Spinach Cooking, Recipes, Nutrition, Health
We love spinach! It’s so nutritious, healthy, versatile, easy to cook, fun to grow, delicious…
And you can add spinach to everything. Well maybe not quite EVERYTHING, but there’s spinach dip, pie, quiche, lasagna, salad, soup, pizza, pasta, ravioli, bread, frittata, even creamed and pickled spinach – with endless variations.
The versatility of spinach alone should motivate us to eat it. But of course we – or at least I – want food to be nutritious as well as delicious.
I already knew spinach was good for me, but just to be sure, I spent the morning looking up spinach facts, which improved my understanding of why spinach is such an amazingly wonderful vegetable.
I’m delighted to pass along the best info I found on the nutritional value of spinach and spinach health benefits, how to grow, buy and store spinach, how and why to cook spinach, the downsides of spinach, and some of our favorite fresh spinach recipes.
I didn’t realize there is so much to say about spinach, but I’ll try to be brief!
Nutritional Value of Spinach:
According to Wikipedia, spinach is extremely nutritious and high in anti-oxidants “especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled”. It is high in Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K, magnesium, manganese, folate, betaine, iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid, copper, protein, phosphorus, zinc, niacin, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Whew!
In case that all seems too good to be true, there is a downside to spinach nutrition, and that is oxalic acid. From Wikipedia:
“…spinach contains iron absorption-inhibiting substances, including high levels of oxalate, which can bind to the iron to form ferrous oxalate and render much of the iron in spinach unusable by the body. In addition to preventing absorption and use, high levels of oxalates remove iron from the body.”
Spinach is high in calcium, but oxalates also bind with calcium, decreasing its absorption. Calcium and zinc also limit iron absorption. The calcium in spinach is the least bio-available of calcium sources. The body can absorb half of the calcium in broccoli, yet only around 5% of the calcium in spinach.”
But don’t despair. According to this article on spinach from whfoods, it’s not as dire as all that. Spinach has enough iron and calcium, that you’ll still absorb a fair amount, with very few calories – not to mention all the other nutrients that make spinach so worthwhile!
Spinach Health Benefits:
Apart from the oxalate issue, spinach seems to be good for everything from arthritis to zinc deficiency.
According to a Livestrong article by Maria O’Brien, spinach fights cancer, improves cardiovascular health & brain function, and protects against aging.
According to Health Diaries.com, spinach is an anti-inflammatory, good for blood pressure, vision, immunity, skin and bones, and the nervous system.
Naturally Healthy Eating lists 10 good things about spinach, but cautions that spinach is an allergen for some people, that it should be eaten organic, and avoided if you have kidney or gall bladder problems, or gout (purines). Plus, goitrogenic compounds in spinach can interfere with thyroid functioning. Cooking is the antidote for that one.
- Tender bright green baby spinach is tastiest and healthiest.
- Cooking spinach reduces oxalic acid, making more nutrients available (although it doesn’t need much cooking).
- Juicing is the healthiest way to consume raw spinach, or whizzed in a smoothie.
- Eating spinach with foods high in Vit C increases iron absorption (same as with all plant foods).
- Fresh spinach is healthier than frozen (no surprise there).
- Spinach helps constipation, prevents ulcers and gives a radiant complexion.
How to Grow Spinach:
One drawback to spinach that nobody mentioned in the above articles is the cost.
Since spinach shrinks down to nothing when cooked, a pound of spinach doesn’t go far. Plus, it’s one of the dirty dozen that it’s recommended we buy organic, at $6- $8 for a 1 lb clamshell of baby spinach! Ouch!
If you have a few square feet of garden space, sprinkle it thickly with spinach seed, keep it watered, then cut as needed with scissors. It’s a nice feeling to pick a pound of organic spinach that you grew yourself, and save $6 or $8.
Spinach is a cool weather crop that you can plant 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. Organic Gardening’s Spinach Growing Guide says to start early and plant frequently.
You can also plant spinach in the fall, and in some climates it will winter over. In colder climate zones, you can cover it to extend the growing season in spring and fall.
How to Cook Spinach (or not):
Several times in my research, I read that spinach should be boiled!! to reduce the oxalic acid. It goes against my grain to boil anything, so I settle for steaming spinach lightly, just until wilted, and discarding the water.
I understand too that spinach like other tender greens, doesn’t take kindly to being frozen. Nutrition and taste are definitely lost.
But (and this is a big but), I like to use non-organic frozen chopped spinach in my creamed spinach because it costs about 75% less than buying fresh, and requires no prep time except thawing.
I also use frozen chopped spinach to make spinach dip, or spinach lasagna. It comes down to a choice between eating spinach not fresh and organic, or not eating it at all.
Baby spinach not only is milder and more tender than bunched spinach, but it just needs a light rinse, if at all, not 2 full washes like bunched spinach. And you don’t have to discard the stems that you paid for. So I guess that’s why baby spinach is more popular – and more expensive.
Juicing and blending are supposed to be ideal ways to eat raw spinach because that breaks down the cell walls and makes it more digestible.
But sometimes a spinach salad is just what I need, oxalates or not. I can always eat some broccoli at the next meal.
Buying and Storing Spinach
Spinach should have crisp, bright deep green leaves for best taste and nutrition. Don’t waste your money on wilted or yellowed spinach.
Spinach is known as a poor keeper, and should be used up within 2 – 3 days after getting it home from the store. After all, it has already sat around in a warehouse and store, and has traveled a long way. So spinach doesn’t have much time left to hang out in your fridge before it expires.
For bunch spinach, don’t wash it first before storing it, and wrap it in a paper towel or an old dishtowel to absorb extra moisture, inside a plastic bag or produce bag.
Savvy Vegetarian’s Fresh Spinach Recipes:
You can improve almost any dish by adding spinach to it. To give you some ideas, here are some of our favorite recipes featuring spinach.