How to squeeze the most disease-fighting antioxidants out of spinach

You know spinach is good for you. But you may not know why…

It’s packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2.

It also contains beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These phytochemicals (known as carotenoids) improve your health in so many ways…

They prevent eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts. Plus, they reduce the inflammation that drives heart disease.

That sounds great, right? Just eat some steamed spinach at dinner and you can cut your risk of several serious diseases. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple…

Even if you’re eating plenty of spinach (which, based on the statistics for fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S., many of us aren’t), you may not be squeezing the most feel-good potential out of this dark, leafy green.

Especially when it comes to one of those powerful carotenoids I mentioned above…

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Why you’re losing the lutein in your spinach

A new study from researchers at Linköping University in Sweden determined the best ways to eat spinach if you want the most lutein…

Now, as I mentioned earlier, lutein is a super healthy carotenoid. It reduces the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. It reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. It may even improve your cognitive health. So, you don’t want to leave any lutein on the table, so to speak.

To avoid doing exactly that, Linköping University researchers say you should eat (or drink) your spinach raw. Why?

Well, they bought baby spinach from the supermarket and exposed it to different cooking methods for as long as 90 minutes.

They found that, like a lot of nutrients, lutein degrades when it’s heated. The higher the heat, the more lutein is lost. The longer spinach is heated the more lutein is lost too.

And during some forms of heating, lutein is lost very quickly…

Frying spinach, for example, quickly lowered lutein content. It only took two minutes for lutein levels to take a dive.

The best way to get lots of lutein

So, clearly, you shouldn’t turn to foods that are cooked for a long time at high heats, like lasagna or stew, as your primary source of spinach (and lutein). But what should you turn to?

Spinach salads are an obvious choice. But there’s another option that’s even better…

Smoothies.

When spinach leaves are chopped into small pieces they release more lutein. So, pulverizing them in a blender is a great way to get the most lutein from each leaf. Plus, the spinach in smoothies isn’t heated at all, so you’re not losing any of that precious lutein to heat.

If you want to make your spinach smoothie even more potent, though, there’s one more thing you can do…

Add some dairy. Since lutein is fat soluble, putting milk or yogurt in your smoothie will help your body absorb it better.

Of course, if you’re really fiending for some hot spinach that still contains a healthy dose of lutein, you have another option…

The microwave.

Microwaving spinach breaks down the plant structure and causes it to release more lutein. Even if you just reheat spinach that’s already been cooked another way in the microwave, it boosts the lutein content.

In the end, pick the cooking method that encourages you to eat more spinach. If you like your spinach cooked a certain way and that makes it more appealing to eat, then that’s most important.

Just make sure to throw some spinach in a smoothie every now and then to ensure you’re getting enough of that oh-so-healthy carotenoid, lutein.

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Sources:

  1. The role of carotenoids in human healthNutrition in Clinical Care
  2. The health benefits of spinach — BBC Good Food
  3. Getting the most out of spinach: Maximizing the antioxidant lutein — ScienceDaily
  4. Lutein: The Super Nutrient That May Boost Your Brain — Nutrition News
  5. Newly Discovered Benefits of Lutein — Life Extension Magazine

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.