Spinach 101

This month we highlight yet another nutrient powerhouse, and Popeye’s vegetable of choice, spinach!

image via dogteaknit on Flickr

Spinach (or Spinacia oleracea for all you science fanatics) belongs to the Amaranthaceae & Chenopodiaceae family, along with beets and Swiss chard. Originating in Persia, this leafy green travelled through China, Spain, and Italy before arriving to North America in the early 19th century.

Spinach grows in the formation of a beautiful rosette with leaves that are either curly or flat, depending on the variety. This “herb of Persia” (as it is known in China) is rather easy to grow, even in Alberta!  Perhaps another veggie to include in next year’s garden?  You can find spinach year round, but keep in mind that they are in peak season (and again, best flavor!) late spring to early autumn.

Nutrient Values

1 cup serving, raw – 7 calories

• 1.2 g carbohydrate

• 1 g fiber

• 1 g protein

• 0 g fat

• 29 g water

 

Health Benefits

Vitamin K

1 cup raw Spinach = 145 mcg of vitamin K. Recommendations are 120 mcg /day for men, and 90mcg /day (for adults 19 + years).

Yet another vitamin our amazing bodies can make on its own – this time, rather than the sun (like vitamin D), all vitamin K needs is specific bacteria in the intestine.

Vitamin K benefits:

• Makes blood clotting proteins. When you cut yourself, these proteins help make the bleeding stop.

• Helps make other proteins for your bones, blood, and kidneys.

 

Vitamin A

1 cup raw spinach = 852 RAE/mcg Vitamin A. Recommendations are 700 RAE mcg/day for females and 900 RAE mcg/day for males.

Vitamin A benefits:

• Support healthy eyes, and aids with seeing the dark.

• Contributes to protein synthesis and cell differentiation, for normal growth and development.

• Promotes a healthy defense system (skin, stomach, intestines, and respiratory tracts)

• Supports a healthy reproduction system

 

Folate

1 cup raw spinach = 58.2 mcg of folate. Recommendations for adults (19 years+) is 400 mcg per day.  Pregnancy changes the requirement to 600mcg/day and breastfeeding to 500mcg/day.

Folate, a water soluble vitamin, can be found naturally in a variety food like: dark leafy greens, edamame, oranges, beets, broccoli, liver, flaxseed, and asparagus.

Folate benefits:

• Involved in making & maintaining cells and DNA

• Prevents anemia

• Helps make red blood cells

• Prevention of neural tube defects

 

Iron

1 cup raw spinach =   0.86mg of iron (the non heme form). Recommendations for males (19 years+) is 8 mg per day; females 18 mg per day.  Pregnancy changes the requirement to 27 mg per day and breastfeeding to 9 mg per day.

Iron is an important mineral that helps carry oxygen all over your body; we need it to stay healthy. Non-heme iron (found in plant foods: vegetables, enriched food, and processed grains,) is not as easily absorbed by your body vs. the heme form (found in animal derived foods). The good news is that including vitamin C rich foods (such as: red bell peppers, strawberries and broccoli) with these non-heme iron sources will actually increase your body’s iron absorption.

Spinach also contains a naturally occurring chemical compound called oxalic acid. Oxalates are known as ‘binders,” as they combine with minerals and prevents their absorption. Recent studies have shown that the oxalates in spinach don’t actually have much of an effect on our ability to absorb the iron from spinach.

Spinach contains a significant amount of lutein & zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants perfect for eye health.

How to: Pick & Store

How to pick: choose dark green spinach with leaves that are crisp looking – skip the leaves that appear wet or slimy.

How to store: unwashed spinach can be store in the fridge in a loose plastic bag, for up to 5 days (give or take). If you choose to wash before storing, make sure the leaves are dry.

Preparation Methods

These leafy greens tend to hide dirt quite well (and other things you wouldn’t want to be munching on), so you’ll obviously want to wash them thoroughly.  Fill the sink part-way with cool water; swish the leaves around, repeat until there are no signs of dirt. Place them in the salad spinner to dry.

  • Boiling (releases the iron bound to oxalates.)
  • Fresh

Have you ever noticed the flavor difference between raw and cooked spinach? Raw spinach has a milder, sweet taste, while cooked spinach has a stronger, earthier flavor. Love them both.

Check out our pinterest board for delicious recipes using spinach. We’ll continue adding to it throughout the month, so be sure to follow along!