Spinach is on just about everyone’s Top 10 Foods to Eat – from health and fitness magazines, to medical experts to the media. And if not spinach specifically, the list certainly contains dark leafy green veggies like kale, swiss chard, beet greens, collard greens or broccoli. Spinach is touted for being rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help in the prevention of cancer and mental decline as explained by Canadian Registered Dietitian, Leslie Beck. The message is simple – eat your spinach!
I’m not dissing other veggies – after all if we’re trying to get 7-8 servings per day – we need them all! But for now, let’s focus on spinach. Spinach is one of my favourite dark green veggies because it’s…
- mild flavoured
- versatile – prepare it raw or cooked and toss it into just about everything
- readily available year-round – fresh, frozen or canned
- fast and easy to use
Here’s a little more information about spinach, followed by links to some great recipes.
Raw vs Cooked Spinach
To get the maximum nutritional benefit of spinach, use it both cooked and raw. If you really want to push the issue, cooked spinach is nutritionally better than raw spinach for two key reasons.
First, cooked spinach is much more compact (at least 6 times more) than fresh spinach, so if you eat 1/2 cup cooked spinach you’re getting six times more nutrients than if you ate 1/2 cup raw spinach!
Second, your body can absorb more of the nutrients and antioxidants in spinach when it is cooked, for example calcium and the antioxidant lutein (a phytochemical important to the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration).
But be careful, boiling it in water will cause it to lose water soluble vitamins like Vitamin C and Vitamin B (folate, thiamin). Instead, try steaming, sauteeing, or stirfrying spinach. Or add it to hot dishes like pasta, soups and sauces towards the end of the cooking process.
Did you Know?!
- A squeeze of lemon juice to spinach will boost the absorption of non-heme iron.
- When cooked or eaten with a small amount of fat (butter, oil or even fat from other food on your plate (eg. meat, cheese)) your body will absorb the fat soluble vitamins (A, E and K) in spinach more easily.
Fresh, Frozen or Canned Spinach
As a gardener, I’m convinced nothing compares to fresh spinach picked straight from the garden. For the two to three weeks that we pick fresh spinach, nothing else will do.
But alas, the season is short and if we’re going to have spinach any other time of year, we head to the store. Here you can get fresh, frozen or canned spinach any time of year.
All three are excellent options. In fact, because frozen or canned spinach is processed just hours after its harvested, it often retains more nutrients and vitamins than fresh spinach that’s spent a few days travelling the country and sitting in grocery stores.
Fresh spinach is best eaten within 3 to 4 days. After that, your spinach may still look good – but it begins to lose it’s nutritional value rather quickly. For example the folate that we’re so eager to get from spinach deteriorates quite quickly and will often be lost by 7 days after harvesting.
Spinach Ideas to Try
Don’t let that fresh spinach in your crisper go to waste! Toss a handful or two of washed spinach (I always wash spinach – even it it’s organic, triple washed spinach) into whatever you’re making. Because it’s so mild, it won’t alter the flavour – you’ll just get great colour and those nutritional benefits. But remember, add it towards the end of the cooking cycle. It will only take a minute or two for it to cook with whatever you’re making.
Add spinach to:
soup – chop and add in the last two minutes before serving
chili – chop and add in the last two minutes before serving
spaghetti sauce – chop and add in the last two minutes before serving
pizza – sautee with garlic and add to pizza before baking
sandwiches – add fresh
wraps – add fresh
salads – add fresh to any type of salad – egg salad, chicken salad, house salad, caesar salad
pasta dishes – chop and add in the last two minutes before serving
stir fries – chop and add in the last two minutes before serving
casseroles – chop and toss in with other veggies
egg dishes – chop and toss in with other veggies
smoothies – blend together with other ingredients – use blueberries if the green colour is a concern
If you prefer more detailed instructions, I’ll be posting several of these recipes over the next week.