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How To Add More Leafy Greens Into Your Plant-Based Diet

7 sneaky ways to add more leafy greens to your diet. A full list of the most nutritious greens to add to smoothies, soups, dips and sauces!

By Shuhan Wen, Reviewed by Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Eating your leafy greens sounds like a painful task. After all, who wants to eat a big bowl of spinach or kale? But not only are greens chock full of nutrients, they also add variety to a plant-based lifestyle.

There are a ton of leafy greens that fill well into a plant-based lifestyle. And believe it or not,  incorporating greens into your daily diet should be easy and delicious.  

If you want to include more leafy greens into your daily meals but don’t know where to start, these 7 simple tips will help you get creative with greens.

The nutrition of leafy greens  

Leafy green vegetables deliver essential nutrients to the diet and are low in calories. They are vitamin and mineral powerhouses–rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, B vitamins, iron, potassium and folate. These nutrients play an important role in energy metabolism, bone health, immune function, blood clotting and muscle recovery.

Greens also contribute fiber to the diet, which helps with digestion and appetite control. Plus, greens contain inflammation fighting antioxidants. Not only does the consumption of antioxidants reduce disease risk, it also helps with exercise recovery. 

Why are greens important for plant-based athletes? 

Athletes are no stranger to inflammation. When you’re training hard, the muscles and joints become inflamed in order to heal and repair. This acute inflammation is actually beneficial, but it’s still painful. 

collard greens on a striped towel

Greens are excellent sources of antioxidants that help neutralize the post-workout inflammation. Not to mention that other nutrients in greens–B vitamins, Vitamin C, iron and more– are crucial for immune health, energy production and overall health. 

Lastly, athletes need to stay hydrated to perform well. Most greens are made up of more than 90% water. Thus, adding more greens into the diet is a smart way to take in more fluids and stay hydrated.

What are popular leafy greens? 

Leafy greens include everything from traditional lettuce to root veggie stems to herbs to microgreens. Eat a variety of greens to get your share of Vitamin A, C, K, B vitamins, folate, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron. 

  • Kale
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beet greens
  • Watercress
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Mint
beet greens

How to add more leafy greens to your plant-based diet

It’s easier than you think to sneak leafy greens into every meal. Below are 7 tips to eat your greens!

1. Blend leafy greens into a smoothie

Mornings are often busy, so you may not have time for a big breakfast. But you can blend up a green smoothie in minutes!  Next time you make a smoothie, throw a cup of your favorite greens into the blender, along with fruit, a protein source (like yogurt, seeds or protein powder)  and any other ingredients you like. Kale and spinach taste great in smoothies! 

2. Toss greens into soups

I love soups because you can throw a ton of veggies into a pot and it tastes great!  You may not think to add leafy greens to soups, but tossing a few handfuls into the broth adds color, nutrients and texture. If you like creamy soup, you can add greens and puree the soup with an immersion blender.

Try it: Veggie Barley Soup

vegetable barley soup against black background

3. Make green sauces or dips

The bitterness of greens actually lends itself really well to sauces, like pesto or green goddess dressing. Green sauces taste as delicious as the typical tomato sauce and pair well with pasta, sandwiches and pizza. You can easily make a pesto sauce with your favorite type of green or try creating your own green sauce. I like blending together parsley, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt. A chimichurri sauce is also a perfect way to get your greens in as a tasty topper. 

Try it: Maple Syrup Pesto

Recipe for maple pesto

4. Top pizza with leafy greens

Greens work well as pizza toppings. Place one or two handfuls of kale, spinach or arugula on top of the pizza and drizzle with olive oil. You’ll be surprised how well the bitterness of the greens goes with the savoriness of the pizza. 

Try it: Brussels Sprouts Pizza

brussels sprouts pizza with an egg on top

5. Experiment with a leafy green wrap

Sturdy leafy greens, like collards, work well as a wrap. Replace the traditional tortilla with a large collard green leaf to amp up your veggie intake. Stuff the greens with your choice of filling, like chickpea salad, veggies and hummus or anything your heart desires.  This healthy and easy-to-make green wrap is perfect for a quick lunch.

Try it: Collard Green Wrap

vegan collard green wrap filled with colorful vegetables

6. Try green snacks

If you like crispy snacks, baked kale or collard chips are for you! Not to mention that they are healthier alternatives to potato chips. 

7. Garnish your plate with greens

If you’re still on the fence about leafy greens, start by using them as a garnish. For example, arugula and microgreens are commonly used to garnish a dinner plate. They add color, crunch and taste to an ordinary dinner.  

Incorporating more greens into your diet is not as challenging as you may think. Besides eating a bowl of salad, there are many easy and creative ways to enjoy leafy greens with every meal. 

Try it: Strawberry Spinach Salad with Basil

If you have any questions about greens, feel free to leave a comment below.

Shuhan Wen is a dietetic intern and an MS candidate in Nutrition, Exercise and Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University. Born and raised in China, she loves to cook Asian foods and photograph delicious dishes. She also enjoys running a blog that critiques Chinese  food and restaurants in New York City. Her favorite exercises are jogging, ice skating and yoga. 

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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