, so treat it with respect! Using parsley will make your body feel like it has a health boost, but it may make you too flatulent for a date night. If you’re using parsley, start small, and see how your body reacts to it. Powerful stuff!
#7. Chard – ANDI score 895 (Amaranth family)
I’m going to be honest – I. Hate. Chard. The earthy flavor is too much for me. I don’t like them cooked, and I don’t like them in my smoothies. If I’m going to drink something from the amaranth family, it’s probably going to be spinach.
But chard is one of the lowest calorie greens, which many people care more about than the taste. One cup of chard has about a quarter of the calories as a cup of kale – I respect anyone who adds chard into their smoothies. I like to give them an extra thorough soak so that I know any earthy taste is the green and not residual soil.
Another great use of chard that I’ll admit to kind of enjoying is as a replacement for a tortilla in a wrap. Put enough hot sauce on anything and I’ll eat it.
#8. Recycled greens and wild greens – Carrot greens, beet greens, etc – High ANDI score (Various families)
There are multitudes of greens that most people normally throw away or overlook. Many of them can be acquired for free or very cheap. Go to the grocery store and ask the produce department about carrot greens and beet greens! If you hang out near the section, you can often score some at no cost. I loved giving these to customers I knew when I worked in the produce department at Whole Foods grocery store.
A banana smoothie with some carrot greens blended in has a delicious zesty flavor that I think is a bit like eggnog. One of my favorite combinations! And the carrot greens are extraordinarily nutritionally dense. Beet greens are earthy in flavor, a lot like chard, as the plants are very close relatives. Just ask the produce guy if there are any laying around, or buy a bunch of beets or carrots with the leaves and use it all.
One of my favorite books in the world is called Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons. Check out that link for a copy of the table of contents, and I highly recommend reading the book as well. It’s all about foods you didn’t know you could eat. In the book, Gibbons mentions eating wild amaranth plants, chicory, purslane, and many other greens – for free! There are many lists and guides about wild plants you can eat. And you can blend them too!
#9. Green Leaf and Red Leaf Lettuce – ANDI score 406 (Daisy family)
Most of the staple greens we have mentioned here are either cabbage family or amaranth family, so it’s important that we give a shout out to the lettuces. They will have another balance of nutrition to add to your rotation, and as I have been emphasizing, variety is the key to enjoying healthiest vegetables in your green smoothie regimen.
I prefer to use red leaf and green leaf varieties in my smoothies because they will have the mildest flavor of all the lettuces. That makes them perfect for a lettuce wimp like me. As to the other varieties, Iceberg is nutritionally worthless and romaine is a bit too bitter for me. Spring mix is super bitter too, and escarole is even more so. Maybe that means they’re really some of the healthiest vegetables out there! Find what you like. I hope you can handle them and maybe I will one day too 🙂
#10. The Greens You Haven’t Tried Yet: The Real Healthiest Vegetables
There are so many wonderful vegetables to blend. Sprouts are known to be super dense in nutrition. Why not blend some clover or radish sprouts? More variety! If you see something interesting, give it a try.
Cut up some wheatgrass with scissors and toss it in! Get creative. You can also try mixes of different greens together; who said you needed to try only one at a time? In the past, we really enjoyed power green mixes that combined baby kale, baby spinach, and baby swiss chard.
This week, the Justine and I are using sweet potato greens. We found them at the Costco in Taiwan, as they are very popular here; see the picture above. In Vietnam and Thailand they were using a close relative called morning glory. We could never list everything. Explore!
Still Need a Way to Blend the Healthiest Vegetables?
Many people start making smoothies with a basic blender; that’s how we started, too! But once you start really getting into it, you may realize that the basic blender just isn’t going to cut it, and now you’re looking to upgrade! Most people will recommend Vitamix and Blendtec, which are both great options that we have used before. But recently, we’ve discovered and partnered up with Omniblend, whom we feel is giving the other big brands a run for their money. We recommend purchasing an Omniblend package with a sound enclosure. Per dollar, it will give by far the best experience available – beating all the big name brands by a long shot. Check them out yourself, and stay tuned for our upcoming post comparing the Omniblend to the other brands! If you have any questions at all, please do email us at email@example.com or post a comment here or in our Facebook group!
Let us know what your favorite leafy’s to add are! It’s easy being green. KEEP ON BLENDING!