Is spinach is healthier when cooked? Yes! Well, most of the time. Ok, it depends.
So, what’s the deal? Is spinach really better for you when cooked? Generally, yes! But, it depends on how you’re actually doing the cooking and what you’re looking to get from eating spinach. A Globe and Mail article says, “Cooking your vegetables can actually boost their antioxidant content. Heating vegetables releases antioxidants by breaking down cell walls. Studies have found that eating cooked spinach and carrots – versus raw – results in much higher blood levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to guard against heart disease and lung cancer.”
Raw spinach also contains oxalic acid, an organic compound found in many leafy green plants, including spinach. Oxalic acid (also known as oxalate) inhibits the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron. Healthline states, “One of the main health concerns about oxalate is that it can bind to minerals in the gut and prevent the body from absorbing them.” Spinach is high in calcium, but it’s also high in oxalate, so much of the calcium is prevented from being absorbed by the body. Instead, it’s being used to form calcium oxalate. Approximately 75% of all kidney stones are composed primarily of calcium oxalate. Because it binds to many other nutrients, long-term consumption of high oxalate foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
The good news is that cooking spinach drastically reduces the amount of oxalic acid found in one serving. According to Food Revolution Network, “Steaming spinach has been shown to cut the oxalic acid by 5-53%. Steaming also allows the spinach to retain its folate content, a B-vitamin that helps your body produce DNA.”
There are a few more reasons to eat your spinach cooked. The Vegetarian Times adds, “When you eat spinach that has been heated, you will absorb higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also become more absorbable.”
So, what’s the best way to cook spinach to make sure you’re not actually losing nutritional value? The SF Gate puts it like this, “Because many of spinach’s nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, B vitamins and thiamin, are water soluble, spinach loses a large portion of its nutrients when it is boiled or steamed. For maximum vitamin retention, use quick-cooking methods that do not include water, such as sauteing, stir-frying or blanching, to reduce the amount of nutrients lost from cooking.”
However, that’s not to say there aren’t some good reasons to eat raw spinach.
Some of the essential nutrients found in spinach are more available to our bodies when consumed raw, such as folate, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin C and niacin. Under certain circumstances, those minerals might be really important to you. For instance, if you’re pregnant and eating spinach for folate (because it helps prevent neural tube birth defects), you’ll want to make sure you’re getting lots of raw spinach in your diet.
So, what’s the best way to make sure you’re getting all the nutritional value that spinach has to offer? Variety! In our fermented cream-cheese-style Spinach and Artichoke spread, we blanch our spinach, because we think that, generally speaking, it’s healthier. But why not maximize the nutritional value of spinach by eating it both cooked and raw, by preparing it different ways, with different accompanying ingredients? Makes sense to us. We believe that when it comes to healthy eating, creativity is key! Keeping fresh ideas in the kitchen makes it easier to keep making healthier choices. Experiment. Be ok with having something come out unappetizing, bad tasting, or worse, inedible. One day, you’re going to stumble on one of the best things you’ve ever made.
We want to know, how do you like your spinach? Got a spinach recipe you just can’t get enough of? What’s that one spinach dish you don’t care for? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook or tell us over on Instagram. We love hearing from you!