How it keeps you young: When it comes to avoiding osteoporosis, calcium gets all the praise. But another major player is vitamin K. "New studies suggest K can improve bone density and lower the risk of hip fracture," says Katherine Tucker, PhD, director of nutritional epidemiology at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. Leafy greens are a prime source — one cup of fresh spinach supplies more than one and a half times your daily requirement.
As well as safeguarding your skeleton, spinach keeps your eyes sparkling and clear. Years of exposure to sunlight can damage the center of your eye's retina, leading to macular degeneration and blindness. But spinach is the number one source of zeaxanthin and lutein, nutrients that make up part of the retina. There, they soak up harmful light before it can do cumulative damage.
For an additional anti-aging kick, top a spinach salad with strawberries. They are rich in plant chemicals, polyphenols, which keep you quick-witted. "When we start to get older, our brain cells become like an old married couple — they don't talk to each other very much anymore," says James Joseph, PhD, director of the Neuroscience Lab at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, also at Tufts. "Polyphenols get the conversation flowing again by promoting signals between cells, encouraging them to communicate and enhancing memory."
Use it in: Zesty Strawberry Spinach Salad
Whisk together 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Drizzle over 4 cups raw baby spinach and 2 cups sliced strawberries. Toss and top with 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese. Serves 4. 110 calories; 8g fat (2g sat.).
More spinach ideas:
* Swap spinach for lettuce on your next sandwich.
* Fold thawed, frozen spinach into low-fat ricotta, stuff into pasta shells, and bake.
* Add shredded spinach leaves to canned vegetable or lentil soup.