Know Your Calories
1 cup raw spinach = 7 calories
½ cup cooked spinach = 21 calories
Kudos to Popeye for making spinach such a popular dish among children. Yeah, right! Who are we kidding? Most kids won’t go near spinach, even if our beloved Popeye is promoting it. But Popeye aside, here is the real reason spinach should be part of your diet.
A power-house of nutrients, spinach is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, carotenoids, and the B vitamins, including folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin B6. It is one of the most important antioxidative vegetables, and that is mostly due to the abundance of flavonoids. Spinach contains more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds, which help fight cancer and inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease.
Spinach can claim a special place among vegetables in terms of its phytonutrient content, including carotenoids that help maintain healthy vision. Two of the carotenoids that are especially plentiful in spinach, lutein and zeaxanthin, act as antioxidants in several regions of the eye, protecting and maintaining healthy cells.
Although spinach is a good source of minerals, such as calcium, iron, and zinc, the oxalates present in spinach reduces their absorption by the body. For example, one cup of boiled spinach contains about 285 milligrams calcium, and you can expect to absorb about 10% of that, or about 25 to 30 milligrams of calcium. The oxalates in spinach may be a problem if you are prone to certain types of kidney stones that are comprised of calcium oxalate. The best way to get the most nutrients out of spinach is to alternately eat it both raw and cooked.
Spinach grows best in sandy soil, which is why it needs to be washed really well, but really gently too because it bruises easily, especially delicate baby spinach. Wash it just before using, as water on the leaves can cause them to decay during storage. One cleaning tip for cooks is to submerge the spinach in a large bowl of water. Swish gently with your finger, and then lift the leaves out and place them in a colander in the sink. Drain the sandy water from the bowl and repeat this process once more, then spin dry. The thing to avoid is draining the spinach and water into a colander as that just dumps the sand back on the leaves.
One question we get asked often is do you have to wash bagged triple-washed spinach that you purchase in the grocery store. No, but it’s totally up to you. When purchasing spinach look for bags that contain perky, vibrant-looking leaves, not wilted or bruised ones with signs of yellowing. Loose spinach in produce bins should also be firm and free of bruises. Buy organic, if possible, as spinach is one of the famous “Dirty Dozen” foods tainted with pesticide residues.
Elaine loves spinach omelets, spinach quiche, and any kind of spinach salad. Catherine’s favorite way to eat spinach is creamed with leeks, or in the famous Indian dish palek paneer (palek means spinach in Hindu and paneer is an Indian cheese). She also likes it as a salad with oranges and a sesame dressing; sautéed with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic, or in a healthy green drink morning drink. Spinach makes a fantastic filling for lasagna (and other pastas), vegetarian quesadillas, enchiladas, or burritos, and dips. Of course, there’s spinach soup, lentil salad with spinach, spinach pizza, and yummy Greek spinach pies. Does this list have you drooling?
We owe Popeye a big thanks for bringing spinach in to the spotlight. Maybe Sponge Bob could do the same for broccoli, and Bart Simpson could fall in love with kale.
Stay healthy and eat your greens! Catherine and Elaine