Spinach: Perfect Food for Diabetics


There are so many reasons to love leafy green spinach.  It is a versatile veggie which tastes great chilled in salads or stir-fried and served hot as a side.  It is available throughout the year but is most delicious in the Autumn, or late Winter to early Spring and grows best in a cool (but not cold or frosty) environment.  Spinach is rarely used as a green garnish because it is too fabulous to waste.

One cup of raw spinach has an “estimated glycemic load” (eGL) of zero which means it has no affect on blood sugar levels and one cup cooked spinach (180 gms) has a eGL of 2 – still so low it hardly counts. (eGL is used for low carbohydrate foods as opposed to GL which is used for foods higher in carbohydrate.)  The difference between raw and cooked spinach?  Eating more or less of a food can raise or lower the GL which is also why considering portions is an important part of diabetes nutrition.  Dieticians are always talking about glycemic index (GI) and quite plainly, GI is a numerical system that provides a value for the speed at which a food’s carbohydrates are converted into glucose.  Glycemic load (GL) refers to the quantity of carbohydrate per serving.  In this way, GI is concerned with quality and GL is concerned with quantity and to achieve a great diet, both of these numerical values should be low.  Spinach is one of these over-achieving foods.  If you are still confused or want to really get the knack for this, there is a GI app for iPhone (2.99) which measures the GI and GL of all foods and most brands at the touch of a finger.   Apps like these make me thankful for techies.  How in the world could I ever look up all the different foods (and brands) and figure GI out so quickly?  I couldn’t.

GI App for iPhone - 2.99 US

But back to spinach … what else makes it a great choice?  Spinach is a good source of Vitamin A (good for vision, skin and bone development) and C (boosts immunity, antioxidant for cardiovascular health) potassium (electrolyte which helps regulate energy and carbohydrate metabolism), folic acid (Vitamin B9 required for normal brain function and provides “new healthy cells”) plus many other antioxidants.

My family loves the taste of fresh spinach and we consume a lot; now I know just how much.  A few weeks ago, we ran out of vegetables for dinner (whoops!) but I had a bag of unused and in-date “chopped” frozen spinach which I duly cooked for dinner.  No one would eat it – it was nearly black in color without any flavor.  “It’s so watery!”  The good news is that I have had a healthy impact on the household’s taste-buds.  There is no going back to frozen or canned… ever.

I have two recipes that I lean on because they are quick (spinach has to be the quickest veggie to prepare – even hot – steaming takes 2 minutes) and everyone loves to eat them.  Always, always wash spinach well to protect yourself from any bacteria.  The first recipe is from Jamie Oliver, his Perfect Braised Spinach:

Braised spinach with lemon and nutmeg

250 gms – 500 gms of fresh spinach
1 tablespoon of olive oil +
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg (or a grating as Jamie calls it)
squeeze or two of a fresh lemon

Coat pan with olive oil and butter, toss in spinach over medium heat, stir in nutmeg and lemon and cover with lid, tossing spinach as it cooks.  This process takes 60 seconds to 2 minutes depending on amount.  Drain excess water from spinach.  Serve with just about anything.

The second – Japanese Spinach Salad – is one that I picked up from eating over here in Asia.

Using 150 grams to  200 grams (raw spinach goes a lot farther), wash, dry and chill for at least 30 minutes.  For the sesame sauce, I have used one from Food.com below.  I usually prepare it far ahead of time and keep it chilled in the fridge.

  • 3 ounces toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup Japanese soy sauce (light version has less sugar)
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 tablespoon choppedwhite onions or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cooked egg yolk (optional)

Place all ingredients in a small blender and blend until smooth. Toss spinach leaves in the sesame sauce and serve garnished with slices of carrot or cooked butternut squash.  For some, tahini ( a Middle Eastern food, rather than Japanese) may be a great substitute for the sesame sauce.

Happy zero (to nearly zero) glycemic eating!


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