All of us at some point in our life were probably told, “Eat your spinach!” It turns out, there was good reason for this.

As a young dietitian, I valued the benefit of eating different colored vegetables. However, it was not until I began teaching nutrition that I put together just how important leafy greens really are.

Every semester, I require my students to complete a nutritional analysis. In general, most students lack the recommended dietary allowance of vitamins and minerals, yet there is always a handful that meets most, if not all, of their dietary needs each semester. Investigating further, I discovered the consistent difference in these students’ diets were leafy, green vegetables.

Why spinach is so good for you

One cup of spinach is 7 calories  but boasts the following vitamins, minerals and antioxidants:

» Lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids work together to maintain eye health and vision and are prevalent in spinach. That one-cup portion provides 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of these sight-preserving nutrients.

» Vitamin A. We tend to associate vitamin A, known also for improved eye health and enhanced immune function, with orange or yellow vegetables. However, do not overlook this green powerhouse, which provides 105 percent of the RDA.

» Vitamin K. Only kale beats spinach in vitamin K content, which plays a key role in blood clotting and bone health. Please note: If you are on any blood thinners , talk to your doctor or clinical dietitian before changing the amount of leafy greens you eat.

» Manganese. You did not even know you were missing this, did you? This nutrient helps with bone production and prevents the development of osteoporosis. With just one handful of leafy greens you can meet 75 percent of the RDA.

» Folate. Thought to be more common in fruits, spinach surprisingly provides a healthy dose at 15 percent the RDA. Folate is important for red blood cell production and for maintaining our nervous systems.

Spinach is also considered a good source of magnesium, copper, B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, potassium and iron.

How to sneak spinach into your everyday diet

» Buy organic greens. As I have worked to add more leafy greens into my own diet, one thing has made itself very clear: Organic greens last longer, even as much as a week beyond the sell by date. Buying organic means I spend a little more, but I no longer waste it, which is money well spent.

» Served up as a salad. Fresh spinach salads can be savory with bacon crumbles, caramelized onions and mushrooms; or sweet with berries, glazed pecans, feta cheese and raspberry vinaigrette.

» Stirred into hot dishes. Add them into bean and vegetable soups, hot casseroles and pasta dishes at the last minute.

» Stacked up. Choose to layer spinach into a sandwich or wrap instead of iceberg lettuce.

» Wilted. Cook 4 cups spinach with a little olive oil and minced garlic for a flavorful side dish.

» Scramble a large handful up with eggs.

» Blended one to two handfuls into a berry smoothie. The deep color of the berries will cover the green flecks of leaves, and if you serve it to your kids, they will never know it is in there.

» Sliced and diced. If the leaves seem waxy to you, roll them together and slice them into fine ribbons to change the texture and shape. Mix the ribbons of spinach into whatever you are cooking, or use as a delicate topping on pasta dishes and casseroles.

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