Kale may be getting all the attention lately, but in my opinion spinach is the tried and true superfood. Ranked as one of the healthiest vegetables, and for good reason, this bright leafy green, which is one of my favorites, is a nutritional powerhouse packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and an abundance of disease-preventing phytochemicals.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, K, and of minerals such as calcium, manganese, folate, magnesium, copper, and potassium. It’s also rich in iron, an essential mineral that transports oxygen throughout the body. Instead of relying on a multivitamin, try to work spinach into your diet. The dietary fiber in spinach regulates digestive health, and there are only 25 calories in three cups of raw spinach!
Five Major Health Benefits of Spinach
- Cancer protection. Spinach is one of the vegetables with the highest antioxidant content. Antioxidants protect cells against free radical damage that can potentially lead to cancer. Glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid are two major antioxidants found in spinach that help ward off damage caused by free radicals. Additionally, phytochemicals in spinach are thought to be protective in halting the proliferation or spread of cancer cells. Spinach consumption has even been found to offset some of the damaging carcinogens in processed foods.
- Healthy heart help. Spinach is chock full of compounds that play a role in maintaining a healthy heart. Potassium and magnesium are integral in lowering blood pressure, and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Folate plays a role in protecting the body against the amino acid homocysteine, high levels of which are a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Spinach consumption has been associated with decreased risk of atherosclerosis — thickening and hardening of the arteries that homocysteine promotes by damaging blood vessels and causing blood clots. These leafy greens may help prevent age-related cognitive decline as well.
- Vision care. Two important carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, protect the retina of the eye from free radical damage and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Studies have shown that consumption of 6.9 milligrams a day of spinach (the equivalent of two cups of raw spinach) may be beneficial in preventing macular degeneration. These carotenoids coupled with the vitamin A in spinach helps support the maintenance of healthy eyes and vision.
- Bone-building boost. The vitamin K in spinach is thought to increase bone mineral density in individuals with osteoporosis, thereby reducing the risk of bone fracture. The calcium and magnesium in spinach build and maintain strong bones and teeth.
- Brain functioning support. Researchers at the University of South Florida found that the super antioxidants in spinach were responsible for reducing levels of inflammation in the brain and thus slowed the decline of brain functioning with aging.
No Excuses: Eat Your Spinach
Spinach is very easy to find in the produce section of the grocery store. Choose bright green and tender leaves or the pre-packaged, pre-washed kind that can go right into the salad spinner or microwave. Avoid leaves that are yellow, bruised, wilted, or have a slimy coat as these are signs of decay. If it’s not pre-washed, wait until just before using it to run under water; this way, it will maintain its freshness. When kept in an airtight plastic bag, spinach can be stored safely in the refrigerator for two to three days.
Spinach is mild in flavor, making it versatile enough for a number of different dishes. You can easily add it raw or cooked to sandwiches, pastas, or soups. I like to blend it into breakfast smoothies for a nutritional boost (trust me, you can’t taste the spinach!), toss the leaves into salads, or sauté in garlic and extra virgin olive oil (my childrens’ favorite) for a simple side dish. It only takes a couple of minutes to cook.
With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, why not start the meal with this healthy appetizer? Toss spinach, parmesan cheese, and bruschetta topping (tomato, onion, and garlic mixture found at most deli counters and gourmet grocery stores) together in a bowl. Add cubed turkey and it makes the most fantastic leftovers!