Do You Have All The Facts About Spinach – A Nutrition Powerhouse?
You can get spinach almost throughout the world – it is easy to grow and is available in supermarkets and green grocery stores or at vegetable stalls at open air markets. You can get it in many forms: fresh leaves usually sold in bundles or loose in bags, frozen spinach in packets, canned spinach – take your pick.
It is also available in many varieties, the commonest one being the smooth leaf one. The Savoy and Semi-Savoy varieties are crinkly and curly, but all varieties can be often be used interchangeably.
The Latin name for this green vegetable is Spinacia olerace. Believe it or not, it is belongs to the same family as beets, chard and quinoa (all of which are nutritious powerhouses). This leafy green vegetable originated in Persia and is now commonly used in most parts of the world.
Spinach has a fairly bland taste and lends itself to many savory dishes. It can also be juiced and added to smoothies. This leafy green should be a part of your diet as it has many health benefits.
What Makes Spinach Nutritious?
You probably know that spinach is supposed to be highly nutritious, helps increase hemoglobin levels so is good for anemia thanks to its iron content and has fiber, but what else does it have?
Its nutrient content includes:
- Vitamin C – required for cell tissue and repair, this all important vitamin also helps boost immunity.
- Vitamin K1 – is necessary for blood clotting and spinach provides a great deal of this vitamin.
- Folic Acid – this is also called folate or Vitamin B9 and is especially helpful during pregnancy and other conditions when hemoglobin requirement is higher.
- Iron – important for hemoglobin levels and prevention of anemia.
- Calcium – necessary for bone and dental health. It is best to get calcium from foods as supplements are not easily absorbed by the body.
- Carotenoids – the body turns this nutrient into Vitamin A, which is good for the eyes.
- Vitamin B6 – along with other B vitamins, Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is important for protein metabolism in the body.
- Vitamin E – helps with skin, hair, heart disease and improves immunity.
- Potassium – this important electrolyte reduces blood pressure, protects against heart disease and helps with muscle contraction.
- Magnesium – muscle and nerve functioning, blood sugar and blood pressure levels are also helped by an adequate intake of this important mineral.
- Kaempferol – an antioxidant, this helps reduce cancer risk.
- Lutein – improves eye health and reduces the risk of macular problems.
- Zeaxanthin – this also does the same.
- Quercetin – helps ward off infection and reduces inflammation.
- Omega3 Fatty Acids – helps reduce the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Antioxidants – these combat free radicals, a source of oxidative stress.
- Flavonoids – these have anti-microbial properties and also reduce oxidative stress.
To give you a better idea, 100 grams of spinach contains:
Calories: 23 kcal
Carbohydrate: 3.6 g
Fiber: 2.2 g
Fat: 0.4 g
Protein: 2.9 g
Vitamin K: 604% RDA
Vitamin A: 188% RDA
Folate: 49% RDA
Vitamin C: 47% RDA
Manganese: 45% RDA
It also contains the other nutrients and micro-nutrients mentioned above. Each variety of spinach will have somewhat different values and the available nutrition will also depend on how fresh the spinach is and the way it is cooked.
What Are The Many Health Benefits Of Spinach?
Apart from its vibrant green color and its taste, you eat spinach because eating leafy green vegetables is the healthy thing to do. So what are the health benefits you can expect from Spinach?
Spinach is known to help decrease oxidative stress, improve eye health, aid in cancer prevention and help regulate blood pressure levels. It also prevents arterial stiffness, a leading cause of cardiovascular problems including heart disease and stroke.
Having a lot of spinach or having some everyday can help protect you against many diseases. Among them are:
- Cancers of various kinds (specially colon, breast, prostate, ovarian and stomach)
- Heart disease
- Eyesight related disorders
- Osteoporosis and general bone health
- Digestive disorders
- Age related mental problems
There is no doubt that spinach is a nutrient-dense low calorie food and with all these health benefits, it makes sense to include this super food in your diet.
Does Spinach Have Any Adverse Effects?
You may have heard the old adage that too much of anything is bad. The same goes for spinach. Just because it has many health advantages does not mean that you can consume a great deal of it. The key to getting the benefits without the ill-effects is taking it in moderation.
Spinach is high in oxalic acid and over-consumption can lead to a mineral deficiency. That is because oxalic acid binds with zinc, calcium and magnesium and prevents their absorption.
Due to its high fiber content, or if your body cannot digest spinach, too much spinach can cause bloating, cramps, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
This leafy green vegetable also contains high levels of purines. When taken in large quantities, these purines get converted into uric acid and high uric acid levels are not good for gout. The oxalates can bind with calcium and can cause kidney stones with their attendant problems.
The histamine and immunoglobulin present in spinach can also lead to minor allergic reactions in some individuals. Raw spinach that has not been adequately washed or is contaminated with bugs, can lead to food poisoning that can be fatal.
If you are on anti-coagulants like warfarin or other blood thinning medicines, taking spinach that has coagulating properties may interfere with your dosage of these medicines.
So make sure you take spinach in moderate quantities.
Fun Facts About Spinach
Spinach is one of those vegetables that are available fresh or frozen through the year. It is extremely popular and some of its popularity is due to its link with Popeye, the cartoon character, who ate spinach regularly, even if it was from a can. Every time he needed a boost in his muscle power, he would have spinach and that virtually guaranteed his victory. While the claims of Popeye were greatly exaggerated, this increased its strength-giving reputation and increased its consumption. In fact, in the 1930s, thanks to Popeye, spinach consumption in the US increased by a whopping 33%.
Spinach originated in Persia (Iran) and from there in the 7th century it went to China, which now grows 85-90% of the world’s spinach. It was a long time later, in the 12th century, that it went to Europe. In the U.S. it did not make an appearance till the 19th century, so it is reasonably new in this region. In China it is still known as Persian vegetable.
There is actually a National Spinach Day. It occurs on March 26.
In the Middle Ages, green pigment, extracted from spinach, was used by painters.
Did you know why foods made with spinach are often christened ‘Florentine’? Catherine de Medici of Florence married the King Henry II of France in the 16th century. Since she loved spinach, in her honor dishes containing spinach were called Florentine. Today, all over the world, many dishes with spinach as a main ingredient carry the name Florentine. Pasta, pizza, pies and other dishes may carry this name.
In World War 1, spinach juice was used to fortify wine given to French soldiers in an effort to help with hemorrhage thanks to its high Vitamin K content. This all-important vitamin helps with the coagulation of blood.
Crystal City in Texas, that grows a lot of spinach, has a statue of Popeye that was erected in 1937.It calls itself the spinach capital of the world, a title shared by Alma, Arkansas. Both the states grow a lot of spinach.
Other places in the US, known for spinach production, include New Jersey, Colorado and Maryland.
Through the ages, spinach has found many uses and is now used in many delicious dishes.
Spinach is easy to grow and if you have a garden or a vegetable patch you can easily eat your home- grown spinach. The best part about this is not only that you have a ready stock of spinach, but when you have it fresh, it has the most nutrition.
The plant grows from seed in a nitrogen rich soil. It is best to use organic manure or compost so that the soil is well fertilized. As soon as winter is over and the topsoil has thawed sufficiently you can plant the seeds. The seeds can be planted again 6-8 weeks before the first frost during autumn. This way you can enjoy spinach throughout the year.
If you grow them in raised beds, you will find it easier to pluck the spinach. If you plant a fresh row every week, you will have fresh spinach that is ready to use on a regular basis. Baby leaves can be eaten raw and make a welcome addition to salads and other raw foods, while more mature and bigger leaves lend themselves to minimal cooking.
Spinach is best grown in the shade and requires plenty of water, since the leaf has large water content. When temperatures are very high such as in July and August you may want to give spinach a break as it will be difficult to maintain.
Plucking is best done from the outside to allow the center leaves to keep growing and for the plant to grow for a longer time. If the weather becomes too hot, the spinach plants can bolt or flower and get seeds prematurely.
There are many different varieties of seeds available so it is best to choose the ones that do well, whose taste you like and the type of spinach you want. Do follow directions given on the seed packets when growing spinach.
The Diseases That Spinach Can Help
Thanks to its high nutritional values, spinach is useful in diseases like
Diabetes – spinach contains alpha-lipoic acid, an anti-oxidant. This substance is helpful in lowering glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. It is also useful in preventing various neuropathic problems associated with diabetes.
Cancer – the intense green color of spinach is due to its high chlorophyll content. This is a known cancer chemoprevention agent.
Asthma – beta-carotene is found in deeply colored vegetables like spinach. Beta-carotene reduces the risk of developing asthma.
High blood pressure – spinach is high in potassium and this important nutrient helps controlling high blood pressure that is aggravated by high salt intake as well as low potassium levels.
Improved bone density – the risk of osteoporosis and fractures is reduced by an adequate intake of Vitamin K. Since spinach is rich in this vitamin that improves the absorbability of calcium, it is likely to offer protection against these problems.
Regularity – thanks to its high fiber and water content, spinach aids in digestion and elimination. Considering that many people experience constipation, a high intake of spinach can ensure better regularity.
Healthy skin and hair – spinach contains large quantities of Vitamin A. This is useful for combating acne, improving the texture of the skin and preventing hair loss. Its high Vitamin C content helps with building collagen, important for both skin and hair health.
As you can see, both internally and externally, spinach is a storehouse of nutrients that will help you look and feel good.
Storing And Cooking Spinach
If buying fresh spinach, do remove most of the stalks or at least the woody ones. Soak in water to loosen dirt and grit and discard the water after removing the leaves. Do this at least three times or more, depending how dirty the spinach is since this leafy green catches a lot of sand and mud. Even if you buy ready to use spinach from the supermarket, do rinse it out at least once. It is best to use the spinach quickly as it starts to lose its nutrient content rapidly.
In case you do need to store it, dry the wet leaves and roll in some kitchen paper. Then put in a plastic bag and refrigerate. The paper should absorb any leftover moisture. Or you can store it without washing, after removing any water on the leaves. Place in a sealed plastic bag, removing as much air as possible. It should stay for a couple of days, depending on its freshness when you bought it. Alternatively cook the spinach and freeze it if you have a large stock.
Fresh baby spinach leaves, suitably cleaned can be added to salads and used to line wraps and sandwiches for added crunch and nutrition. Spinach leaves can also be blended into smoothies and juices. Raw or cooked spinach can be added to savory soups, pies, savory pancake and other batters and doughs for various breads for extra nutrition.
For wilted spinach and to remove some of the oxalate content of spinach, plunge spinach leaves in a large quantity of boiling water. Boil for around two minutes, drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.
You can also stir fry spinach leaves or sauté them over high heat.
For simple steaming just place well washed spinach leaves in a pan, cover and cook for a few minutes till wilted and use.
Spinach can be added to Continental, Italian, Chinese, Indian and other Asian cuisines in curries and stir-fries. After boiling, steaming, blanching or even wilting, spinach leaves can be pureed and frozen to be added to dishes. Spinach goes well with cheese, nutmeg, onions, garlic, ginger, soy, bacon and nuts among other ingredients.
While baby raw spinach leaves are great for taste and crunch, spinach actually yields more nutrition when it’s cooked. Not only can you eat a lot more spinach when it is cooked since its bulk reduces significantly, many of the nutrients are more bioavailable when spinach is cooked.
This low-calorie and nutrient rich, low glycemic index vegetable makes a welcome addition to meals. So, start adding more spinach to your diet