Many out there on the Internet are nominating spinach for the grand Super Food prize, calling it the healthiest food of all time. I knew spinach was healthy (why would it be the butt of so many jokes about food that’s hard to eat if it wasn’t?), but the research is really surprising. Just about anything that is or might ever be wrong with your health, you can battle with spinach. On guard, kitchen stewards! Arm yourselves with green leafiness and plunge into the war we call dinner!
Spinach is a powerhouse of nutrients:
- High in protein – go figure! The highest vegetable protein around! This was a big surprise to me. One cup spinach = 12% DV protein.
- Super duper high Vitamin A
- High Vitamin K – second only to cauliflower
- Great source of folate/folic acid, particularly important for pregnant or nursing women
- Over 25% DV of magnesium, iron, potassium, Vitamin C and manganese
- Decent source of fiber
- Carotenoids and flavonoids responsible for much listed below
How spinach improves your health:
- Protects against heart disease (for multiple reasons!); makes muscles (especially the heart) stronger
- Regulates blood pressure
- Important for development of unborn babies
- Protects against age-related memory loss
- Eye health: prevents cataracts, macular degeneration (age-related blindness)
- Anti-inflammatory (how many issues can this trait treat? Arthritis is just one…)
- Strong bones/anti-osteoporosis
- Good for skin health (eczema, acne, psoriasis) and even preventing skin cancer from the sun
- Natural diuretic and laxative (fights constipation)
- Reduce frequency of migraine attacks
The Hidden Wonders of Spinach: Lutein and Alpha Lipoic Acid
Lutein is a carotenoid antioxidant that we first met when we studied eggs. It is crucial for eye health, which is why eating lots of spinach (and even more eggs) will help you see better throughout your life and avoid eye diseases. It is more available to the body when paired with fat, and even more with choline (in egg yolks), so having fat-full dressing or olive oil on your spinach is a great idea. Pairing spinach with eggs makes a powerful one-two punchout for eye degeneration!
Spinach Words on Alpha Lipoic Acid: “Spinach is nature’s #1 source of Alpha Lipoic Acid, a potent antioxidant and cancer fighter. It also boosts glutathione levels (see “glutathione” below), helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, helps to prevent heart attacks and cataracts and plays an anti-aging role by preserving (or minimising decline of) mental function in the elderly.” That’s an incredible list!!!
Spinach Fights Diabetic Heart Disease!
A subject near and dear to my heart this month, as my mother-in-law just had a sudden double bypass. As her food and nutrition-loving daughter-in-law, I’ve taken it upon myself to become educated about proper dietary health, and then I cook for her. Here’s a paragraph that gave my heart joy when I read it:
For atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, few foods compare to spinach in their number of helpful nutrients. Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, the latter notably through its concentration of beta-carotene. These two nutrients are important antioxidants that work to reduce the amounts of free radicals in the body; vitamin C works as a water-soluble antioxidant and beta-carotene as a fat-soluble one. This water-and-fat-soluble antioxidant team helps to prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol is able to stick to and build up in blood vessel walls, where it can cause blocked arteries, heart attack or stroke. Getting plenty of vitamin C and beta-carotene can help prevent these complications, and a cup of boiled spinach can provide you with 294.8% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin A along with 29.4% of the DV for vitamin C.
Spinach is also an excellent source of folate. Folate is needed by the body to help convert a potentially dangerous chemical called homocysteine that can lead to heart attack or stroke if levels get too high, into other benign molecules. In addition, spinach is an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that can help to lower high blood pressure and protect against heart disease as well. A cup of boiled spinach contains 65.6% of the daily value for folate and 39.1% of the daily value for magnesium.
Source: World’s Healthiest Foods
Mom will be getting lots of spinach if I have anything to say about it!
Keeping the Nutrients in Spinach: Cooked or Raw?
The short answer: both.
Benefits to cooking spinach: cooking releases beta-carotene and lutein, and it also neutralizes oxalic acid or oxalate, a compound that inhibits the absorption of both calcium and iron. This is why you don’t reuse the cooking water from spinach. It’s recommended that you boil spinach quickly – just for a minute!
Benefits to raw spinach: Vitamin C and folate are both very heat-sensitive, so to obtain the maximum benefits of these compounds, eat spinach in your salads.
One caution: If you are very prone to kidney stones, you may want to focus more on cooked spinach, because oxalic acid is a major factor in kidney stones.
Use it Up Quickly!
By the 8th day after harvest, even when refrigerated well, spinach has lost so many of its nutrients that it might not even be worthy of Super Food status anymore. For example, almost half the folic acid is gone after 8 days (and how long does it take to get from the field to your door?). Use that spinach as soon as possible, and blanch and freeze it if you can’t use it quickly. See the Monday Mission for my ideas on using it up.
Want to read more? Spinach Words is so easy to navigate and filled with information that will leave you absolutely craving spinach tonight! Check out my recipes tab for a few great ideas…
Other Super Food Health Benefits:
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Monounsaturated Fats: Avocado, Peanut Butter and Olive Oil
- Omega-3s: Salmon and Flax
- Orange Veggies: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin