Spinach is a leafy green flowering plant in the Amaranth family whose leaves are consumed either raw or cooked. There are two basic types of spinach: flat-leaf and savoy. The leaves of savoy spinach are typically wrinkled and curly. Flat spinach is popular in the U.S. and is often sold bagged, canned, or frozen.
Spinach is native to central and Western Asia, and first appeared in England and France in the 14th century, probably via Spain. It gained common use because it appeared in early spring when fresh local vegetables were not available. During World War I, wine fortified with spinach juice was given to injured French soldiers with the intent of curtailing bleeding.
Spinach is rich in many nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, folate, lutein and potassium. Potassium can help to lower blood pressure. Lutein is an antioxidant known to protect against age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Lutein has also been shown to help preserve thinking abilities; studies of older adults have shown that those with higher lutein levels had better verbal fluency, memory, reasoning ability, and processing speed than those with low amounts of the nutrient. Vitamin K is essential to bone health and growth. Vitamin A supports the skin’s immune system (preventing disease and damage), and helps skin stay hydrated, which may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Iron helps the body make hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. This is why one of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is intense fatigue.
Even though it is packed full of nutrients, spinach has high levels of oxalate, a natural substance found in almost all plants. People at risk for calcium oxalate kidney stones should watch their intake of oxalate-rich foods.
Preparing and Storing
- Select look for vibrant green leaves with no signs of yellowing. The leaves should look fresh, and not wilted, bruised, or slimy.
- Wash dry, and refrigerate spinach within 2 hours of purchase to best avoid foodborne illness.
- Store the leaves in a new bag or sealable container along with paper towels, which absorb extra moisture and extend its life. Store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, separately from any raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
Unlike most veggies, cooking spinach intensifies the health benefits. Half a cup of cooked spinach provides three times the nutrition of one cup of raw spinach. Try these easy cooked spinach dishes:
- Microwave strips of fresh spinach with olive oil, lemon juice, and cheddar or mozzarella cheese to make an easy dish kids will love.
- Sauté fresh spinach with garlic, onions, and olive oil for a quick and nutritious side dish.
- Combine cooked spinach, garlic, onions, chicken broth, and a russet potato in a blender to make a hearty soup.
Try this for a filling breakfast or one-dish lunch or dinner: Potato and Spinach Frittata – The Recipe Well
Raw spinach can be eaten in a salad, rolled into a wrap with other raw or sauteed vegetables, or blended in a smoothie with yogurt and strawberries, banana, or pineapple.
Try this spinach salad recipe from our Resources/Recipes tab: Strawberry spinach salad