How to Get the Most Nutrition Out of Spinach
Created by: Chef Mayumi Tavalero, certified fitness nutrition specialist, posted on 05/18/21
Did you know that when you eat cooked spinach your body absorbs higher levels of the vitamins it contains such as A and E, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron?
In this post, I’ll share with you how to make the nutrients in spinach more bioavailable to your body. This is one of my favorite nutrient-dense dark leafy greens, that is not only delicious but highly versatile.
Spinach is High in Antioxidants
Spinach is widely known to be high in antioxidants, which help protect the body by neutralizing unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radicals play an important role in many biological processes of the body, however when too many free radicals build up in the body, they can cause serious damage to cells. This damage may lead to conditions like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Bioavailability refers to the amount of nutrients your body is able to take in. So just because you consume foods rich in nutrients, it doesn’t mean that all of them make their way through your gastrointestinal tract, to your bloodstream, and on to your cells. Furthermore, because iron from animal foods (heme iron) has a higher absorption rate in the body than iron from vegetable sources (non-heme iron), this can be an important consideration if you are vegetarian or vegan, and don’t eat animal sources of iron.
The Way You Cook Spinach Changes Its Bioavailability
When you eat spinach that has been cooked, not only can you eat more because it shrinks down, but your body can absorb higher levels of the vitamins it contains such as A and E, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron, plus carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Your method of cooking spinach is very important if you want to maximize its bioavailability. Boiling spinach results in the loss of water-soluble vitamins directly into the water. This loss can be as high as 70%, so you’d be better off drinking the water instead of eating the spinach. My favorite method is sauteing with garlic and olive oil. By cooking, plus adding fat to the spinach, the fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E are even more readily absorbed.
Here’s my method:
Chop a clove or 2 of garlic and let it “rest” for 10 minutes
Add some extra virgin olive oil to your pan and turn the heat up to medium.
When your pan is hot add the garlic, letting it saute for 10-15 seconds or until it turns light golden.
Immediately add the spinach. Move the spinach around using tongs to lift and pull it up from the bottom, collecting some of the garlic. Once the spinach is wilted, season with sea salt if desired, and you’re done!
To aid in iron absorption add vitamin C, such as a squeeze of lemon juice over your sauteed spinach or eat your spinach with other vitamin C rich foods like bell peppers or citrus fruits.