You hear it all of the time these days in the media and from your friends, and this particular message is true. Eat more greens! It is thrilling as a nutritionist to know that at least one truthful message is being spread by the media. Many other recent nutrition headlines are exagerations, misinterpretations, or misunderstood reports of results from health studies. That is a whole other blog post that I will tackle… but for now… let’s tackle greens.
Why greens you ask? Because they are among the most nutrient dense foods in the world. Nutrient dense means “bang for your buck” essentially so the most nutrients packed into just a small amount of calories. Which nutrients you may ask? The list goes on and on. For today I am going to talk about spinach. I see you cringing! I want you to know that I am not going to force you to eat spinach from a can like Popeye.
One cup of spinach will provide you a whoping total of seven calories. SEVEN! In that seven calories you get almost two days worth of bone building vitamin K and half a days worth of vitamin A. Vitamin A provides your immune system the boost it needs to function properly and also aides in the production of red blood cells. Additionally vitamin A helps your eyes adapt to dark and light. Not to mention how vitamin A is an antioxidant that fights off cellular damage. This is just the beginning of the story.
Spinach is also a good source of folate and vitamin C. Folate is a nutrient that helps our bodies build and break down necessary proteins and DNA. Folate is also essential to our cardiovascular health and iron status. Vitamin C is needed in our diet since it builds collagen, reinforcing your immune system, as well as making neurotransmitters and hormones for proper brain and organ function. Feed your brain spinach!
There are also lots of phyto-nutrients in spinach which are beginning to be studied. These are plant compounds (which sometimes gives the plant it’s color) that in preliminary studies are being found to be potentially anti inflammatory, and to have anti oxidant properties. With all of the toxic compounds that we unavoidably come into contact with daily from just the air that we breath let alone the food we may be eating shouldn’t we be maximizing our foods that fight off cell damage that can be caused by pollution in our environment?
How do I eat spinach so that I don’t hate it? And to maximize it’s health benefits?
To cook spinach I am not providing a recipe. Know why? Because you can add it to anything. Seriously, aside from perhaps desserts or muffins, ANYTHING. Stir frys, breakfast eggs, casseroles, sandwiches, roasts, and side dishes. Just go nuts. Start adding it where ever you can. I add just a handful of spinach/ greens to my egg pan in the morning right before I pour my egg mixture onto the skillet. Then I have a handful of raw spinach/ greens with olive oil, salt and pepper on the side (or dressing if I have dressing made in the fridge). Salad for breakfast?!?! I know I am crazy. But trust me this is a good idea. Then at lunch time I add a handful of spinach to what ever dinner I had the night before. At dinner… usually part of a salad. It goes with every type of ethnic food I can think of. Don’t be scared, just try it!
I have three words of advice on spinach to keep it healthy…
1) If you can, buy it organic. If not no worries. Less pesticides is always better.
2) Please do not over cook it. The idea with spinach is to either eat it raw (for maximum nutritional benefit) or to just lightly cook it. Add it to the last step of cooking ( ie: last one minute or so of cooking) so that it is a little wilted, but not over cooked and completely soggy.
3) The fresher the better. When it is in season and you have a farmers market nearby, it is best bought there. If not no problem get it at your grocery store. It is not bad for you when you get it at the grocery store it is still great for you! It just has been sitting around a little longer so some of the nutrients may have dissipated.
Now get out there and start spreading the spinach all over your kitchen!
Have a healthy day 🙂