What Is Spinach?
Spinach is a hardy vegetable grown across northern Europe and the United States. This leafy green vegetable grows all year round.
There are two basic types of spinach: flat-leaf and savoy. When you buy fresh, bunched spinach at the grocery store, it's usually savoy spinach. 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 packed with vitamins and minerals, making it a great staple to add to your diet.
What Is Baby Spinach?
Baby spinach is simply flat spinach that farmers harvest during the early stages of the plant's growth.
Spinach vs. baby spinach
Baby spinach is harvested only 15-35 days after planting. The smaller leaves are more tender and have a sweeter flavor than those of mature spinach. The stems are also more tender, making them ideal for salads.
The nutrition values of baby spinach and mature spinach are basically the same.
Benefits of Spinach
Though it's hardly a flashy food, spinach has abundant health benefits.
Lower blood pressure
Spinach is rich in several minerals your body needs, including potassium. Eating foods that are high in potassium can help lower your blood pressure.
Spinach is an excellent source of lutein, an antioxidant known to protect against age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Studies have found that people who take lutein supplements are at a lower risk for macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness.
Cataracts are an eye condition caused by oxidation of the lens of the eye. Studies have shown that lutein appears to prevent ultraviolet damage to your lenses. One study found that women who had more lutein in their diets were 23% less likely to get cataracts than those who had a low-lutein diet.
Better thinking skills
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, and spinach is packed with it. Eating just 1 cup of spinach gives you the recommended daily amount of vitamin K.
Your body uses vitamin A like that found in spinach to grow tissue, including the largest organ in your body – skin. Not only does vitamin A support your skin’s immune system (preventing disease and damage), it also helps your skin stay hydrated, which may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Spinach is an excellent source of iron, which helps your body make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. This is why one of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is intense fatigue.
Nutrients per serving
- Serving size: 1 cup
- Calories: 7
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
Spinach is rich in many nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, folate, and potassium.
Protein in spinach
Spinach also adds some protein to your diet. Every 100 grams of spinach contains nearly 2.9 grams of protein.
Things to watch out for
Spinach is chock full of fiber. Eating too much fiber can cause gas, cramping, and belly pain.
Spinach is rich in 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. If you are in this risk group, talk to your doctor about including spinach in your diet.
Risks of Spinach
While spinach has many health benefits, it has risks, often related to how it's produced and packaged. For many years, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has ranked spinach near the top of its annual list of foods containing pesticide residue.
Spinach and foodborne illness
Like many other leafy greens, spinach can be contaminated with germs like E. coli that can cause foodborne illnesses.
Symptoms of foodborne illnesses include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. While foodborne illnesses can be dangerous for anyone, people over 65 and under 5 are at the greater risk of getting very sick. You're also at a higher risk of serious illness if you have a weakened immune system or if you are pregnant.
Cooking spinach is the best way to prevent infection. If you're serving your spinach raw, be sure to wash and dry it before eating.
How to Cook Spinach
Raw, cooked, canned, or steamed, plain old spinach may not sound exciting. But when combined with other foods, spinach can be delicious. Here are some ways to get more spinach into your diet:
- 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 spinach, garlic, onions, chicken broth, and a russet potato in a blender to make a hearty soup.
- Bake spinach, artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, Parmesan, and Monterey Jack cheese together for a classic dip.
- Blend fresh or frozen spinach with strawberries, pineapple, banana, plain Greek yogurt, and chia seeds to make a delicious smoothie.
- Fold spinach, red bell peppers, and hummus together on a whole-wheat flatbread for a healthy, filling snack.
- Toss spinach, feta, toasted almonds, red onions, and apples to make a classic spinach salad. Dress with a mustard vinaigrette.
However you prepare it, raw and cooked spinach have similar nutritional value. While raw spinach contains more of the antioxidant lutein, your body will absorb more iron and calcium from cooked spinach.
Even if some vitamins and minerals are lost in the cooking process, one serving of cooked spinach often contains a much higher volume of spinach than its leafy, uncooked counterpart to make up for any lost nutritional value.
Also, despite the popular belief that "fresh is best," frozen or canned baby spinach has just as many health benefits as fresh, often at less cost. Frozen or canned spinach is also easier to store, and keeps for a long time. Whichever type you choose, the nutritional values of frozen, fresh, or canned spinach are similar.
How to Store Spinach
When choosing fresh spinach, look for vibrant green leaves with no signs of yellowing. The leaves should look fresh, and not wilted, bruised, or slimy.
Once you open a bag or plastic container of baby spinach, moisture can get inside. Place the leaves in a new bag or sealable container along with paper towels, which absorb extra moisture and extend the life of your produce. Store the spinach in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
To best avoid foodborne illness, wash, dry, and refrigerate your spinach within 2 hours of purchase.
Store spinach separately from any raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your refrigerator.