Healthy ingredients: Sexy spinach

It may be Popeye's vegetable of choice, but the mighty green spinach leaf actually originated in Persia. It wasn't until the 12th century that it became popular across Europe, renowned for its health benefits. Spinach is a member of the chenopodiaceae family, which also includes quinoa, chard and beets, and its taste is similar to chard and beet greens. It comes in three different varieties - smooth leaf, savoy and semi-savoy, although the kind you will most commonly come across on your weekly shop is smooth leaf. Probably most famous as the source of cartoon character Popeye's strength (although he ate tinned spinach, rather than fresh), this green, leafy vegetable has a number of benefits for your health.

Spinach health benefits

You'll find that spinach is available year-round, although it's in season from March to June. It has long been valued as a food which increases energy and vitality, whilst improving the quality of your blood. 100g of spinach contains no fat at all, and just 23 calories, 3g protein, 4g carbs and 2g fibre, making it a great addition to any meal. Spinach is packed with vitamin K (only kale contains more) and 180g contains 987% of our recommended daily intake of vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones and the prevention of osteoporosis. It's also rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and folic acid, plus it's loaded with iron which helps to support the function of red blood cells. If you're vegetarian or don't eat much red meat, adding spinach to your diet can help to ensure you're gettin enough iron and can prevent anaemia.

Spinach is also high in the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene, which are thought to help prevent cancer thanks to their anti-inflammatory qualities - they also help to pmorote healthy vision, preventing cataracts and macular degeneration.

You'll find that spinach reduces by almost 25% when it's cooked, so a big bag often doesn't go as far as you might think! The best ways to cook spinach is to steam, microwave or sautee it rather than boiling, and you'll find it only needs a few minutes to wilt and cook through. If you're looking for some inspiration for how to use spinach - we have some great recipes!

Recipe ideas

You can make some really tasty soups, pasta dishes, salads and side dishes with spinach - whether you're a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan. Here are a few of our favourite dishes which include this lovely leafy green!

Speedy Soy Spinach

This Asian-style vegetable side dish is great served with sticky Chinese pork or chicken marinaded in teriyaki sauce (ok, so that's Japanese!) and is loaded with iron and immune-boosting garlic. It only takes minutes to make too, so it's the ideal way to boost your veggie intake when time is short!

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Aubergines

Aubergines are one of our favourite vegetables, and how better to serve them than with a tasty spinach, mushroom and cheese stuffing? The cheese used in this recipe is suitable for vegetarians, whilst the addition of fromage frais makes this creamy yet light and healthy. A great alternative to stuffed peppers, these stuffed aubergines bake slowly in the oven, so you can get on with your workout or your studies whilst dinner cooks!

Smoked Mackerel Risotto

Eating more oily fish is something we should all be doing, and smoked mackerel is a great place to start - it's loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which can boost your brain health. This light take on a risotto includes smoked fish and a generous serving of spinach and spring onions - it's healthy comfort food at its finest. For chilly nights when you're looking for something comforting that won't leave you feeling like you've over-indulged, this is perfect!

Lentil and Spinach Soup

This creamy soup with salty bacon is loaded with fibre and protein from the lentils, plus iron and vitamins from the spinach. Because everything is blended, it has a silky, creamy texture that's quite addictive. We recommend serving with some toasted wholemeal pitta bread for a super-healthy, energising lunch or dinner!

Courgette and Spinach Salad

This light side salad with chilli and lemon is fresh tasting and packed with iron and vitamin C - it would make a great accompaniment to spicy marinaded chicken or pork and it's low in calories too with just 78 calories per serving and only 6g of fat, most of which is good fat from the olive oil dressing.

Pasta with Chilli, Tomatoes and Spinach

A good pasta dish is warming, comforting and doesn't use more than a few ingredients, and this is one super-quick and easy dish that you'll want to make again and again. With chilli flakes, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, herbs, spinach and a splash of red wine, the sauce is delicious, and you can serve it with your favourite pasta - we like to use gluten-free or wholemeal pasta for an extra-healthy dinner.

Baby Spinach, Avocado, Pine Nut and Pancetta Salad

We love this Jamie Oliver recipe - one of the Expertrain team tested it at the weekend and it's a recipe we all now want to try! Creamy avocado, loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, crispy pancetta, toasted pine nuts and baby spinach with a balsamic dressing - this is a great main course salad that makes a healthy choice for lunch or dinner.

Whether you wilt your spinach and cook it as a side dish, make it the star of the show or add it fresh to salads, there's no denying that this green leafy wonder deserves a place in your diet - how will you eat yours?

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Author By Paula Beaton
Date On 9th Apr 2015 at 13:15

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