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Do You Lose Nutrients in Spinach When You Saute It?

author image Marie Dannie
Marie Dannie has been a professional journalist since 1991, specializing in nutrition and health topics. She has written for "Woman’s Own," the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Mirror" and the "Telegraph." She is a registered nutritionist and holds a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in food science from the University of Nottingham.
Do You Lose Nutrients in Spinach When You Saute It?
A pan of spinach being sautéed. Photo Credit: AtnoYdur/iStock/Getty Images

Sauteeing makes spinach, a nutritious dark, leafy green, softer and easier to eat. Using minimal amounts of added fat, sauteed spinach is a healthy food that can be combined with rice and pasta or served as a side dish to a low-fat protein. Spinach has heat-sensitive and water-soluble vitamins that can be affected by even a quick cooking method such as sauteeing.

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Spinach and Water-Soluble Vitamins

A 1-cup serving of raw spinach cooks down to 1/4 cup when sauteed. It contains water-soluble vitamins, namely vitamin C, as well as vitamins from the B vitamin group. In addition to differing quantities of niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B-6 and folate, a 1-cup serving also has 8.4 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 7 percent to 11 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for adult women and 9.3 percent of the RDA for adult men. Sauteed spinach is a good source of folate, with 58 micrograms per 1/4-cup serving, providing 10 percent to 15 percent of the total recommended dietary intake for all adults.

Water-Soluble Vitamin Loss

Water extrudes from spinach leaves when they are cooked, softening the leaves and producing liquid. Even though sauteeing is a quick-cooking method, the water from spinach leaves will lead to water-soluble vitamins leaching out. If you choose to use a small amount of liquid when cooking to flavor the leaves, such as wine or broth, even more vitamin loss will occur. To reduce vitamin loss, consume the liquid with the sauteed leaves. If you wash your raw spinach leaves before cooking, or if you let them soak beforehand, water-soluble vitamins will also leach out.

Effects of Cooking Time and Heat on Nutrients

Exposing spinach leaves to high heat during cooking will also cause vitamin loss, although the short cooking times of sauteeing will reduce the degree of loss. According to Total Health UK, between 7 percent and 10 percent of all vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin B-6 content is lost when they are exposed to high temperatures during cooking. Fat-soluble vitamins A, E and D are also susceptible to high temperatures, leading to lowered vitamin retention levels. On the other hand, heat exposure and the small amount of fat needed for sauteeing make carotenoids more readily available for the body, according to a study published in a 2000 issue of the “Journal of Nutrition.” While the vitamin E content in sauteed spinach is lowered because of heat exposure, the vitamin A content may be more readily absorbed, and spinach is rich in vitamin A. One-quarter cup of sauteed spinach has 141 micrograms per serving, which is 11 percent to 20 percent of the recommended dietary intake for adults.

Keep Your Spinach Nutrient-Rich

To help you get the full nutritional value from spinach, cook all your sauces for your meal in the same saute pan as your spinach. This way, the leached vitamins can be re-incorporated into other parts of your meal, helping you get back some of the vitamins that leached out. Keeping your cooking times low will also reduce the amount of lost vitamins, while still giving you the benefit of increased carotenoid availability. Clean your spinach leaves just before cooking, avoiding long soaking times, to reduce leaching of water-soluble vitamins.

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