Although spinach won’t give you superhuman strength, Popeye properly demonstrates spinach as an ideal super food. Loaded with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, spinach can supply a huge helping of nutrients for the body. Eaten regularly, spinach can have positive effects, both in the short and long term. Incorporate at least one or two full cup servings a week to your diet, and enjoy all the health benefits that come with spinach.
Spinach History and Culture
Spinach is believed to originate in ancient Persia, the land of modern day Iran. Persian traders introduced spinach to India and Nepal, working its way over to China in the mid 7th century, where it gained considerable popularity. It only later made its move west, becoming a choice green in Italy. In 1533, Italy’s Catherine de Medici would become the queen of France, bringing her beloved spinach with her. Almost every meal she ate incorporated spinach, which became known as “Florentine”, still used to this day to describe meals presented on a bed of spinach.
Spinach is an annual vegetable with triangular leaves that can range wildly in size, texture, and taste. It enjoys cooler, wet climates, and can overwinter in more temperate climates, making fresh spinach available year round. China is the world’s leading producer of spinach with a whopping 85% of total global output. The United States comes in at 2nd, with 3% of global output.
There are three types of spinach currently grown. Savoy spinach is deep green with crumples leaves. This is typically grown to a larger size, where the leaves are then bunched and sold in grocery stores. Flat Leaf varieties have smooth leaves that are better suited for baby greens, canning, and freezing. Semi-Savoy spinach is a hybrid of both the flat leaf and Savoy varieties. It has the advantage of being more easily cleaned then regular Savoy spinach, but still maintains its unique appearance and texture.
Spinach Health Benefits
Spinach sports a whole host of healthy vitamins and minerals in high concentrations: vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesioum, folic acid, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, protein, zinc, and niacin to name a few. The nutritional content has measurable effects on health, demonstrated by a number of studies performed over the years.
Anti-cancer properties top the list of benefits. Spinach has an unusually diversified amount of anti-oxidants and flavonoids, which function as anti-cancer agents. Free radicals are created in the body when electrons are passed between cells. During the exchange, one cell may become unbalanced, having an unstable number of electrons. These free radicals in turn damage DNA, protein, and fats, ultimately being linked to cancer. Flavinoids are unique in that they actively seek out and neutralize free radicals – hence their anticancer properties. Spinach flavinoids have been tested in rat stomachs, where they have been shown to slow down the rate of division in cancer cells. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women, and provides significant protection against aggressive prostate cancer in men. All of this is directly related to the amount of flavinoids and anti-oxidants found in spinach.
High levels of vitamin K and calcium also help your body build and maintain strong bones. Calcium is necessary for the everyday function of your body, and providing it with enough calcium means that it doesn’t need to leach it from your bones, weakening them in the process. Meanwhile, vitamin K minimizes the effects that osteoclasts have on the bone, which is responsible for bone decay.
Spinach contains relatively high levels of oxalates, which have been shown to interfere with the absorption of calcium. This has also been the case with iron, but recent studies show that this may not be true. Lots of spinach is not recommended to those with existing kidney or gallbladder problems due to its high level of oxalates. Boiling spinach for 1 minute, uncovered, can decrease the amount of oxalate acid by 50%. Consult your doctor or nutritionist for additional details and recommendations.
Eating More Spinach
As stated earlier, in order to enjoy all the benefits associated with spinach, it’s recommended that you eat at least two, one-cup servings per week.
When selecting spinach at the grocery store, pick spinach that is firm, crisp, and dark green. Avoid any spinach that is even slightly wilted, as it will already be in the advanced stages of breaking down its own nutrients, diminishing its health benefits and flavor. Baby spinach that is sold in plastic containers is just as nutritious as bunched spinach, studies show. Note that it takes roughly 50 times the amount of calories to produce the container than the calories in the spinach – not the most efficient way to eat spinach.
Also, it is prudent to spend the extra 50 cents for organic spinach. Spinach is one of the most common foods found with pesticide residue, which can have serious health effects over the long run.
In order to maximize the nutritional intake of spinach, it should be boiled. This alone will increase the available levels of vitamin K five times over, and decrease the amount of oxalates.
Add spinach to your shopping list. You’ll be decreasing your risk of cancer and disease, build stronger bones, and just feel better. A bunch a week is really all it takes.