A few years ago, spinach, which enjoyed the spotlight for many decades as one of the healthiest vegetables around, got pushed aside as America went through a kale phase. Everything kale dominated the produce aisles and online recipe blogs — from chips to smoothies to salads. But even with all the clever ways to prepare it, many of us found that kale was just difficult to prepare and simply …. unpalatable (sorry, kale lovers!). So spinach is making somewhat of a comeback as people want a healthy leafy green that’s easy to prepare and tastes great.
There’s no arguing that spinach is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, important for maintaining bone health, as well as an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and folic acid. It’s also a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, and vitamins B2 and B6. A one-cup serving of raw spinach has only about 30 calories and 4 grams of fiber. And it’s known to restore energy and increase vitality, which is why depictions of Popeye, the beloved sailor man, when he needed strength to defeat his cartoon enemies in a jiffy, burst open a can of the stuff.
But with all the ways to buy – canned, frozen, bagged, or fresh — which is the healthiest? What about cooked versus raw? Check out this list of “secrets” about spinach to help you answer those questions:
- Fresh is best. The best way to benefit from spinach’s nutrients is to buy it fresh and eat it the same day. Frozen is a good choice, but if you use frozen spinach, simply let it thaw and use it in your recipe. There’s no need to cook it again (it’s been cooked once, before processing), which will reduce its level of folate, an important B vitamin for heart health.
- Cooking or sautéing spinach increases its nutritional benefits. This is because spinach contains oxalic acid, an organic substance that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron. When you eat spinach that has been cooked, your body absorbs higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lutein. But raw spinach is still a great choice, and you’ll actually get the benefit of more Vitamin C absorption when you eat it raw.
- Pairing spinach with vitamin C increases absorption of iron. So try a spinach salad with Mandarin oranges or strawberries for not only a blast of flavor but even more nutritional benefits.
- It’s good for digestive health. Spinach eases constipation and protects the mucus lining of the stomach, and flushes toxins from the colon.
- Baby spinach is just as healthy as mature leaf spinach. Some people prefer the tender, baby spinach leaves for salads and reserve the larger, sturdier leaves for cooking. The good news is research shows they are both are high in nutrients.
Additional buying and storing tips:
- If you buy spinach in a bag, make sure it’s a sealed plastic bag and store it in the fridge. It will keep for about 4 days this way.
- Do not wash spinach before storing.
- Choose bright, vibrant-looking leaves, not ones that have yellowed. Research shows that bright green spinach leaves have higher concentrations of Vitamin C than pale ones.
- Do not store cooked spinach as it will not keep very well. It’s best to cook and eat it right away.
Fun Fact: Americans consumed 33% more spinach in 1931 when Popeye became popular!