By Sarah Colman Carlson, RDN, CDCES
Spinach is a “superfood” to consider as a regular part of a healthy diet. Its great served raw or cooked, and is packed with nutrients. If you want to optimize nutrient intake, consider cooked spinach instead of raw. When heated, a pound of spinach wilts to about 3 cups. Talk about nutrient density!
Nutrients and Health Benefits
Spinach is a fantastic source of vitamins A, D and K and a good source of folate, niacin, riboflavin, niacin. Minerals in spinach include iron, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium and zinc. One cup of cooked spinach has 4.5 grams fiber. Spinach contains lutein and zeaxanthin, a carotenoid with anti-inflammatory properties. Lutein is known to improve or even prevent age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss.
For optimal absorption of calcium and iron in spinach it’s best to eat it cooked because the oxalic acid that binds these minerals breaks down under high heat. Vitamin C, folate and B vitamins are water soluble so are reduced when spinach is boiled or steamed.
Spinach is very low in calories and carbohydrate. One cup of raw spinach has 7 calories and 1 gram carbohydrate. A cup of cooked spinach has 40 calories and 7 grams carbohydrate.
Cooking and Serving Suggestions
Fresh spinach must be washed to remove dirt. Packaged spinach labeled “ready to eat” is prewashed and can be cooked or served directly from the package. To reduce bitterness, trim the stems from mature spinach leaves. As a general rule of thumb, one cup raw equals 1/3 cup when cooked. In addition to fresh spinach consider keeping a box of frozen spinach or a can on hand.
Consider blanching spinach for optimal nutrient preservation. Dip raw spinach in boiling water for one minute then plunge into a bowl of cold water. This cooking method kills bacteria and reduces oxalic acid, which binds the iron and calcium in spinach.
Make a salad with raw spinach or add a handful to your favorite smoothie. When cooking, add spinach to soups, omelets, frittatas, lasagna, quiche and stir-frys. For a quick, simple spinach dish, sauté baby spinach leaves with olive oil and garlic. Spinach can also be made into pesto, added to dips or savory muffins.
Try this Balanced Habits™ Spinach Recipe
Springtime Spinach Salad
2 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
2 tsp. Raw Honey
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Finger Pinch Kosher Salt
2 Finger Pinch Black Pepper
Place all of the above ingredients into a bowl or jar with a lid and whisk or shake until fully combined.
1 Bunch Watercress, stems discarded
5 oz. bag Baby Spinach Leaves
2 cups Sliced Strawberries
1 small Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Toasted Walnut Pieces
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
Rotisserie Chicken, all meat and skin removed
Place the above four salad ingredients (thru bell pepper) into a bowl. Toss. Divide to small bowls or dinner plate. Sprinkle walnuts over and drizzle dressing over.
1 Heaping cup Salad + 1/2 Tbsp. Dressing = 1 unit portion carbs & fat
Complete Meal Portion
2 oz. cooked chicken
1 unit portion salad
3 oz. cooked chicken
2 x 1 unit portion salad
4 oz. cooked chicken
Up to 3 x 1 unit portion salad
5 oz. cooked chicken
Up to 4 x 1 unit portion salad
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