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Superfood: Spinach

Wanna feel like Popeye? Spinach contains a heaping helping antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and vitamins that promote vision and muscle health.
Superfood: Spinach

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It's not easy being green, but it doesn't have to be hard to eat that way! A sprinkling of spinach may look pretty on a plate, but this vegetable also packs a ton of nutritional benefits. Hidden in that pile of greens are antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and vitamins that promote vision and bone health [1] [2] [3].

Un-be-leaf-able—Why It's Super

Spinach is known for its high levels of vitamin A, giving every forkful of spinach immunity boosting, vision protecting, skin enhancing powers [4]. And move over, milk, because there’s a new player in the bone building game. A cup of cooked spinach packs up to 12% of the recommended daily dose of calcium and enough vitamin K to help prevent bone loss [3].

In addition to this veggie's vast vitamin boost, studies suggest spinach's glycolipids may help prevent the development of tumors [5]. Plus, the galactolipids (not to be confused with Battle Star Galactica) in spinach have been linked to the prevention of inflammatory diseases like arthritis [1].

And it turns out Popeye may have been onto something—a recent study found that some compounds in spinach may improve muscle efficiency [6]. Spinach is also a good source of iron—almost the same amount of beef per serving! But don't give up the steak just yet—research suggests the body more easily absorbs iron from meat than from spinach and other plants.

Lean, Green, Nutrition Machine—Your Action Plan

Yet even with its rich nutritional makeup, spinach has been linked in recent years to both salmonella and E-coli outbreaks. And consumers of raw spinach always run the risk of ingesting pesticides and potentially harmful bacteria. The only way to be 100% certain those greens are safe to savor? Cooking. Four minutes should kill off virtually all bacteria, but a more practical option is cooking for one to two minutes to maintain the texture and nutrition of the greens while still neutralizing 99% of contaminants.

Fresh spinach is available throughout the year. Though most supermarkets feature the savoy kind, spinach also comes in semi-savoy and flat leaf varieties. For those who want the real, raw deal, make sure to snip the stems and dispose of discolored pieces before washing the spinach thoroughly. Aside from boiling (which can potentially remove nutritional content), spinach is great when lightly steamed or sautéed [7]. There are plenty of boil-free ways to enjoy this leafy green, from a spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumber, and feta to polenta and spinach soup. Or try a twist on the classic basil pesto with Greatist’s superfood recipe of the week, light spinach pesto. Snag a bag and crunch away!

Superfood Recipe: Light Spinach Pesto

By Tulika Balagopal

What You'll Need:

  • 2 cups spinach (frozen and thawed)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons basil
  • 3 teaspoons parsley
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

What to Do:

  1. Thaw the frozen spinach by placing it in a microwaveable bowl and microwaving it for 2 minutes.
  2. Transfer the spinach into a blender or food processor, and add the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. If the pesto is too thick, a small amount of water may be necessary to thin it out.
  4. Enjoy served with pasta, on pizza, or even as a dip!
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Works Cited +

  1. Galactolipids as potential health promoting compounds in vegetable foods. Christensen, L. P. Institute of Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology and Environmental Technology, Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark, Odense M, Denmark. Recent patents on food, nutrition and agriculture 2009; 1(1): 50-58.
  2. Impact of eating habits on macular pathology assessed by macular pigment optical density measure. Cohen SY, Mauget-Faysse M, Oubraham H, Algan M, Conrath J, Roquet W. Centre Ophtalmologique d'Imagerie et de Laser, Paris, France. Journal français d'opthalmologie 2010; 33(4): 234-240.
  3. Daily intake of green and yellow vegetables is effective for maintaining bone mass in young women. Fujii, H., Noda, T., Sairenchi, T., Muto, T. Department of Public Health, Dokkyo Medical University School of Medicine, Shimotsuga, Tochigi, Japan. The Tohuko Journal of Experimental Medicine 2009; 218(2): 149-54.
  4. Spinach or carrots can supply significant amounts of vitamin A as assessed by feeding with intrinsically deuterated vegetables. Tang, G., Qin, J., Dolnikowski, G.g., Russell, R. M., Grusak, M. A. Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005; 82(4): 821-828.
  5. Anti-tumor effects of the glycolipids fraction from spinach which inhibited DNA polymerase activity.   Maeda, N., Kokai, Y., Ohtani, S., Sahara, H., Hada, T., Ishimaru, C., Kuriyama, I., Yonezawa, Y., Ijima, H., Yoshida, H., Sato, N., Mizushina, Y. Laboratory of Food & Nutritional Sciences, Department of Nutritional Science, Kobe-Gakuin University, Nishi-ku, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. Nutrition and Cancer 2007; 57(2): 216-223.
  6. Can dietary nitrates enhance the efficiency of mitochondria? Nair, K.S., Irving, B. A., Lanza, I. R. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. Cell metabolism 2011; 13(2): 117-118.
  7. The importance of meeting calcium needs with foods. Miller, G.D., Jarvis, J.K., McBean, L.D. National Dairy Council, Rosemont, Illinois. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2010; 20(2): 168S-185S.