Spotlight on Greens 01: Spinach
Spinach, we know it's good for us, but just how good is good? Keep reading to find out why I am such a big fan!
Where Does Spinach Come From?
Spinach originated in Persia (what is now known as Iran) and quickly spread to Europe and Asia. However, spinach cultivation in North america didn't begin until the 19th century.
When is Spinach Season?
Spinach is readily available in Ontario from mid May through October. (Yay!) That's great news for spinach lovers!
Spinach (100g serving) is an Excellent source (containing 20% of the daily recommended intake or more) of the following nutrients; A, C, K, magnesium, manganese, iron and folate. It is also a good source (containing 10%-19% of the the DRI) of Riboflavon, B6, E, calcium and dietary fibre.
100g serving of spinach comes in around 27 calories, with approximately 3g of protein, and has a very low glycemic index making spinach a big bang for your nutritional buck.
It is important to note that while raw spinach is an excellent source of folate (approximately 25% of folate is lost in cooking), if you are looking to boost iron and calcium absorption, it must be lightly cooked. Spinach does contain binding agents called oxylates, which can inhibit absorption of iron and calcium. However, these are broken down by lightly cooking this leafy. In the case of iron, it is also beneficial to combine spinach with vitamin C rich foods to ensure iron absorption, such as citrus, strawberries, blueberries, etc.
Other Health Related Benefits
Abundant flavonoids in spinach act as antioxidants to keep cholesterol from oxidizing and protect the body from free radicals, particularly in the colon. The folate in spinach is good for cardiovascular health, and magnesium helps lower high blood pressure. Studies also have shown that spinach helps maintain brain health, memory and mental clarity.
Spinach contains extremely high amounts of Chlorophyll (the pigment that gives spinach its rich green colour). chlorophyll is known to aid digestion, support healthy gut bacteria, alkalize the body and reduce inflammation.
Another interesting fact concerning Chlorophyll comes to us from "World's Healthiest Foods" - "Inside the cells of the spinach plant, the places where chlorophyll gets stored are called chloroplasts, and their membranes play an active role in converting sunlight into energy (through a process called photosynthesis). These chloroplast-associated membranes are called thylakoid membranes, or simply thylakoids. Because fresh spinach is such a rich source of chlorophyll, it has often been used in research studies as a source for thylakoids and their potential health benefits. Several recent studies in this area have shown thylakoid-rich extracts from spinach to delay stomach emptying, decrease levels of hunger-related hormones like ghrelin, and increase levels of satiety-related hormones like glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Exactly what these changes mean is not yet clear, but researchers hope to eventually determine whether routine intake of spinach can help lower risk of obesity partly because of these thylakoid-related processes. It is also worth noting in this context that several prescription drugs currently used to help treat type 2 diabetes (for example, albiglutide, exanatide, dulaglutide, and liraglutide) work by imitating the activity of GLP-1. For this reason, future studies may find a relationship not only between risk of obesity and spinach intake but risk of type 2 diabetes as well."
Possible ill effects
If someone is taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) it is important that they do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting. You can still enjoy spinach in moderate amounts.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If a person's kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal, anyone with kidney disease should speak with their doctor about their intake of this and other high potassium foods.
Spinach has a milder flavour than other greens and pairs well with many other foods like strawberry, citrus friuts, tamari and olive oil.
To enhance its flavor, add nutmeg, mace, fresh garlic, coarsely ground black pepper or, in moderation, fresh lemon juice, or mustard.
Preparing and Cooking
Soak in a basin of cold water to remove sand and grit. Change water several times or until the bottom of the basin is free of residue. Dry on clean towel, bag and refrigerate. Use within seven days.
Spinach is easily overcooked. Cook gently, over low to moderate heat.
Enjoy it raw in salads, smoothies, or on sandwiches and wraps. Enjoy it lightly wilted with onions and olive oil, or add it to your pesto or tomato sauces. The possibilities are endless!