Ingredient of the week: Spinach
Spinach is a dark green, leafy vegetable coming from the chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family of plants, the same as beetroot, chard and surprisingly quinoa. It is one of the most popular vegetables I include in my diet. This is hardly surprising as it is so readily available and both fresh or frozen varieties are as tasty and nutritious. It has a slightly bitter and salty taste, which is stronger when raw. The majority of spinach is made up of water, meaning that when it is uncooked it looks like there is a huge amount of it, but once cooked it practically shrinks down to nothing.
Why is it good for me?
Thanks to the cartoon series Popeye, spinach has developed a reputation for giving instant strength. Once eating it, Popeye’s biceps would start to bulge and he would be able to overcome his enemies. While this has slightly been exaggerated, spinach does contain many micronutrients that result in higher energy levels, helping to build stronger muscles. One of these is calcium, which not only helps build muscles, but healthy bones and teeth as well.
Iron is one of the minerals that spinach is renowned for, as it contains a sizeable amount. Iron helps to build healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. Oxygen is needed by the muscles to help convert carbohydrate, or fuel to energy, in order for the muscles to work. The more active we are, the more energy we require, meaning that there is a greater demand for oxygen. The more red blood cells we have available in our blood, results in a more efficient transfer of oxygen from the air we breathe to the muscles working. This leads to more energy being available.
Spinach is a good source of vitamins A, C and K. There are many health benefits to be gained from these, including effective blood clotting from vitamin K, which can help with the heeling process if you cut yourself. The carotenoids contained in spinach that form vitamin A help to build skin, hair and nails, while also keeping your eyes healthy. Furthermore, vitamin A works alongside lutein and zeaxanthin, two plant compounds found in spinach as well as kale, avocado and butternut squash, to help protect against age related sight loss, such as macular degeneration.
There are several other plant compounds found in spinach, which like vitamin C, act as antioxidants, helping to strengthen the immune system and protect against oxidative damage caused by daily living. The more active we are, the more oxidative stress we put our bodies under and so the more antioxidants we need to prevent any damage. Damage can lead to cancer causing cells to be formed, as well as early signs of aging to develop.
How do I prepare it?
Generally spinach needs no preparation, the only thing it might require is a rinse to remove any dirt if it is particularly fresh. However, doing this runs the risk of washing away some of the vital micronutrients
How do I cook it?
Spinach requires a very short cooking time. You simply add it towards the end of any meal and let the heat wilt it. It can be steamed, fried, boiled or baked and is incredibly versatile. It can be used in all types of cuisine, in a curry, as part of a rice dish, in a pasta sauce, in a risotto, as a side, added to an omelette or even roasted. It is a great way of sneaking an extra vegetable, without the calories, to any meal. The easiest and quickest way to cook it is to place it in a sieve over a bowl and pour over freshly boiled water. This wilts it immediately, but I prefer to just add it to whatever I am cooking right at the end.
You don’t even need to cook spinach if you don’t want and can simply add handfuls of the leaves to salads, like this beef, beetroot and radish one or this miso salmon one. Alternatively why not add a handful to a wrap or sandwich for a quick and tasty packed lunch option.
I love spinach, so it is very difficult for me to choose my favourite recipe, but when pressed I can narrow it down to 3. This kedgeree, this prawn and sweet potato curry or swapping the kale for spinach in this mushroom and kale risotto.
Spinach is so nutritious and easy to cook that you really don’t have an excuse not to use it more in your meals. If you are one of the many people who struggle to keep your iron levels high in your blood, then you really should make more of an effort to include it. This will have a knock on effect of giving you a sense of more energy. Just remember, like with all non haem or vegetable based iron sources, to maximise the uptake of iron, you need to pair it with a food that contains good levels of vitamin C. Examples of this include kale, cauliflower and mango.
If you have any questions, or recipe suggestions, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.