Spring is just around the corner, and spinach is one of the first greens to sprout! A cool-season crop that can withstand a hard frost or two, spinach is an ideal candidate for the first in our new Green of the Month series.
As with each green in the series, below we have outlined some of the most important health benefits of spinach, followed by tips for incorporating more of this nutritional powerhouse in your diet. We have also included one of our favorite smoothie recipes and links to several great meal ideas from OGP’s recipe archives.
Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! This leafy green is an excellent source of several important vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, folate and other B vitamins.
Spinach also contains antioxidants, betaine, glycoglycerolipids and plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids, substances which have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body, lower cancer and heart disease risk, preserve vision, and boost immune system function.
Glycoglycerolipids have special protective effects against inflammation in the digestive tract, which could prove to be an extremely important benefit for 30+ million Americans suffering from IBS and/or IBD. Minimizing inflammation is a key strategy for reducing long-term cancer risk, both in general and for colon cancer in particular.
Recent research has also found that spinach is especially effective at warding off several specific types of cancer. Lycopene and cartenoids can actually kill and prevent the replication of prostate cancer cells; beta carotene significantly reduces breast cancer risk throughout the lifespan; and flavanoids can reduce ovarian cancer risk by up to 40 percent!
Eat More Spinach:
Convinced of the health benefits of spinach? Below are some tips and recipes to help you incorporate more spinach in your diet!
Green Smoothies – Green smoothies are a quick, easy and tasty way to incorporate more spinach in your diet. They make a great breakfast “on the go” or a nutrient-dense afternoon snack. Also, finely grated or pureed leafy greens are better digested and absorbed by the body than those in whole form, making smoothies an ideal delivery system! Here are some tips for making green smoothies, followed by one of our favorite recipes.
- Baby spinach is probably the easiest leafy green vegetable to incorporate into smoothies due to its mild flavor, soft texture, and year-availability in most areas.
- Pre-washed baby spinach is a convenient option for smoothies when it’s not available locally.
- Don’t worry about your smoothie tasting like a salad! When blended with sweet fruits such as bananas and berries, a couple handfuls of spinach or other leafy greens are virtually unnoticeable.
- Start with a small handful of greens in your smoothie and gradually add more over time as your tastes adjust.
- Adding a flavored protein powder, almond or peanut butter, cocoa powder, mesquite powder and/or vanilla extract creates an even more flavorful smoothie and brings additional health benefits.
- Protein powder helps create a more filling and satisfying smoothie, and can also add flavor and creaminess depending on which type you use.
- In addition to adding flavor and creaminess, the fat in nut butter also helps your body absorb nutrients from the greens. You can also try adding avocado as a creamy, nut-free alternative.
- Cocoa powder is low in fat and calories and contains more antioxidant flavanoids than blueberries or green tea. If you’re a chocolate fan, you’ll love the way your smoothie tastes with a bit of cocoa powder!
- Mesquite powder is kind of like the caramel version of cocoa powder. It has a sweet, caramel-like flavor that makes it an excellent addition to smoothies. It is also a great source of fiber and iron.
Recipe – The “Doesn’t Taste Green” Smoothie
- 1/2 cup plant-based milk (unsweetened soy or almond works well)
- 3 large handfuls of spinach
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 T raw cacao (or cocoa powder)
- 1 T mesquite powder
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup frozen berries, mango chunks, papaya or other sweet fruit
- 1 frozen banana (peeled and broken into chunks before freezing)
Preparation: Add the plant milk, spinach, powders and vanilla extract to blender and mix until greens are liquefied. Add frozen fruit and blend until smooth.
Also check out this simple Beginner Green Smoothie recipe – it combines fruit, spinach and green tea for a light, refreshing and nutritious meal or beverage option.
Meals and Appetizers – Spinach is also great cooked in main dishes or used in sauces and dips. Below is a collection of our favorite recipes previously featured on One Green Planet. Look for new spinach recipes posted on OGP throughout the month of March!
- Toasted Quinoa Vegetable Stacks with Green Goddess Dressing
- Quinoa with Secret Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Pan Fried Tofu with Ginger, Spinach and Mushrooms
- Cheezy Spinach and Cilantro Rice
- Vegan Spinach Dip
Although spinach is truly one of the world’s healthiest foods, it is also consistently high on the “dirty dozen list” – a list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. To avoid consuming high levels of pesticides, try to buy organic spinach whenever possible.
Got a great spinach recipe? Share it with us!
Image Credit 1: Chiot’s Run/Flickr
Image Credit 2: ktmadeblog:Flickr