Food Focus: The Good Dark Side of Greens!

by Lourdes Castro on Oct 31, 2012

Food for Thought

Gone are the days when your only option was spinach, the so-called miracle leaf that many were consuming raw and by the bucket load. Today it’s a whole new, leafy-green world, and a brisk walk through any supermarket produce aisle proves it. Leafy greens are everywhere, and they come in a variety of textures and flavors that provide opportunity for everyone to find a favorite.

Nutrition Powerhouse

The health benefits gained from leafy greens go well beyond their concentrated source of nutrition. Many of you already know they are packed with fiber, the minerals iron and calcium, and loads of vitamins K, C, E and folate. But what really has nutrition experts singing the praises of these dark leaves (the darker the leaf, the better it is for you) is their phyto­nutrient content. These so-called nutrients are components found in plants that are thought to promote health but cannot be labeled as nutrients because they are not essential for life. In other words, we don’t need them to live but we can use them to boost our health.

You’ve Got Options!

Greens range in flavor from mild (spinach, escarole) to peppery (arugula, mustard greens) to slightly bitter (kale). And if texture is your thing, you can opt for crunchy (escarole), soft (spinach) or chewy (kale). But why restrict yourself? Try combining them to create a nice balance.


In addition to being eaten raw, greens can be sautéed, roasted and even grilled. These cooking techniques cause the greens to wilt a bit and, in turn, allow you to consume heaps of them. Try this month’s recipe for Garlicky Spinach & Watercress and experiment with the sautéing technique using your favorite greens. This quick-cooking method not only preserves many of the vitamins; it also assures that you’ll get food on the table swiftly.

Storage Tip

Wrap your greens in a slightly damp paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag before storing them in the refrigerator. This prevents the greens from drying out and wilting in the fridge and will increase their storage life.

Popular Greens
Listed in order from mild to bitter: spinach, escarole, Swiss chard, beet greens, arugula, watercress, kale, mustard greens.

—Lourdes Castro, MS, RD

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About the Author

Lourdes Castro

Lourdes Castro IDEA Author/Presenter

As a registered dietitian, Lourdes is an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health and holds a Masters degree in nutrition from Columbia University. She is the author of three cookbooks Simply Mexican; Eat, Drink, Think in Spanish and Latin Grilling and is the director of the Biltmore Culinary Academy. Visit her website at