A Top Chef’s Guide to the Best Greens for Clean Eating

Last Update: June 22, 2023

When I say “clean greens,” I’m talking about some of nature’s most potent foods. Dandelion, arugula, Swiss chard—they have the potential to transform your body from the inside out.

Those gorgeous farmers-market greens could be your new favorite food. One of the first steps to adopting a clean-eating habit: get to know these verdant goodies more intimately, right now.

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Includes: copper, vitamins K and A

Arugula (also known as “rocket” or “wild arugula”), which is used in recipes throughout my book, Clean Green Eats, is delicate, and has a distinct, peppery taste. It hails from the ultra-nutritious Brassicaceae family—a group of vegetables that also includes kale, cabbage, and cauliflower. Arugula promotes strong bones—not to mention a healthy smile. I love using it to finish off soups, noodle dishes, grain recipes, and, of course, it always makes for a fabulous, fresh, and crisp salad.


Includes: protein, vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium

Also known as my absolute favorite food ever, I eat this super anti-inflammatory fruit (yes, technically avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable) daily. Your beautiful heart will reap the benefits of oleic and omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease. Studies also show that an avocado-rich diet improves your lipid profile, potentially reducing LDL (bad cholesterol).

Full of natural fiber, monounsaturated fats, as well as high levels of vitamins and minerals, it’s so beautifying! It will do wonders for your skin, hair, and nails, and can even promote  a healthy body weight and BMI.  And don’t forget about the carotenoids, which not only have cancer-fighting powers, but can improve overall eye health, too.

Look for semi-firm avocados that are a nice dark green color—not too hard, not too soft, but just right!


Includes: vitamins A, C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese

My mom used to make us fresh mint tea when we were kids, and I’ve always adored its comforting, soothing quality. Along with its many vitamins and minerals, mint is a great source mega antioxidants, and it’s a natural anti-inflammatory. Total bonus: peppermint, mint’s gorgeous sister, can also help you to breathe easier. It contains rosmarinic acid, which can relieve allergies and asthma. Try either in tea or blended into a smoothie to add a bright fragrance and flavor.


Includes: vitamins A, C K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese

Fresh or dried, I love adding basil to pastas, salads, dressings, pizzas, and marinades. The fragrant herb is packed with antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Add a few fresh leaves to your favorite juice or smoothie in the morning or your pasta in the evening to bump up the flavor and free radical–fighting power.


Includes: fiber, protein, vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese

This beautiful yet bitter green has been used in natural medicine for hundreds of years to treat everything from tummy aches to fungal infections. With vitamins that support healthy eyes and immunity, dandelion is also known to prevent inflammation in the body and keep blood sugar levels stable. Where to find this spectacular green? Look for it at the farmers market or your local health food grocer—it’s amazing in smoothies and grain salads.


Includes: protein, vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, riboflavin, niacin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese

This immune-booster is the most popular green used in smoothies and for juicing because it has a subtle, mild flavor, and it’s simple to measure by the handful. (One handful is approximately one cup.) The iron helps to provide lots of oxygen for healthy muscles—no wonder it was Popeye’s favorite. Add fresh baby spinach to finish off your soups and grains, or toss it into your next smoothie.

Swiss chard

Includes: vitamins A, C, E, K, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese

Mom used to cook yummy rainbow Swiss chard when we were kids, and I was always so amazed by the bright color, which gives a hint of its rich nutrition content. Look for chard with crisp, firm and colorful stems at the farmers market. I love it sautéed with fruit like apples and cranberries!


Includes: vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese

Touted as a mega superfood, watercress is one of the most nutrient-dense greens available. I use it in salads, in homemade sushi, or atop my Japanese okonomiyaki savory pancakes. Crisp, long white stalks and bright green leaves are best.


Includes: protein, vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese

All hail Mother Kale! It’s my most-used green. One cup of this superfood boasts ample vitamins and minerals, and offers plenty of fiber and sulfur, both of which aid digestion.

Kale is not a trend, my friends—it’s here to stay. When shopping for it, look for firm, fresh, and crisp leaves, hard stems, and no wilting. Varieties you’ll find in my cookbook include curly kale—the most common—as well as lacinato, also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale. I challenge you to eat this veggie on a weekly basis (I have it daily!) and notice your body feel the difference.

Whenever possible, I highly recommend purchasing seasonal, organic greens, because you are so worth it, gorgeous!

This post is an excerpt from Candice Kumai’s book, Clean Green Eats, filled with irresistible fresh, healthy recipes. Read more about her here and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Candice Kumai

Candice Kumai, quoted by "ELLE Magazine" as “the golden girl of the wellness world,” is one of the country’s leading wellness journalists. She is a five-time best-selling author of "Clean Green Eats," "Clean Green Drinks," "Pretty Delicious," "Cook Yourself Sexy," and "Cook Yourself Thin." A "Top Chef" alumna, Candice has appeared as a regular judge on "Iron Chef America" and "Beat Bobby Flay." She volunteers at dozens of charitable organizations and has traveled the globe surfing, soul-searching, modeling, and researching wellness. She lives in New York City.

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