Spinach the Super Food!

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Spinach is at the top of many Super Foods lists and offers extraordinary nutritional value.  The health benefits of spinach are numerous and its ability to help prevent disease is well known.

Spinach and other dark leafy greens like kale, collards, Swiss chard, turnip greens and bok choy are loaded with calcium, folic acid, vitamin K and iron.  Spinach is also rich in vitamin C, fiber and carotenoids.

What does Spinach do for you?  Spinach nutrition is amazing. The calcium content in spinach and the other dark leafy greens strengthens bones.

The A and C vitamins in spinach plus the fiber, folic acid, magnesium and other nutrients help control cancer, especially colon, lung and breast cancers. Folate also lowers the blood levels of something called homocysteine, a protein that damages arteries. So spinach also helps protect against heart disease.

The flavonoids in spinach help protect against age related memory loss.

Spinach’s secret weapon, lutein, makes it one of the best foods in the world to prevent cataracts, as well as age related macular degeneration, the leading cause of preventable blindness in the elderly. Foods rich in lutein are also thought to help prevent cancer.

Fresh or frozen, add these greens to your food menu as often as you can.  Here are ways to get more spinach in your diet.  Find fresh local spinach at the Lenoir County Farmer’s Market!

*  Add chopped fresh or frozen spinach to lasagna to up the nutrient content of this tasty comfort food.

*  Add chopped or frozen spinach to your favorite vegetable soup recipe.

*  Sauté spinach with a bit of garlic for a tasty super food combination. Try it on top of a baked potato.

*  Make quick and easy spinach dips to eat with crunchy raw vegetables and whole grain breads like pumpernickel, and enjoy the health benefits of spinach while you nibble on your favorite veggies.

*  Use fresh spinach instead of lettuce to add a twist to your favorite sandwiches.

*  Add chopped fresh or frozen spinach to omelets and frittatas. Make sure frozen spinach is thawed and well drained.


Simple Sautéed Spinach

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

20 ounces fresh spinach, (see Note)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper


Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add spinach and toss to coat. Cover and cook until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice, salt and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and serve immediately.

Per each ½ cup serving: 68 calories; 5 g fat (1 g sat, 4 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 3 g protein; 2 g fiber; 172 mg sodium; 540 mg potassium.

Inside-Out Lasagna

8 ounces whole-wheat rotini

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, sliced

8 ounces sliced white mushrooms (about 3 1/2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs

8 cups baby spinach

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta; cook until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms release their liquid, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes, spinach and crushed red pepper (if using). Increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring once halfway through, until the spinach is wilted, about 4 minutes.

Toss the sauce with the pasta and divide among 4 bowls. Dollop each serving with 3 tablespoons of ricotta.

Per each 1 ½ cup serving: 364 calories; 9 g fat (3 g sat, 4 g mono); 14 mg cholesterol; 55 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 16 g protein; 7 g fiber; 588 mg sodium; 786 mg potassium.



Baked Tomatoes and Spinach

 3 large tomatoes, cut in half

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

1 cup chopped spinach, cooked, well drained (about 2 cups fresh spinach)

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Place tomatoes cut side up in a lightly greased baking dish. Combine onion, parsley, butter, spinach, salt and pepper, and paprika; spread evenly over tomatoes. Top with the breadcrumbs and bake at 375° for 15 minutes. Tomatoes with spinach recipe serves 6.


Spinach and Brown Rice Casserole

3/4 cup raw brown rice

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, or 2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 pound well washed fresh spinach

2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter — melted

Cook brown rice, following label directions. Combine the cooked rice and shredded Cheddar cheese. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir the two mixtures together and add the raw spinach. Pour into a buttered 2 1/2-quart casserole. Stir together bread crumbs and the 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle over the top of spinach casserole.

Bake spinach casserole at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes.