Power Foods: Spinach

When it comes to healthy foods, spinach ranks at the top. How could it not? This versatile green, which shows up in all manner of dishes, sports an impressive lineup of vitamins and minerals. To get spinach at its tastiest, head to the farmers' market for its biannual appearance in the spring and fall.

Spinach Pesto with Whole-Wheat Pasta
"Creamy" Spinach Curry

Health Benefits
Few sources offer more vitamin K than spinach does. K is essential for blood clotting and bone health. Recent research shows it may also help decrease inflammation, a condition linked to a host of diseases, including Alzheimer's, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

Carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin also stand out in spinach's nutritional roster; they help protect against heart disease and some forms of cancer. Research suggests that lutein and zeaxanthin in particular may guard eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration.

Regularly eating spinach may boost your mood, too, thanks to vitamins B6 and C. Both play vital roles in the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with pleasure and keeping depression and anxiety under control.

Folate, best known for protecting against birth defects, also helps prevent cancers of the cervix and lungs and works alongside vitamin B6 to protect against heart disease.

As if we needed further convincing of spinach's superstar status, it's also a leading source of magnesium, important for maintaining strong bones and for preventing chronic diseases like coronary artery disease and diabetes.

How To Buy
Look for bright green, unwilted leaves. Avoid slimy or spotted leaves. Once at home, wrap spinach in paper towels and store in a plastic bag in your refrigerator's crisper. Whether prebagged or home-bagged, spinach should last about three to four days.

Note, too, that lengthy, cross-country shipping can expose fresh spinach to warm temperatures, which accelerate folate and carotenoid loss. Buy from local growers to decrease the time from farm to table.

Cooking Tips
Right before using, wash off grit stuck in the leaves and stems (even if labeled "prewashed"). To do so, trim off stems, then agitate the leaves in cold water and let the grit sink (repeat until no grit remains on the bottom of the bowl). For crisp salad leaves, shake or spin dry, then wrap in paper towels and refrigerate for an hour or two. To maximize spinach's nutritional value, cook the greens with a healthy fat such as olive oil.

Did You Know?
It's not necessarily the iron in spinach that made Popeye strong. While spinach contains plenty of iron, it also has oxalic acid, which limits the body's ability to absorb it. Even so, the cartoon was credited with boosting spinach sales by 33 percent.

Nutrition Breakdown
Per 1 cup cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
Calories: 41 kcal
Fiber: 4.3 g = 17 percent* of DRI**
Vitamin B6: 0.436 mg = 34 percent of DRI
Vitamin C: 17.6 mg = 23 percent of DRI
Vitamin K: 888.5 mcg = 987 percent of DRI
Folate: 263 mcg = 66 percent of DRI
Magnesium: 157 mg = 49 percent of DRI
*Percentages are for women 31 to 50 who are not pregnant
**DRI, Dietary Reference Intake, is based on National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes, 1997 to 2004

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