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How to get more folate and antioxidants with fresh spinach

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Eat your spinach!

We've all heard that we need to eat more vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by using the ultra-convenient bags of prewashed baby spinach in a delicious variety of ways. What could be easier than opening a plastic bag, grabbing a handful of this incredibly nutritious vegetable, and making a tasty meal?

Fresh Spinach

Why eat spinach?

Simply put: The nutritional benefits are enormous! Just a cup of spinach contains a little under 7 calories, almost a gram of fiber, and high levels of vitamins A and C. Spinach is an excellent source of antioxidants, which produce wonderful anti-cancer benefits. It has four times the beta carotene of broccoli.

Spinach is also an excellent source of folate - an ounce contains nearly 25 percent of the daily requirement. Folate is essential for a healthy pregnancy - it helps decrease the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects or spina bifida. Folate also protects against age-related macular degeneration, a serious eye disease affecting older people.

Yummy ways to eat more spinach

The most basic way to use bagged spinach is in a delicious spinach salad. Toss spinach with toasted walnuts or almonds, fresh raspberries or strawberries, a bit of crumbled blue or feta cheese and a basic olive oil and balsamic (or raspberry) vinegar dressing. Delish!

It's also very handy to add a generous portion of fresh baby spinach leaves to a sandwich or wrap, instead of lettuce. Spinach is great with turkey, chicken breast, roast beef or tuna. Also try an all-veggie concoction - start by spreading your bread or tortilla with light cream cheese, some seasonings and top with mushrooms, tomato, sprouts, shredded carrot and roasted red peppers.

Spinach makes a terrific side dish, too. Simply heat a small amount of olive oil and minced garlic in a nonstick pan, and add fresh spinach. Remember that spinach cooks down significantly, so always use a LOT more than you think you'll need (about 2 cups uncooked for each individual serving).

Simply saute until spinach wilts and cooks through and serve with fresh ground pepper. This goes so well with any grilled meat or seafood.

Many Italian foods are also enhanced by the addition of fresh spinach. Add torn spinach leaves to spaghetti sauce for some extra nutrition. Or, place a layer of fresh spinach over pizza sauce and top with your favorite toppings for a tasty pizza. And, don't forget spinach when you're building a lasagna or stuffing manicotti or cannelloni!

Spinach is delicious with eggs to create hearty and healthy anytime meals. For a super start to the day, quickly saute spinach and add to an omelet with mushrooms, basil and reduced fat mozzarella. Or add raw spinach leaves and chopped tomato to scrambled eggs as they're cooking -- the spinach will cook down with the eggs for a super-fast meal. To make these meals even healthier, use egg whites or a plain or flavored egg substitute.

With these ideas, or your own favorite recipes, you can easily use fresh spinach more often and in more ways. Find out for yourself why prewashed bags of baby spinach are one of the greatest "convenience" foods in the supermarket!

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