Superfood Saturday: The Benefits of Spinach

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
Spinach

When we hear about “superfoods,” we tend to think of exotic fruits and vegetables with hard-to-pronounce names and nutrients you never knew you needed. But spinach, a leafy green vegetable we’ve heard about since we were kids, has been identified as one of the most potent superfoods. Spinach is among the most nutrient-dense foods, meaning it delivers lots of vitamins and minerals but has very few calories. What you may not realize is how versatile it is and how easy it can be to add more to your diet, even if you didn’t love it when you were growing up. The benefits of spinach are countless, so be sure to start incorporating it into your weekly menu!

Here’s why you should be eating more spinach:

Nutrition Highlights

One of the most notable benefits of spinach is the high nutritious value it carries. Your mother was right: Spinach is among the most healthful foods you can eat. A cup of raw spinach has just seven calories, but it provides you with 56 percent of your RDA for vitamin A and 14 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. Eating spinach gives you smaller but significant amounts of vitamin K (which helps protect heart health) and the B-complex vitamins, such as folate, niacin and riboflavin. Spinach is also rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium, a mineral that plays a key role in keeping your metabolism active. On the Nutrisystem program, spinach is considered an unlimited non-starchy vegetable.

Spinach has more than twice as much iron as other vegetables. Iron is essential for your body’s production of red blood cells—iron deficiency, known as anemia, may afflict vegetarians and others who avoid red meat. It’s a common cause of persistent fatigue, especially among women. To note, iron from plants is not as easily absorbed as iron from animal sources—if you want to enhance your body’s absorption of iron, combine it with a food source high in vitamin C. Enjoy spinach in chili with vitamin C rich tomatoes, add spinach with vitamin C rich red peppers to an omelet, or even add vitamin C rich fruits like mandarin oranges or strawberries to your spinach salad. The benefits of spinach are not just nutritious, they’re versatile, too!

Buyer’s Guide

You will see bunches of fresh spinach in the produce department of your local supermarket and it is also frequently available rinsed, trimmed and bagged. Spinach leaves and cooked spinach can be found in the frozen foods aisle. When buying fresh, you may be able to choose from three different types, each with very similar nutrient content.

spinach

The leaves of savoy spinach are very dark green and crinkly. They tend to be crunchy and crisp, and to have the most noticeable spinach flavor. Savoy spinach is a good choice for salads, but because of all the wrinkles, minute amounts of dirt can get trapped in the leaves, so be sure to rinse it well before using. It also works well in recipes that need chopped leaves.

Smooth, spade-shaped flat-leaf spinach is easier to clean than savoy types, so it’s the kind most often used for dishes calling for whole leaves, such as omelets and sautés.

The very young leaves of baby spinach are very tender and have the mildest flavor. Baby spinach is a popular item on salad bars, and it’s the best choice for adding to smoothies and other dishes when you want the nutritional benefits but you don’t want to notice the taste.

When shopping for fresh bunches, look for leaves that are consistently dark green with lighter green, crisp stems. Avoid any that look damp, wilted, or yellowish. You can store fresh spinach in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for three to four days, but leave the bag open so moisture—which causes wilting and mold—can evaporate.

Just before you’re ready to use fresh spinach, drop the leaves in a large bowl of lukewarm water, stir gently with your hands, and then lift out them out to let the sand and grit settle. Repeat until there is no sand or grit on the bottom of the bowl and the spinach is clean. Pat the leaves dry before eating.

Raw vs. Cooked

Both fresh and prepared spinach are loaded with nutrients, but the cooking process affects which and how much of those nutrients you absorb when you eat the leafy green. Raw spinach contains oxalic acid, a natural substance that binds with calcium, making it unavailable for our bodies to use. Cooking spinach breaks down the oxalic acid and releases the calcium so your body can take it up. When spinach is heated, your body also absorbs more vitamin A and zinc from it. That doesn’t mean you should stop eating raw spinach. The fresh leaves deliver more vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, and potassium than you get from cooked spinach.

Here are six fresh ideas to get your spinach fix:

1. Simple Sauteed Spinach >

sautéed spinach

You can whip up this easy side dish in minutes (and reap the many benefits of spinach), with just salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil to bring out the flavor of the vegetable.

2. Apple Spinach Smoothie >

apple smoothie

Start your day off or fuel up your afternoon with a filling drink that blends the sweet taste of apples with the tartness of lemon juice. You get two servings of vegetables in each glass.

3. Fall Spinach Salad Apple Vinaigrette >

Apple Walnut Spinach Salad

This colorful salad hits all the flavor notes, with creamy goat cheese, tangy pomegranate, spicy radishes, and sweet and crunchy apples.

4. Skinny Spinach Dip >

skinny-spinach-dip

This version of the party-time classic lets you dip and dunk, while staying on track to your weight loss goal. Non-fat Greek yogurt provides the creaminess, while scallions, garlic and dill supply the flavor. The spinach gives you a serving or two of vegetables as you enjoy the festivities.

5. Spinach Stuffed Mussels and Shrimp >

Spinach-Stuffed-Mussels-and-Shrimp

Garlicky sautéed spinach is a zesty complement to seafood in this hearty dinner for two.

6. Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Chicken >

hasselback stuffed chicken

When you want a break from the same old chicken dishes, try this easy-to-prepare dinner that treats you to spinach two ways—mixed with rich ricotta cheese and blended with rice on the side.