In order to spotlight a superfood, we have to know what a superfood is in the first place. And honestly, it’s hard to say really because there are no set qualifications that will make a certain food item a “superfood” in the first place. In general, superfoods are low in calories and high in nutrients. But superfoods has become a term that the food industry throws around very liberally and has become a great marketing tool. Superfoods have been credited for, among other things, preventing the occurrence of cancer, alleviating Alzheimer’s disease, helping you get a good night’s rest, weight loss, lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and improving heart health. While I don’t believe in “miracle cure” type foods, I do firmly believe in the benefits of a generally healthy and well-balanced diet.
That being said, I do feel some foods are packed with a unique combination of nutrients that warrant a dietitian’s “seal of approval.” My own requirements for a “superfood” is that it is nutrient dense, easily accessible, easy to prepare, and appetizing. You can tell me all day long how healthy Brussels sprouts are but I don’t like them so they aren’t that super if I don’t eat them. The foods I picked as a superfood are not only delicious on their own, but can be camouflaged in healthy recipes where you may not taste the food itself. So if you aren’t crazy about a food I suggest, try a recipe. You may discover you can’t necessarily taste the food but yet you are still receiving the benefits of it.
Superfood Spotlight: Spinach’s Nutrient Density
In this Superfood Spotlight, we are taking a look at (drum roll) SPINACH! This one is just a given. How can a dietitian have a list of super foods without spinach, right? Spinach more than satisfies my list of superfood requirement. And we have a certain sailor to thank for contributing to spinach’s popularity. Ever since Popeye and his can of spinach, moms have been nagging their kids to eat their greens. And for good reason: spinach is pretty much the epitome of a healthy superfood:
- It is super low in calories at 10 calories per cup and packed with vitamins and minerals.
- Spinach is a dark, green, leafy vegetable and due to spinach’s dark color, it is more nutrient dense than other leafy vegetables such as iceberg lettuce.
- Spinach has vitamin A for healthy skin, bones, teeth, and eyes.
- It has vitamin E to help protect cells from molecules called free radicals, which are responsible for aging and tissue damage.
- Spinach is packed with antioxidants that can be effective in preventing diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s.
- Spinach contains high levels of potassium and low levels of sodium, which makes it a perfect food for people with heart disease and high blood pressure.
I really could go on and on about spinach. You just can’t go wrong with adding a serving of spinach to your diet.
Superfood Spotlight: Spinach’s Availability
Spinach is readily available most everywhere these days. From Costco and Sam’s Club to health-centric stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and nearly all grocery chains in between. In fact, most grocery stores sell not just fresh spinach, but fresh, organic, pre-washed spinach. I would recommend buying the organic spinach because if not, it can be contaminated with a lot of pesticides.
Superfood Spotlight: Spinach’s Versatility
Spinach is also a very versatile food. It can be eaten raw in a salad, cooked in a soup or casserole, and used in smoothies. The great thing about spinach is that it doesn’t have a strong taste when combined with other foods. Spinach can be added to pasta sauces, soups, or lasagna and you won’t even realize it’s there. My favorite way to serve spinach is in a smoothie (see below for recipe). It is a sweet snack that all four of my kids consider a treat. I combine Greek yogurt, spinach, honey, a banana, and frozen strawberries or other frozen fruit. It’s a delicious, healthy, protein-packed treat. WARNING: this is not a low calorie snack, as fruit has a lot of sugar. But my kids are growing and active, so I really just try to teach them to listen to their body and make good food choices. For me, I love this smoothie and treat it as more of a dessert than a beverage.
It’s important to note that spinach does contain high levels of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring chemical in plants and animals. However, spinach has the highest amount of oxalic acid among dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, chard, parsley, and collards. The main concern with the high level of oxalic acid is they increase your risk of the formation of kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones that is complicated by the consumption of oxalate-rich foods, you should talk to your doctor. However, for most healthy individuals, the many benefits of spinach far outweigh the risk of the high level of oxalic acid. I feel like a broken record, but moderation is the key. It’s never a good idea to rely on one food, even a superfood, to provide most of your vitamins and minerals. A variety of healthy foods is always the best choice.
Superfood Spotlight: Spinach’s Appeal
Of course, what tastes good to me may not taste good to you. It’s all subjective and that’s okay. But spinach, perhaps more than most superfoods, is so versatile that I’m confident there are plenty of recipes that will make spinach appetizing for most people.
Here are two of my favorite spinach recipes:
- 1 cup of greek yogurt (I choose greek yogurt because it is higher in protein than plain yogurt)
- 2 cups of fresh baby spinach
- 1-2 tablespoons of honey
- 1 banana
- 2 cups of your favorite frozen fruit (I try to experiment with this part to keep it fun)
Directions: Blend together in blender until smooth and serve immediately. Makes 3-4 servings.
- 6 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
Directions: Toss in a bowl with dressing.
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup tarragon wine vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp Tabasco
Directions: Whisk together.
Superfood Spotlight: Spinach Wrap Up
So there you have it. Spinach is a food that is not only delicious, but beneficial for your health. Is it a miracle food? No… no food is. No specific food is guaranteed to burn fat or prevent cancer or make you enjoy swimsuit shopping. However, a well-balanced diet filled with the healthiest superfoods will set you up for a healthy body, preparing you to be the Superwoman (or Man) you were created to be. Don’t believe me? Just ask Popeye.