Craving some Popeye-esque health benefits? Incorporating more spinach into your diet won’t give you instant muscle bulk, but it does have plenty of other nutritional advantages.
A 2015 study conducted by Rush University in Chicago found that eating one to two servings of leafy greens like spinach and kale every day can stave off mental decline by as many as 11 years. Additionally, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that nitrate—which is naturally found in spinach—helps tone muscles (though chugging a can of it won’t lead to superhuman strength like it does for the fictional sailor). And if that’s not incentive enough to embrace the leafy greens, it turns out that spinach can also help to offset the damage caused by a carcinogen called PhIP in cooked red meat.
The ways you can work spinach into your diet are just as varied as its benefits—it doesn't have to be straight salads from here on out! We've gathered 12 different types of spinach-based foods to help you channel your inner Popeye.
Pizza is one of the greatest foods ever, and you can incorporate spinach beyond its toppings—get right to the foundation of your pie and utilize spinach to make the crust. The best part (aside from the health benefits, of course) is that it’s so easy to make—and you only need a few ingredients. This spinach-based crust (which packs in 20 grams of protein) only requires a food processor, an egg, and some mozzarella, and less than half an hour of total prep and bake time.
Speaking of really easy meals, spinach can take your hummus to the next level. This recipe from Inhabited Kitchen takes an already healthy dip and kicks it up a notch. Bonus: The other main ingredient is a fellow superfood, chickpeas. Serve with freshly chopped veggies and you have a new twist on a classic snack.
If hummus isn’t your thing, other dips are a great way to double your veggie intake. This recipe from Sweetashoney is super green and decadently creamy—it includes staples like avocado and tomatoes, but the blended yogurt and a splash of lime make it perfect for cooling down on a warm summer day.
Yes, even cupcakes can take a healthy turn, courtesy of spinach. Renee's Kitchen Adventures has a recipe that only calls for three ingredients (spinach, boxed cake mix, and applesauce) proving that healthy things come in easy-to-bake packages. Plus, each cupcake—without icing—serves more than 2 grams of protein!
Take brunch to the next level with a healthier take on an old favorite. Slim Sanity's recipe for Spinach Protein Waffles protects the sanctity of the breakfast food (slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside) while starting the morning off with 3 grams of fiber and 18 grams of protein. And they still work with your usual toppings, like syrup, butter, or fruit.
Swap out your usual French fries with Diethood’s spinach-based potato patties. These little fried nuggets of potatoes and garlic are a nice guilty pleasure, but also sneak in a fair amount of spinach. Serve them as appetizers or a side dish, or with dipping sauces if you want to dress them up.
It would be remiss to overlook a spinach-pasta combination, but if gnocchi sounds intimidating, fear not. While these little morsels from Caroline’s Cooking look tricky, they’re actually easy to make. And, of course, they still have a potato-and-cheese base—so, everything you expect from gnocchi, with one major leafy benefit mixed in.
Green smoothies are definitely a classic, but that means there’s pretty much no limit to the number of ways you can dress them up with handfuls of greens. Some of our favorite combos include a power-packed Triple Green Protein recipe from Amy’s Healthy Baking (the three greens being spinach, kale, and honeydew), this tropical Pineapple Paradise Spinach Smoothie from Culinary Hill, and this fruity cherry and almond smoothie from Unique Eats that masks up to two cups of spinach so well, the smoothie comes out pink.
When you're craving something crunchy, consider this healthier alternative before grabbing a bag of corn or potato chips. Shape’s spinach chips recipe only involves four ingredients (spinach, olive oil, garlic powder, and sea salt) and only takes about 20 minutes to bake up a batch. Plus, each serving has 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein—and far less fat or sugar than standard chips.
Pesto is another classic that has amazing versatility. Spread it on a sandwich, mix it with pasta, combine it with salad dressing, put it on pizza, bake it into bread, etc. etc. Feeling inspired yet? NellieBellie has a simple pesto recipe that can be made in a food processor and stored for any quick healthy snacking needs.
Cupcakes aren't the only bakery staple that can benefit from added spinach—muffins (a universal snack that is equally appropriate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) can also include a healthy dose of greens. JoyFoodSunshine’s Spinach Banana Muffins also provide servings of grains, seeds, and fruit, and the recipe allows alternatives for dairy-free and vegan versions, making this an easy go-to for any type of diet.
These spinach-based patties from The Domestic Kitchen take veggie burgers to a whole new level. Eggs and bread crumbs help your burger retain its shape, while spinach provides all the "meat" of the meal. Once formed, the burgers are cooked to a golden brown in a skillet and can be served on bread, a pita, or eaten as is.
All images via iStock.