Popeye's spinach habit didn't just pump up his instant muscles. The leafy green also helped him fight off osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis, and several types of cancer. Plus it's loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants -- ranking third behind garlic and kale.
Traced to fourth-century Persia, this hearty annual made its way to China and Europe before arriving in the United States, now one of the world's largest producers. Popular "a la Florentine" dishes pay tribute to spinach's royal heritage as the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici.
This super food is packed with heart-friendly A and C vitamins, folate, and magnesium, and it's also low in calories. However, spinach contains a chemical called oxalic acid, which binds with iron and calcium and reduces the amount your body can take in of these minerals. To improve iron absorption, eat your spinach with vitamin C-rich foods such as orange juice, tomatoes, and citrus fruit.
The Scoop on Folate
You can also find this B-complex vitamin in asparagus, beets, calf's liver, and lentils.
Recipe: Spinach, Leek, and Red Pepper Gratin
Makes 6 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)
2 10-ounce bags fresh spinach or 3 10-ounce boxes frozen spinach
Cooking spray or olive oil (small amount)
1 bunch (2-3) leeks, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup light cream cheese
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 roasted red bell peppers, seeded, peeled, and chopped
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoon grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Tear spinach into 1-inch pieces and rinse. (If using frozen spinach, defrost and squeeze out excess water.)
- Place a large skillet coated with cooking spray or olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add leeks; saute 3 minutes. Add garlic; saute 3 minutes.
- Add spinach; cover and cook 2 minutes or until wilted. Add cream cheese, half-and-half, nutmeg, basil, salt, and pepper. Uncover and cook an additional minute or until cream cheese melts.
- Add red bell peppers. Spoon spinach mixture into a 1-quart gratin dish or shallow casserole coated with cooking spray.
- Combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over spinach. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Per serving: 128 calories, 6 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (2.3 g saturated fat), 10 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 316 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.
Originally published in the March/April 2008 issue ofWebMD the Magazine.