SPINACH (SPINACIAOLERACEA) is a wonderful green-leafy vegetable often recognized as one of the functional foods for its wholesome nutritional, antioxidants and anti-cancer composition. Its tender, crispy, dark-green leaves are one of the favorite ingredients of chefs all around the planet. Spinacia Spinach may survive over winter in temperate regions.
The leaves are alternate, simple, and ovate to triangular, very variable in size from about 2–30 cm long and 1–15 cm broad, with larger leaves at the base of the plant and small leaves higher on the flowering stem. The flowers are inconspicuous, yellow-green, 3–4 mm diameter, maturing into a small, hard, dry, lumpy fruit cluster 5–10 mm across containing several seeds. Although, it can be grown year round, fresh greens are best available just after the winter season in the Northern hemisphere from March through May and from September until November, in the South of the equatorial line.
Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent it as a gift to this country. Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as “the Spanish vegetable” in England.
There are three different types of spinach generally available. Savoy has crisp, creased curly leaves that have a springy texture. Smooth-leaf has flat, unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves, while semi-savoy is similar in texture to savoy but is not as crinkled in appearance. Baby spinach is great for use in salads owing to its taste and delicate texture.
Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach with its delicate texture and jade green color provide more nutrients than any other food. Spinach is store house for many phyto-nutrients that have health promotional and disease prevention properties including very low in calories and fats (100 g of raw leaves provide just 23 calories). Its leaves hold a good amount of soluble dietary fiber and no wonder green spinach is one of the finest vegetable sources recommended in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs. Fresh 100 g of spinach contains about 25% of daily intake of iron; one of the richest among green leafy vegetables. Iron is an important trace element required by the human body for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for oxidation-reduction enzyme, cytochrome-oxidase during the cellular metabolism.
Fresh leaves are rich source of several vital anti-oxidant vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene. Together, these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a healing role in aging and various disease processes. Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions. It thus helps protect from “age-related macular related macular disease” (ARMD), especially in the elderly.
In addition, vitamin A is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is essential for normal eye-sight. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin A and flavonoids also known to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. Spinach leaves are an excellent source of vitamin K. 100 g of fresh greens provides 402% of daily vitamin-K requirements. Vitamin K plays a vital role in strengthening the bone mass by promoting osteotrophic (bone building) activity in the bone. Additionally, it also has established role in patients with Alzheimer’s disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
This green leafy vegetable also contains good amounts of many B-complex vitamins such as vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin, folates and niacin. Folates help prevent neural tube defects in the offspring. 100 g of farm fresh spinach has 47% of daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Its leaves also contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Zinc is a co-factor for many enzymes that regulate growth and development, sperm generation, digestion and nucleic acid synthesis. It is also good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Regular consumption of spinach in the diet helps prevent osteoporosis (weakness of bones), iron-deficiency anemia. Moreover, its soft leaves are believed to protect human body from cardiovascular diseases and cancers of colon and prostate. According to research compiled by Whole Foods, spinach is an excellent promoter of cardiovascular health.
The antioxidant properties of spinach (water-soluble in the form of vitamin C and fat-soluble beta-carotene) work together to promote good cardiovascular health by preventing the harmful oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol is a danger to the heart and arteries. Magnesium in spinach works toward healthy blood pressure levels. In fact, just a salad-size portion of spinach will work to lower high blood pressure within hours. A serving of spinach contains 65 percent of your daily requirement of folate, and folate converts harmful, stroke-inducing chemicals into harmless compounds.
Still need motivation to eat a few servings of spinach every day? This dark green leaf will protect your brain function from premature aging and slow old age’s typical negative effects on your metal capabilities. Spinach accomplishes this by preventing the harmful effects of oxidation on your brain. Those who eat vegetables in quantity, especially those of the leafy green variety, experience a decrease in brain function loss. However, there is no such correlation with fruit consumption. Oh, and iceberg lettuce doesn’t cut it. A good rule of thumb: the darker the leaf, the better. This brings us back to spinach.
The wealth of vitamin K provided by spinach is important for maintaining bone health. Vitamin K1 helps prevent excessive activation of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone. Additionally, friendly bacteria in our intestines convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, which activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. All of these vitamin K-related mechanisms point to the importance of vitamin K-rich foods for bone health, and it is difficult to find vegetables that are richer in vitamin K than spinach. (On our World’s Healthiest Foods list, only kale provides more micrograms of vitamin K per cup.)
Spinach is also an excellent source of other bone-supportive nutrients including calcium and magnesium. So while spinach probably won’t make you super strong the minute you eat it, as it did for Popeye, it will promote your health and vitality in many other ways. It seems like Popeye was pretty smart after all.