Image: slave2thetea via Flickr

Remember the old Popeye cartoons? Popeye always ate his spinach when he needed super strength. The benefits of spinach are no cartoon story. This leafy star is often referred to as a “superfood” and has more demonstrated health benefits than almost any other food. It is amazingly high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants making it a food you should be consuming regularly.

Spinach contains lutein, beta-carotene, glutathione, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, polyphenols, betaine, calcium and vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, & K to name a few.  Aside from all the individual nutrients, it is the combination and the way the nutrients work together that makes spinach so powerful. In studies, high spinach consumption has been shown to lower almost every type of cancer. Spinach is highly beneficial for eye health and prevention of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.  This heart-friendly vegetable is packed with carotenoids which help protect the artery walls.

Markets generally carry spinach year-round making it a perfect daily staple. There are three different varieties of spinach: Savoy (curly leaves), Semi-Savoy (slightly curly leaves), and Flat or Smooth Leaf (smooth leaves). One can purchase spinach fresh, canned, or frozen and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Gentle cooking releases certain carotenoids making them more available to the body, but will degrade other vitamins, so eat them both raw and cooked.

Planning a garden? This cool weather crop grows best in fall and seeds need cool weather to germinate. Remember to wash spinach thoroughly since dirt and sand is easily trapped in the stems and leaves. One method described in the bestselling book, Super Foods: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, is to place your spinach in a bowl, fill with cool water and allow the dirt to sink to the bottom. Lift out spinach, drain and repeat until all grit is removed. The author does not recommend soaking the greens since the spinach will loose nutrients. Several companies now sell fresh, triple-washed, bagged spinach which is extremely convenient for cooking and allows you to avoid the rinsing chore.

Image: norwichnuts via Flickr

For all the wonderful health benefits of spinach, there is one area of concern: pesticides. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that spinach is highly sprayed and it appears on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of top 12 most sprayed fruits and vegetables. The EWG recommends purchasing organic spinach whenever possible since high levels of pesticide residue can still be found after rinsing.

There are thousands of uses for spinach. Spinach can be freely substituted for lettuce and is wonderful steamed or sautéed with a little parmesan, pepper and lemon juice. Because of its high water content, spinach reduces dramatically when heated so use plenty. It can be cooked into a variety of casseroles, bakes, and lasagnas. Make beautiful spinach salads, curries, pesto, omelets, quiche, scrambles, and dips. You can even throw in a handful into a fruit smoothie. The next time you need a dinner idea, think spinach and show your body some nutrient-packed love.

Sources:

Pratt, Steven and Matthews, Kathy. SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life
US Department of Agriculture
Environmental Working Group
weekendgardener.net
Image: norwichnuts and slave2thetea via Flickr