Ingredient focus... spinach
Nutritionist Jo Lewin highlights the benefits and the myths behind Popeye's veg of choice...
The dark green colour of spinach leaves indicates they contain high levels of chlorophyll and health promoting carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin). These phyto chemicals have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties and are especially important for healthy eye-sight, helping to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
Spinach has good levels of iron, but not quite as much as originally believed as rumour has it researchers placed the decimal point in the wrong place! It is important to note that there are two forms of dietary iron: 'haem' iron and 'non haem' iron. Haem iron is found in animal products and is the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. Non haem iron is found in plant foods (such as spinach) and is a little harder for the body to absorb in comparison. However vegetarians, those who experience iron-deficiency aneamia and those who are pregnant are encouraged to include green leafy vegetables such as spinach as part of a balanced diet.
How to select and store
Fresh spinach should be medium to dark green, fresh-looking and free from evidence of decay. It should be stored loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge where it will keep for about four days. Do not wash spinach before storing, as the moisture will cause it to spoil, although do ensure it is washed properly before consumption as the leaves and stems may collect soil and chemicals. Raw spinach has a milder taste that some describe as metallic once cooked. If cooking, opt for steaming, sautéeing or microwaving spinach rather than boiling to preserve the nutrients.
Frozen baby leaf spinach can be bought and stored. It comes in individual blocks, a handy and tasty alternative to frozen peas.
Spinach contains a high amount of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate containing kidney stones should avoid over consumption. A low oxalate diet is usually defined as containing less than 50 milligrams of oxalate per day. Spinach has more than 50 milligrams so is best avoided.
Spinach also contains high levels of oxalic acid, which in excess can inhibit the absorption of other important nutrients such as calcium. Lightly cooking spinach is thought to reduce the oxalic acid content.
Due to its excellent taste and nutritional value, spinach is a popular leaf all over the world.
Want more? Take inspiration from our latest spinach recipes
Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT, covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.