A Nutritional Plan of Attack

From arugula and Swiss chard to romaine and spinach, leafy vegetables are a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that protect against heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They prevent damage from free radicals, stopping chronic inflammation and the associated diseases in their tracks, as well as cell deterioration and the age-related decline that comes with it. Plus, they help to keep skin youthful and radiant thanks to their collagen-promoting vitamin C and their vitamin A/beta-carotene content, which also aids in the inflammation battle and calms the redness surrounding a skin flare-up. And greens assist your liver in its detoxification process—so if you’ve had a couple cocktails, a few too many refined foods or been in a smoky room, these are the foods to help “undo” the damage. In fact, greens like kale and bok choy are two of the few foods that actually assist the liver in both phases of its detoxification process, so they’re superstars when it comes to ridding the body of toxins.

If salads are feeling so 2014 for you, there’s a new way to get your greens and reap all these benefits (and it’s a lot more appealing than a mound of steamed greens on the side of your plate). It’s easy, delicious and even breakfast-friendly—it’s a green smoothie. After all, many greens become undetectable when combined in a smoothie and they take just seconds to transform. And what better way to start your day than with a simple, nourishing breakfast that packs in greens? Here are some pointers for making the most of your smoothies and easy, at-home ways to get your nutrients.

Create your own green smoothie by following these green-smoothie basics. (If you simply want to try a green smoothie recipe that’s tried, true and delicious, make one of the recipes below by blending the ingredients together.)

  1. Start with your greens: Typically a few large fistfuls (about 2 cups) will do the trick. Spinach is one the mildest greens and is hardly detectable, but all greens, including kale, romaine and even parsley and mint are fantastic additions. Try a variety of greens and see what you like best.
  2. Add some fruit: Fruits add natural sweetness, fiber and phytonutrients for even more of a beneficial boost to your morning. We prefer to add frozen fruits because they make the smoothie more refreshing and “dessert-like.” One half of an overripe banana is a great addition and adds sweetness—frozen berries are great, too. Frozen pineapple chunks can add a lot of sweetness with just a few pieces, but most fruits work well. The key is to keep the fruit portions in check (about half the portion or less, compared to the green) to keep the calories from getting too high.
  3. Add your protein/“satiety factor”: Think Greek yogurt, nuts or nut butters, hemp seeds or a scoop of protein powder. One to 2 tablespoons of a nut or seed adds nutrients and healthy fat—but stick to just that portion (about six to eight nuts), as the calories from nuts add up quickly and could cause your smoothie to contain a lot more calories than you bargained for. (Note: If you skip the protein, you’ll need to eat a source of protein with your smoothie to keep you satiated and your energy levels up.)
  4. Add liquid: Add anywhere from 1/2 to 1 cup of either water, unsweetened nut milk or coconut water to make your smoothie. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk adds a nice flavor boost.