In the 1930s, spinach-loving cartoon character Popeye made his way into the hearts of many Americans. And while spinach may not actually make your muscles instantly stronger after just a serving as it did for Popeye, it certainly packs a nutritional punch. A rich source of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, spinach can be added to many dishes to boost your overall health and well-being. And unlike Popeye, you don’t need to eat it from a can—actually, raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed spinach yields the best flavor and maximum health benefits.
Spinach has small, bright green, slightly oval leaves. When banded or bundled, spinach stems are three or four inches long. The stems are often trimmed to an inch or less when packaged in a bag or container.
Spinach releases a unique bitter/sweet flavor combination that is distinctive from other greens. When enjoyed raw in salads, it has a more pronounced flavor than does lettuce, and it’s slightly sweet. When cooked, it’s a robust and slightly acidic green that holds up well by itself, in soups, lasagna, and stir-fry dishes.
Fresh bundled and bagged spinach is readily available in supermarkets throughout the year. Since it’s a cool weather crop, you’ll also find it at farmers’ markets in the spring and fall.
In the US and Europe, spinach is at its best during spring and fall. However, most supermarkets stock it all year long.
Spinach should be kept cool. At the farmers’ market, try to choose greens stored in an ice chest or, at the very least, in displays replenished frequently throughout the day. At the grocery, select spinach from a cooled display, either on ice or in a chilled section.
Avoid greens with leaves that are wilted, yellowed, or have little holes, indicating insect damage. Inspect the stalks to make sure they’re firm and unblemished.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “The Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides. Spinach appears on the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which means it’s one of the most important vegetables to buy organic to avoid pesticides.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Store unwashed spinach in its original bag or container in the crisper for up to one week. Alternately, wrap banded or bundled spinach leaves in a loose, damp paper towel and store them in your crisper for three to five days. If you plan to cook spinach within a day, soak the leaves in a tub of cool, clear water for a few minutes to remove any dirt, then shake dry and loosely wrap kitchen paper around them before storing in the crisper.
If the spinach is prewashed in a bag or container, it should be ready to use after a quick rinse under running water. For banded or bundled greens, soak them in a tub of cool, clean water for a few minutes, then rinse and shake them to remove grit. Some people prefer to use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. There is rarely a need to cut spinach because it’s already bite-sized to start and wilts further when cooked.
Spinach stems are okay to eat. However, they often become stringy when cooked. To avoid this stringy texture, snip them off before heating. When adding spinach to a baked dish such as pizza or lasagna, sauté the spinach first until just wilted, then let it rest on paper towels for a few minutes to reduce excess moisture in the prepared dish.
Keep in mind, if the recipe calls for one cup of cooked spinach, you’ll need at least three cups raw greens to meet this measurement.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Spinach is one of the most powerfully nutritious foods of its kind. It’s low in fat, cholesterol, and calories, and contains high amounts of protein, fiber, and a number of health-supportive vitamins and minerals. In short, it has almost everything you could want from a vegetable. This specific combination of nutrients may help manage diabetes, prevent cancer and asthma, lower blood pressure , promote greater bone density, and prevent constipation.
Cautionary note: Spinach has a moderate number of naturally occurring oxalates, which are organic acids. For some people, these substances can become too strong and cause health problems. If you already have digestive, gallbladder, or kidney issues, consult with your doctor before adding large amounts of spinach to your diet.
- Spinach was first cultivated more than 2,000 year ago in ancient Persia, now known as Iran.
- It takes approximately 600,000 spinach seeds to produce one acre of plants.
- Italian Renaissance woman Catherine de Medici greatly favored spinach, and when she left Florence, Italy to marry King Henry II in France, she took her chefs with her, who prepared the vegetable for her in a variety of ways. This is why dishes created on a bed of spinach are known as “a la Florentine.”