Meet Your Ingredients: Spinach

Meet Your Ingredients: Spinach

We’re kicking off June with a healthy cooking staple: spinach. High in essential vitamins and minerals while low in calories, keep reading to find out all about selecting, storing and cooking with this leafy green.

The Basics

Originating in ancient Persia, it made its way east into China and India and west, across the Middle East and into Spain.

Fresh, raw spinach is vibrant green with a light, green taste. For those sensitive to the bitterness of kale or arugula, spinach salads can be a better option as it has barely any bitter flavor.

However, once cooked, it can take on a more bitter, strong flavor that benefits from the addition of spices, fresh herbs, and other flavors.

As we’ll touch on more later, spinach is an incredibly versatile ingredient that comes in many forms, including raw, steamed, boiled, canned and frozen.

Nutrition Overview

Being mostly water, spinach is a low calorie option. A 3.5-ounce serving provides:

  • 23 calories
  • 0.4 grams fat
  • 3.6 grams carbohydrate
  • 2.2 grams fiber
  • 0.4 grams sugar
  • 2.9 grams protein

As you can see, in addition to being low calorie, it’s also very low in fat, carb, and sugar while still providing a good amount of fiber.

But what’s most impressive is it’s composition of micronutrients. Specifically, spinach is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium. It also contains smaller amounts of potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B6, B9 and E.

And we’re still not done.

Spinach is also high in several important plant compounds:

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: two antioxidants essential for eye health. They play a key role in filtering out blue light from screens (think TVs, phones, and computers), protecting the retina and decreasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
  • Quercetin: an important antioxidant for protecting against infection and inflammation.
  • Kaempferol: an antioxidant that’s been studied for its potential role in decreasing risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

However, spinach is also high in oxalates. As a result, if you’re at high risk of developing kidney stones, you may want to choose another green instead, such as kale.

How to select

Bowl of baby spinach

Types of spinach

While many of us think of bags of baby spinach, there are actually three main types of spinach to choose from.

  • Flat-Leaf spinach has the smooth, spade-shaped leaves most commonly associated with spinach (baby spinach is a type of flat-leaf spinach). It has a soft texture and mild taste, making it ideal for eating raw.
  • Savoy (a.k.a curly leaf) spinach has curly, more fibrous leaves that are a darker green than flat-leaf. As for flavor, curly leaf spinach is more bitter and is usually eaten cooked rather than raw.
  • Semi-Savoy spinach has slightly less curly leaves, but still contains the crisp texture of savoy.

Purchasing spinach

If buying spinach in a bunch, look for leaves that are crisp with a deep green color, and avoid any that are wilted or turning yellow.

For pre-packaged varieties, inspect the bag for any signs of slime or yellow leaves inside. I always check the “use by date” as well, as I’ve found many grocery stores sell bags that go bad within a day or two of purchasing.

Of course, you can also buy canned or frozen spinach. While I avoid canned as I don’t like the texture, frozen spinach can be a great option for adding it to dips, sauces, and soups.

As spinach usually makes the list of the Dirty Dozen, I recommend spending a little extra and buying organic spinach. In case you aren’t familiar, the Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 conventionally grown fruits or vegetables highest in pesticide residue.

How to store

Keep spinach leaves stored in a paper towel-lined container in one of the colder spots in your fridge (usually towards the back on the top or bottom shelves). It should keep for 5-7 days.

Rinse spinach just before using.

How to use in cooking/baking

Raw spinach is the most nutrient-dense, cooking methods that don’t include water are your next best bets for preserving more of the water-soluble vitamins. These methods include sauteing, stir-frying and blanching.

Boiling and steaming, on the other hand, are most likely to result in nutrient losses.

To eat raw, add spinach to salads, wraps, sandwiches, and even smoothies.

Cooked spinach can be sauteed and added to eggs, grain bowls, pizzas, pasta dishes, or served as a side dish. You can skip the sautéing step and add spinach straight into soups and dips.

Have picky eaters at home? Spinach can easily be blended in a food processor and added to sauces, meatballs, muffins, pancakes, and even brownies.

Lightened up spinach artichoke dip on triscuit

Recipe: Lightened Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip

What’s your favorite way to eat more of this leafy green? Share in the comments below!

Spinach Guide Pinterest image

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About Kelli McGrane Headshot

I’m Kelli MS, RD, and my mission is to prove that eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Follow along to learn more about food and cooking, with an emphasis on breakfast and sweet treats!

About Kelli McGrane Headshot

Welcome to The Healthy Toast!

Here you’ll find realistic healthy recipes designed by a registered dietitian with your busy lifestyle in mind.

Whether you’re a busy professional or new mom, the goal of The Healthy Toast is to provide you with the recipes and nutrition info you need to live your healthiest life, even when life gets crazy. As I’m a firm believer in a whole-foods, non-diet approach, I hope my website shows that good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. 

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