Take a cue from Popeye and eat your spinach! Though not guaranteed to give you superstrength, spinach is a good source of many nutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K, and can be enjoyed on all Phases of the South Beach Diet. And there’s more good news: Studies show that this dark, leafy green can help maintain overall good health and may reduce your risk of heart disease, some cancers, and other illnesses. Spinach is a versatile vegetable that can be tossed into a salad, sautéed in a stir-fry, used as a filling for omelets, or mixed with other ingredients to create a flavorful dip.
The most common type of spinach available in supermarkets is Savoy, but baby spoon, flat or smooth-leaf, and red spinach are also available. Fresh spinach can be purchased loose or in bags. Spinach that is sold in bags is usually prewashed, making it convenient for preparing quick meals. If you choose to buy spinach loose, select fresh green, undamaged leaves and avoid those with yellow or dark spots, wilted parts, or a sour smell. Leaves with thinner stems (typically sold as baby spinach) will usually be sweeter tasting and more tender.
Spinach can be stored in its original bag in the refrigerator for three to four days. Avoid washing spinach before storing it because the moisture can cause it to spoil more quickly. If you have leftover cooked spinach, cover it well, refrigerate, and use it the next day in an omelet.
Loose spinach should be washed thoroughly just before using since the leaves and stems tend to collect sand and soil. In order to clean properly, place spinach leaves in a colander or in the bowl of a salad spinner and rinse with cold water, tossing gently with your hands. Then spin the leaves in the salad spinner or dry them with a paper towel. (If you are planning to cook the spinach, don’t bother to dry the leaves.) Be sure to remove any overly thick stems for a better presentation and more even cooking. While raw spinach makes a delicious salad base, some of its nutrients (like lutein and beta-carotene) are better absorbed by the body when the spinach is prepared with a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil or another unsaturated fat. Here are some ways to enjoy spinach both raw and cooked:
- Prepare a flavorful spinach-and-artichoke dip with part-skim ricotta
- Serve fresh spinach leaves with chopped hard-boiled egg, crumbled turkey bacon, and a vinaigrette dressing made with red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil
- Sauté spinach as part of a stir-fry made with skinless, boneless chicken breast or lean beef and mushrooms
- Make a pocket in skinless, boneless chicken breasts and stuff with a mixture of chopped spinach, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and a reduced-fat cheese, such as feta or goat cheese. If the cutlets are thin, you can simply wrap them around the spinach-and-cheese mixture.
- Add chopped spinach to macaroni and cheese made with whole-wheat macaroni and reduced-fat Cheddar
- For a healthy “creamed” spinach side dish, sauté chopped spinach with some chopped shallots and garlic, then stir in some plain nonfat Greek yogurt. Season with a little nutmeg, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. For a simpler side, simply sauté the spinach and sprinkle with some toasted, slivered almonds.