The shining stars of green smoothies are the leafy greens— chock full of phytonutrients, protein, vitamins, antioxidants…the list goes on and on. Yet there is also something you need to be aware of when drinking green smoothies daily— it's called “alkaloid buildup.”
All raw leafy greens carry a small amount of toxins that protect plants from being entirely consumed by other animals—and wiping out the plant species. It's a defensive trait, and something even we should be aware of. As humans, if we consume these toxins for long periods of time, they can build up and harm our thyroid. Some symptoms of alkaloid buildup are nausea, tingling in fingertips and fatigue. But before you dump your green smoothie down the drain, you should know that this isn't anything to worry about as long as you are rotating your greens. Throughout the week, use a variety of leafy greens in your smoothies— like kale, spinach, chard (silverbeet), romaine and other lettuces, herbs, and carrot tops.
“I'm freaking out! I don't rotate my greens!”
Do you, or someone you know, eat the same leafy greens in your salad day after day? There's no big news stories about people eating the same salad everyday and getting sick. It seems like so many people try to create so much controversy and scare tactics around green smoothies and healthy eating in general. 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.
So, 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! But I know people ask this question a lot, so here's a guideline if you really want to rotate your greens like a rawkstar…
How often should you rotate greens?
Start out with rotating your leafy greens weekly. So one week you might buy spinach, and then on your next shopping trip, you might buy kale. Then once you plan to maintain the green smoothie habit as a lifestyle, rotate between two different leafy greens per week. And then another two different leafy greens the following week. So one week you might buy spinach and kale, and then on your next shopping trip, you might buy romaine lettuce and swiss chard.
There are several “families” of leafy greens. The leafy greens in each family have similar “DNA” including their own minor amount of toxins. By rotating family types with your greens you are preventing any kind of toxic build-up, but you are also feeding your body a wide variety of nutrients that you would otherwise be missing out on. To help keep you slurping your smoothies we made a list of our favorite greens (there are way more leafy greens than the ones we listed below) and separated them into family groups so you can easily rotate!
If you like spinach then you will like kale. They are both known for their wide variety of nutrients, mild taste, and availability in your local markets. The best part is that they are from different families, which will make rotating a breeze. Having any kind of health issue? Kale will probably help, though they are especially talented at fighting cancer.
Arugula is kale's brother when it comes to content. They share high volumes of vitamin A, C, & K, fight against cancer, and include many other nutrients (iron, carotenoid, and more). Their differences are few, so choosing between the two is a matter of preference and convenience. Or maybe you would like to include them both in your rotation!
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 leafy green, but adding them raw to your smoothies will provide you with more health benefits because they lose nutrients when cooked.
Cabbage is yet another example of a cruciferous cancer fighting leafy green. One thing that may help to separate it from the pack is its popularity in home gardens and fresh markets, which makes them easy to find. It also has a hint of sweetness to go with those yummy, summer smoothies filled with berries.
The “Chinese Cabbage,” otherwise known as bok choy, shares loads of similar nutrients with the rest of its family, while is specializes in its lack of calories. It is best to purchase during the winter months while it boasts its dark green, firm stalks. Bok choy is a sweet green that will keep you slim.
Its 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 beating, bone strengthening, cardiovascular helping, brain boosting, skin smoothing, vision improving, inflammation reducing, energy increasing, and more. Spinach is a green smoothie staple for all!
When was the last time you ate beets, let alone the leafy greens on top of them? We recommend branching out and trying beet greens for your next smoothie! They include a wide variety of nutrients, but make their claim to fame with tryptophan. Tryptophan is the culprit of all those Thanksgiving Day naps, but more importantly helps with better sleep cycles. If you are always complaining about being tired, don't turn to coffee. Add tryptophan to your green smoothie.
Chard is a colorful leaf best known for its ability to regulate the body's blood sugar system. Translation? If you have diabetes or struggle to main your blood sugar levels then chard should become a regular part of your leafy greens rotation. Try it in the morning to start your day off right!
Looking for calcium without the cows? You got it! A healthy dose of dandelion greens will give you near the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk will, but it will also fill you with other nutrients that milk doesn't. When using them don't forget this saying, “A banana in the blender kisses the bitter good-bye!”
Romaine lettuce is a nutrient rich leafy green that is good for your 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. Being low in calories also helps you lose weight while keeping you full.
Ever heard of phytonutrients? They are what makes celery stand out among other raw greens. Phytonutrients are an antioxidant that help prevent damage done to body fat and blood vessel walls. This may not sound important, but to put it in common terms blood vessel damage leads to many of the diseases we see today. Be sure to use strong fruit to balance out the potent flavor of the celery stalks and/or leaves.
Most fast food is dipped, cooked, and lathered in all sorts of unhealthy things that cause high blood sugar and cholesterol, but not this “fast food.” One of the remedies for lowering blood sugar and cholesterol is cilantro, and its fast and easy to add to your daily smoothie! Try it with lime juice and other tropical treats.
Carrot tops are filled with chlorophyll, which has been shown to fight against tumor growth and acts as a cleansing agent. The best way to buy carrot tops is to buy carrots with full greens on top. You will have nutrient filled green smoothies and a snack for later.
Rotating your greens is easy and fun! When you rotate you getting access to many different kinds of nutrients that each raw green has to offer, but at the same time you are preventing alkaloid build-up. When rotating, keep in mind to go from family to family. You may have to experiment with a few different greens from each family to find out what you like, and what has the best benefits for you, but the benefits are worth it! Once you know what you like you can find staple recipes that go well with each green. Rotating is good for you, keeps things fresh, and simple. Cheers!
Now that we talked about why to rotate your greens, check out our awesome tips on How To Freeze Leafy Greens.