You only have to take a look at Popeye to see why spinach is considered a super food. Sure, spinach may not give you the same super powers, but it is packed with enough nutrients to give your diet a healthy blast. Spinach is part of the chenopod super-food family, along with beets, chard, and quinoa. Add spinach to your healthy diet and you are keeping some good company. Let’s take a look at why spinach has gained super food status.
Years ago, spinach was not considered a very kid-friendly green. Typically, either canned or frozen spinach was served. This processed spinach could have a bitter taste or an unpleasant texture, and no matter how parents tried to disguise it, there was no getting around the fact that it wasn’t tasty.
However, with the increased availability of fresh spinach, the popularity increased considerably. Cooking fresh spinach properly, or serving it raw in salads, maintains the texture and flavor of the spinach making it much more palatable and, yes, tasty. These improved methods of serving spinach have made spinach a ‘new’ favorite super food.
The image of Popeye becoming super strong after eating a can of spinach is only a hint of what sorts of benefits spinach provides. The list of health benefits is very long, including off-the-chart amounts of
vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium potassium, and vitamin B6. For a complete meal, all you would need to add is an omega rich protein. That’s what makes spinach a super food!
What do all these nutrients do for you? Vitamins A helps prevent cholesterol from oxidizing inside our bodies. Spinach contains good levels of antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, manganese, zinc, and selenium. These antioxidants help lower the risk of several blood vessel related problems, such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Antioxidants are also your first defense against the free-radicals roaming around your body trying to damage your healthy cells.
If you eat one cup of fresh spinach leaves, your body is provided with almost 200% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K. This is a remarkable amount of vitamin K which will ensure you are receiving the ultimate nutrition for your bone health.
Magnesium is a nutrient that our body just loves, considering it is the fourth most abundant mineral in our body. Magnesium protects against heart disease and helps lower blood pressure. Another important mineral found in spinach is potassium, which maintains proper pH levels in our body fluids and regulates the kidneys, heart, and adrenal glands.
Spinach has been shown to do everything from fighting cancer to lowering the risk of diabetes. Because spinach helps build strong bones, we know it helps minimize the incidence of osteoporosis. Even skin conditions ranging from acne to psoriasis to cancer can benefit from adding a healthy dose of spinach to your diet. There is also evidence that spinach can reduce the incidence of migraines, cataracts, and memory loss.
When cooked, spinach provides the most benefit from its lutein and beta-carotene values. Cooking the spinach also neutralizes oxalic acid, which inhibits iron and calcium absorption and adds to the risk of developing kidney stones. If you are not at risk for kidney stones, raw spinach may be your preferred method for enjoying, but consider the health benefits of eating cooked fresh spinach, as well.
Popeye’s canned spinach may have introduced us to the super food qualities of spinach, but the taste just couldn’t sell it. I believe that if canned spinach was our only option, spinach would not be making the super food splash it is today. However, frozen spinach is often a tasty alternative.
If you choose fresh spinach, you will receive the same super nutrition in both regular size spinach or baby spinach. Be sure to choose spinach that is a rich, dark green, and not yellow in color. If the spinach in the produce section looks slimy, avoid it. That is a sign of spoilage. Store your spinach without washing it first as moisture will cause the spinach leaves to decay quickly. You only have about a 4 or 5 day shelf life, so buy as close to serving as possible. When ready to serve, wash leaves and dry thoroughly.
Begin your search for spinach dishes by going back in time to find classic menu fare. Let’s start with the always popular Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing. This is traditionally made with cold spinach on a plate topped with a hot sweet-sour dressing, red onions, crispy bacon, and slices of hard boiled egg.
Of course, another traditional dish that you’ll find on any good steakhouse menu is Creamed Spinach. This classic is made simply but elegantly by cooking the spinach until tender, then adding the ingredients which include garlic, heavy cream, a pinch of nutmeg, and sometimes a little Parmesan cheese.
Those two classic restaurant dishes are wonderful enough, but that’s just the beginning. Spinach goes well in a number of recipes including hot and cold pasta dishes, casseroles, and obviously a number of different salads. Spinach can form the basis for a dish, like spinach lasagna, spinach quiche, spinach soup, spinach salad, etc., or it can be a part of a dish like a ham and cheese filled omelet with spinach, pizza with spinach, fish and spinach wrap, shrimp stir fry with tangy spinach, or any number of recipes where spinach adds a nice element.
All the leafy greens like kale, collards, Swiss chard, and spinach deserve our attention. With spinach, we have the image of Popeye to help convince us that this is one super food we do not want to pass up. If you still haven’t gotten past the spinach of your childhood memory, now is the time. Fortify your nerve with a pile of great recipes, then go ahead and eat your spinach!
Image: flickr user slave2thetea, licensed by Creative Commons