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The Health Benefits of Spinach
Spinach is an impressively healthy leafy green, packed with vitamins and protein. At just seven calories a cup, eating spinach is a great way to get essential nutrients in your diet without any guilt. Outside of dieting, spinach has a number of health benefits.
Spinach can help build bones and muscles through the various vitamins and nutrients in each leaf. Spinach is a significant source of vitamin K, which helps your bones retain their calcium. One cup of spinach has about 3% of your daily intake of calcium. Spinach contains other minerals which are useful to your bone health like manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and zinc. For your muscles, spinach contains the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, which plays a role in strengthening the heart muscle and can prevent cardiovascular disease.
Eating spinach can help improve eyesight and reduce the risk of cataracts. Spinach contains lutein, which helps your eyes protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays. Lutein can also help prevent macular degeneration, an eye disease which can lead to blindness if left untreated. Spinach also contains beta-carotene, which helps the eyes maintain a healthy level of moisture.Spinach has high levels of potassium, which helps lower high blood pressure. Along with potassium, spinach also contains folate, which helps relax blood vessels, further lowering blood pressure.
How to Buy Spinach
Spinach is available fresh year round, but it is at its peak in early spring. There are a few different types of spinach, all with very similar flavor profiles. The differences are mostly with texture and color. Flat leaf spinach is smooth and is the most common type of spinach, because it easiest to clean. Curly, or crinkly, leaf spinach is often found at supermarkets or farmers markets, in bunches with the stems still attached. Sometimes, you may also find red leaf lettuce, which has a brilliant reddish, purple hue which is best for vibrant salads, since the color changes when cooked.
When buying any type of fresh spinach, looks for leaves that are bright green. They should not have any dark spots or yellowing. The leaves and the stems should be sturdy and not wilted at all.
Most people buy pre-washed spinach in a bag or plastic box. This spinach lasts at most a week in the container, wilting and developing a slime, sometimes after three days. Buy pre-cut, pre-washed spinach only when you’re planning on using it immediately.
If buying unwashed spinach or spinach in a bunch, be sure to wash the spinach thoroughly. Spinach collects a lot of sand and dirt in the folds of its leaves and stems. As well, spinach sometimes harbors harmful bacteria, such as E. Coli and Salmonella. Use a vegetable wash and soak the leaves in water for up to 30 minutes in order to ensure that all sand and bacteria is off the leaves.
Exposure to air causes spinach to lose nutrients and to wilt. When storing spinach, use an airtight container. Placing a sheet of paper towel in with spinach helps absorb any moisture and prevents the spinach from wilting, keeping it fresh and crisp.
Spinach Recipes and Side Dishes
Spinach is such a versatile leafy green that it can be served alone, raw or cooked, or it can be incorporated into nearly any dish to add a punch of nutrition. Spinach can be added to your eggs in the morning, or cooked into a soup, added to a curry, and mixed in with rice.
Spinach is great as a salad base or ingredient. It can be mixed with other types of greens and lettuces, or as the only type of leaf in the salad. A raw spinach salad can constitute an entire meal when mixed with cheese, some protein (like eggs or bacon), and a dressing.
Another great way to incorporate raw spinach into your diet is to add it to your smoothie. Spinach does not add very much flavor but adds a whole bunch of nutrients to your already healthy smoothie.
Spinach can also be sautéed. Sautéed spinach is simple: add oil to a hot pan and then add the spinach. Other spices, like salt, pepper, garlic, and chili flakes can be added as well. Spinach cooks down quite significantly when sautéed, so you need a lot—probably the whole container if serving even two people. While some of the nutrients are lost when cooking spinach, this is balanced out by the fact that so much more spinach is used.
Easy Slow Cooker Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Slow Cooker
- 1 16-ounce bag chopped frozen spinach
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella or smoked mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup onion, diced
- ½ cup sour cream
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ¼ tsp. chili flakes
Combine spinach, mozzarella, onion, sour cream, cream cheese, artichoke hearts, salt, black pepper, and chili flakes in the slow cooker. Cook on high for two hours. Serve with bread, chips, or vegetables and enjoy!
Creamy Broccoli and Spinach Dip
- 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 5 cups broccoli florets
- ¼ tsp. chili flakes
- 4 cups spinach, packed
- 1 cup ricotta (or cottage cheese if ricotta is unavailable)
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 tbsp. fresh basil, shredded
- ¼ cup finely chopped almonds
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Sautée Pan
- Mixing Bowl
Heat a pan over medium heat. Add olive oil once hot. Add the clove of garlic. Cook for one minute until fragrant
Add the broccoli with a pinch of salt. Add three tablespoons of water. Add chili flakes. Toss to combine and let cook until the broccoli is bright green and tender, about seven minutes.
Add the spinach to the pan and cook until just wilted, about one minute. Transfer ingredients in pan to a colander and squeeze out any excess water, pressing down on hot spinach with a spoon. Let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, basil, almonds, and parmesan in a bowl. Coarsely chop the spinach and broccoli and add to bowl with ricotta mixture. Stir well to combine.
Serve immediately or keep in refrigerator, covered, for up to three days.