A Brief History Of Spinach– The Benefits Of Adding Spinach In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Spinach– Spinach Effects – Are There Any?
“I am strong to the finish ‘cause I eats me spinach,” this is what Popeye always say every time he eats spinach.
Kids who grew up during the 1980s and 1990s will often associate spinach with Popeye. After all, this gives him strength to be able to defeat Brutus. Plus, don’t you just enjoy watching his transformation?
This makes you wonder, is spinach really that nutritious? Is it capable of making you stronger, although not strictly like Popeye’s? Is it a must to include this in your diet? How true is the claim that spinach’s nutritional value is legendary?
Let’s find out.
Spinach In A Nutshell
Aside from watching Popeye, how much do you know about spinach?
Scientifically known as Spinacia oleracea, spinach is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the amaranth family. It is considered as one of the superfoods and also related to equally-nutritious beets and quinoa.
Spinach plant can grow up to 12 inches in height. It has simple leaves that measures between two and 30 centimeters long, and one and 15 centimeters across. Leaves grow in a rosette and may appear flat or crinkled. Its color could go from yellow to green while the flowers make small fruit clusters, which contain the seeds.
Did you know that there are three types of spinach?
- Savoy Spinach – This one has heavily wrinkled or curly leaves that is dark green in color.
- Semi-Savoy Spinach – This type of spinach is less wrinkled and best for cooking.
- Flat Leaf Spinach – This is the most popular type of spinach. It has a smooth texture and recommended for salads; hence can be eaten raw. An example of this variant is baby spinach.
Unfortunately, you cannot grow spinach anytime you want to. It can only survive in one growing season. In fact, spinach needs high levels of moisture, which means if there is not enough rainfall or water, the plant won’t grow.
The history of spinach could be traced back to about 2,000 years ago. Spinach was believed to originate from Persia and later on, it arrived in China via Nepal by 7th century. By mid-13th century, Europe was introduced to this green, leafy vegetable and was called “Spanish vegetable.” Countries in the Mediterranean region and became a popular vegetable in the Arab side of the region.
Over the years, dishes with spinach were often called “Florentine.” This is because Catherine de Medici, France’s Henry II Italian wife, was believed to bring her own cooks from Florence to cook spinach in her preferred style.
During the first World War, spinach juice were also given to French soldiers to help stop the bleeding.
What about Popeye? Popeye the Sailor Man is character responsible for the sudden intake of spinach. Because of his penchant for spinach, he becomes stronger and more than willing to take on Brutus. This resulted to an increase in spinach consumption that saved the industry and created a positive influence on Americans’ eating habits.
Despite the positive effects, Popeye and his love was due to an error. Erich von Wolf, a German chemist, misplaced the decimal point when examining the amount of iron found in spinach. Instead of 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving, it became 35 milligrams.
Thankfully, this error was rectified. Nonetheless, this doesn’t make spinach any less of a vegetable. In fact, it is still among the superfoods and one of the healthiest foods fit for human consumption.
Spinach Nutrition Facts
The answer is yes. Even if it won’t make your biceps bigger, spinach is still loaded with tons of nutrients.
In fact, one cup of raw spinach will give you:
- 7 calories
- 30 milligrams of calcium
- 0.86 grams of protein
- 167 milligrams of potassium
- 0.81 grams of iron wherein spinach can be a great source
- 24 milligrams of magnesium, thereby making spinach one of the best sources of dietary magnesium
- 58 micrograms of folate
Apart from these nutrients, spinach is also loaded with the following:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Fiber, particularly insoluble fiber, prevents constipation
- Vitamin E
To put it simply, spinach is among the healthiest foods you can give your body. It is an excellent source of nutrients, specifically potassium, magnesium, and iron. It also has a mixture of phytonutrients, antioxidants, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
Plant compounds are also present in spinach. In fact, it has the following:
- Lutein – Helps improve eye health
- Nitrates – Promotes heart health
- Kaempferol – A type of antioxidant that reduces the risk of cancer and chronic diseases
- Quercetin – Reduces infection and inflammation where spinach has the richest dietary source of this compound
- Zeaxanthin – It also boosts eye health
That’s not all. Spinach also has high water content. In fact, 100 grams of raw spinach could give you 91 percent water. This is crucial because water is an important component in the body.
If this is not yet enough to convince you to eat one cup per day, then the next section will inform you about the many health benefits.
Spinach won’t make you stronger than Popeye but it comes with many health benefits. This includes:
Fights Oxidative Stress
There are many factors that will make you look older than your actual age. There are also various causes why there is an increased risk of developing cancer or diabetes.
One of them is oxidative stress.
Free radicals are by-products of metabolism that cause oxidative stress. As a result, it could trigger accelerated aging and puts you more at risk of developing various diseases.
The good news is spinach has high levels of antioxidants that are capable of fighting oxidative stress. At the same time, it could reduce the possible damage that could compromise your overall health.
One study involving eight participants revealed how spinach is effective in preventing oxidative stress from damaging the body. The study may be quite small, but this is supported by other animal and human studies.
Keeps Your Eyes Healthy
Eye conditions are not isolated cases in America – or anywhere in the world. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts affect 24.4 million Americans above 40 years old while 2.7 million were diagnosed with glaucoma. Visual impairment is also a common eye concern and almost one million people went to the doctor due to eye infection.
While some conditions cannot be reversed, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.
Based on spinach’s nutritional profile, you can tell that spinach is good for the eyes. Aside from vitamin A content, spinach is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two types of carotenoids that are responsible for some of the vegetables’ colors. These carotenoids are also present in human eyes, which prevents damage caused by sunlight.
The good news is these two carotenoids offer more than just protection against possible damage. According to a study published in JAMA, dietary carotenoids can prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. These two conditions are among the major causes of blindness based on a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology.
What if you’re already experiencing these conditions?
According to a study published in the Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research, nutrient supplementation could help reverse the existing damage caused by these conditions.
Another study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science also supported this claim. In fact, the said study concluded that lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation could improve visual performance.
Thankfully, spinach could provide that.
Keeps Blood Pressure On A Safe Level
What happens if you have high blood pressure? Unfortunately, it could damage several organs including heart, kidneys, eyes, and even your brain.
This is why it is important to watch what you eat.
Spinach is among the healthiest food that ensures that your blood pressure levels are within the safe zone. It turns out that it has high amounts of nitrates, which helps moderate your blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
According to a study published in the Clinical Nutrition Research, spinach is a great source of nitrates. In fact, this vegetable demonstrated promising potential in boosting one’s vascular health. Based on the said study, spinach lowered arterial stiffness and blood pressure levels.
Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry supported this claim. It revealed that spinach has antihypertensive effects, which means it can help treat hypertension.
Makes Your Heart Healthy
Spinach could help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. This follows that spinach could also keep your heart healthy.
It’s all because of vitamin K. This vitamin is crucial in blood clotting. When your body is not getting enough vitamin K, you are more at risk of hemorrhage or excessive bleeding. It can also inactivate vitamin K-dependent proteins (VKDPs) that prevents the formation of calcium precipitates in blood vessels.
Further studies are needed to understand the role of vitamin K in keeping your heart healthy. In the meantime, it won’t hurt if you add spinach to your daily diet since it could potentially reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Potentially Prevents Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate of cancer in America is slowly declining since 1991. Still, this is not enough to celebrate. Cancer is still there and lung cancer remains to be the top type of cancer death so far.
The question now is can we prevent cancer?
There is no definitive preventive measure but eating spinach helps. This is because spinach contains monogalactosyl diacylglycerol (MGDG) and sulfoquinovosyl diacylglycerol (SQDG), two types of compounds that are known to help slow the growth of the tumor. Further, spinach is packed with antioxidants, including carotenoids and polyphenols, which are known to have anti-cancer effects.
In another study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry, these two compounds, including digalactosyl diacylglycerol (DGDG), were believed to be potent anti-tumor compounds.
Did you know that spinach can also reduce the risk of prostate cancer? According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, spinach included, could reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
In another study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, spinach, could help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Antioxidants is among the many nutrients found in spinach. In particular, it contains alpha-lipoic acid that can do, among many things, the following:
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Increase insulin sensitivity
- Reduce peripheral neuropathy or weakness or numbness in the hands or feet, which are also experienced by patients with diabetes
Based on a study published in Diabetes Care, 600 milligrams of alpha-lipoic acid every day for five weeks could improve neuropathic symptoms. This includes a tingling or itching sensation known as paresthesia, numbness in feet, and burning pain.
Although spinach cannot directly alter blood sugar levels, it could still help in managing symptoms of diabetes.
Good Source Of Iron
Did you know that iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of this condition? This is when the blood cannot produce sufficient amount of hemoglobin, which keeps the blood red and transports oxygen to organs.
That’s not all. Women are more at risk of developing this that affects an estimated one-third of women of reproductive age around the world.
The good news is eating iron-rich foods could help reduce the risk of anemia. In fact, one cup of cooked spinach could give 36 percent of daily iron needs for the day. This is a cheaper and effective way to ensure that your body gets enough hemoglobin.
Promotes Healthy Skin And Hair
There are tons of products that promise to keep your hair and skin healthy. While some may work, nothing beats going au naturel.
Spinach is rich in vitamin A, a type of nutrient needed for sebum production and keeps your hair moisturized. This vitamin is also needed for growth of bodily tissues, including that of hair and skin.
Vitamin C is another nutrient component that could promote healthy skin and hair. This vitamin keeps the skin youthful-looking. At the same time, vitamin C is needed to build and maintain collagen, a component needed for skin and hair structure.
Fortunately, spinach can also provide adequate amount of vitamin C.
Spinach Side Effects
Despite the impressive nutritional profile and health benefits, is spinach really that safe to eat?
The truth is spinach is considered healthy and could make you “strong to the finish.” Still, there are certain individuals who need to be careful.
In case you are at high risk of developing kidney stones, it is best to take it easy on spinach consumption. Spinach is rich in calcium and oxalates. Although the body needs these compounds, too much could lead to the development of kidney stones. Kidney stones are caused by a buildup of acid and mineral salt. Calcium stones are the most common variety, which consists of calcium oxalate.
Aside from this, people taking blood thinning medications must also be careful when eating spinach.
Spinach is rich in vitamin K. This vitamin is crucial in blood clotting as well as bone and heart health. This means if you are taking blood thinning medications, spinach could interfere with the effects of the medicine. It is best to consult your doctor first before munching on spinach.
Even if you do not belong to any of these groups, precaution is still a must. Levels of pesticides used on spinach can be a cause of concern and could have an adverse effect on one’s health. It is recommended to buy organic spinach and make sure to wash it thoroughly.
Spinach has tons of uses, which you will learn more about below. This is why spinach is readily available in the supermarkets and local food stores.
Then, you worry about storage.
Just like other fresh products, spinach will wilt or get mushy, especially if you don’t store it properly. To prolong its shelf life, here’s what you can do:
- Line dry paper towels at the bottom of the container. The container may be plastic or glass as long as it has a lid.
- Pat spinach leaves dry using paper towels. This is important because putting wet leaves inside the container will make the paper towels wet, which means it won’t be able to absorb extra moisture.
- Remove bad leaves. Otherwise, it could affect the condition of the spinach and make it rot faster.
- Store the spinach inside the refrigerator. Room temperature is fine but if you want longer shelf life of up to one week, then place it inside the fridge.
Other tips you need to remember when storing spinach:
- Do not wash spinach until you will start using it. Washing could introduce extra moisture to the leaves and may affect its shelf life.
- If you prefer washing before storing, then make sure to wipe the leaves dry. Place clean spinach on a dry towel and then place another paper towel on top. Let it stay for a bit to allow the towels to absorb the moisture.
- Change paper towels whenever needed. If the paper towel is already wet, replace it with a fresher, drier one to keep the spinach as dry as possible.
Spinach is a versatile food that can be added easily in any meals. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration warned about fresh bagged spinach that could possible bring E. coli bacteria. Since then, a lot of people are unsure of what to use to replace their favorite spinach.
Here are some alternatives:
- Arugula – This is the best alternative for raw spinach. Arugula has similar characteristics to spinach, although the former has a lighter and more tender taste than any other greens. Arugula is rich in nutrients, too, including fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid.
- Romaine Lettuce – This is a great alternative in case you need spinach for salad and sandwich. It is also rich in fiber, vitamins A and C, and folic acid.
- Escarole – This spinach alternative looks like lettuce but with curled edges. In terms of flavor, it gives a slightly bitter but refreshing flavor.
- Curly Endive – This one looks like green leaf lettuce with stronger and bitter flavor. It is also loaded with vitamins A, C, and E.
- Watercress – If you like something pepper-y, then watercress can be a good spinach alternative. It is also rich in fiber, vitamins, and calcium.
- Chard or Kale – If you will use spinach for hot dishes, then chard or kale can be a great alternative. They are also nutritionally dense and could give additional color on your dish.
- Collard Or Turnip Greens – This is ideal for hot dishes that require spinach. Both are excellent alternatives since they are also rich in nutrients.
Nonetheless, don’t be afraid to eat spinach. Just make sure to wash them properly to get rid of possible germs and bacteria.
Spinach Usage / Recipes
Spinach is a versatile vegetable that you can add in any dishes. Here are some ideas you can try:
- Add spinach leaves with chicken, pork, or beef for your tortilla wraps.
- Put spinach leaves on tomato-based or pesto pasta.
- Spinach also works well with cream-based pasta.
- Use spinach for side salad and then mix some romaine lettuce, berries, nuts, and cheese.
- Sautee spinach then place it on bread together with apple slices or sausage for power breakfast sandwich.
- Mix spinach, bacon, and cheese to make bread puddings.
- Try cooking creamed spinach but this time, add kale.
- Add spinach on potato quiche or potato gratin.
- Sautee spinach with extra virgin olive oil and then season with pepper and parmesan cheese. You can use this as a base for salmon or grilled chicken.
- Add spinach on any egg dish such as scrambled eggs, quiche, or omelet.
- Mix spinach leaves into your favorite juice or smoothie. Believe it or not, it will change the color but not the taste.
The Bottom Line
Spinach is a nutritious, leafy green vegetable that comes with tons of health benefits. It may not make your arms bigger but it can keep your heart healthy, good for the eyes, and could potentially prevent cancer among many others.
More importantly, spinach is readily available in the market and is easy to incorporate in your diet.
Just make sure to go for the organic ones and wash spinach thoroughly to ensure cleanliness of this leafy veggie.