Because of all the health benefits of spinach, it ranks high among green leafy vegetables. Believed to have originated in the Arab countries and cultivated by the Persians (Iranians) about 2000 years ago, spinach (spinacia oleracea) was taken to Spain by the Moors, and from there it spread to other countries. The US and the Netherlands are the largest growers of spinach today.
The word spinach comes from the Spanish word hispania. Spinach, palak, or palakoora, as it’s known in some Indian languages, is very popular in Indian cooking. While spinach is commonly used in salads, soups, and quiches in the US, in India, spinach is used in curries, soups, breads, appetizers, and raitas. Spinach can be a nutritious addition to your fruit and vegetable smoothies.
Spinach and Health
Spinach is rich in essential amino acids, iron, calcium, vitamin A, and folic acid. It is the most inexpensive source of protein, providing as much protein as meat, fish, eggs, chicken do in the same quantity. Spinach is also an excellent source of fiber.
The iron in spinach makes it an excellent vegetable for those suffering from anemia, menopause, or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Spinach is rich in B-complex vitamins which protect the cells from mutating into cancerous cells, and also provide a quick boost of energy.
Spinach is also rich in lutein which helps protect against eye ailments such as macular degeneration and cataracts, the leading causes of blindness in old age. (Lutein and zeaxanthine also give spinach and other greens their green color.)
The vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, and riboflavin help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, asthma, heart disease. Vitamin A also helps trigger the body’s immune response. The vitamin C in spinach and other greens can help keep your skin and mucous membranes healthy.
Studies show that the vitamin A and vitamin C in spinach may help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease by reducing free radicals and preventing oxidation of cholesterol that would otherwise stick to the walls of the blood vessels.
The folic acid in spinach helps prevent buildup of homocysteine, a substance that can lead to heart attacks.
Magnesium in spinach can help reduce high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Spinach has a cooling and soothing effect on the body. It also has a laxative effect because of the fiber. Spinach juice is recommended by experts to treat constipation. Spinach juice combined with fresh coconut water is also recommended by experts as a diuretic for treating urinary disorders such as cystitis and nephritis.
Spinach is a rich source of calcium and other alkaline elements which preserve the alkalinity of the blood, thereby preventing chronic diseases such as acidosis caused by too much acid in the blood.
The folic acid in spinach makes it very valuable during pregnancy as it helps in the healthy development of the fetus and reduces the risk of abortion and accidental hemorrhage. Spinach provides a lot of nutrition to lactating mothers and improves the quality of the milk.
If buying fresh, loose spinach (rather than pre-washed and bagged, frozen, or canned), make sure the leaves are green and crisp. Buy spinach bunches that are dry, as any moisture will cause them to spoil quickly. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to keep spinach fresh for about a week.
Before using, chop off the thicker part of the stems, and wash in several changes of water to get rid of sand and dirt. (Place the leaves in a large bowl of water and let sit for a few seconds for the dirt and sand to settle at the bottom, remove the leaves, and repeat until the water is clear.)
While most of the time it’s safe to eat spinach raw, it’s better to cook it (blanch, steam, or saute) to get rid of bacteria such as E. Coli. Cooking spinach also allows you to absorb more of the calcium, iron, and magnesium from it.
To prevent loss of nutrients, cook the leaves on medium heat, and blanch or steam the leaves. Place the leaves in a pan on low-medium heat, and cover and cook until tender. No water is needed as spinach contains a lot of water like other greens and release water as they cook.
To improve iron absorption, combine spinach with vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C such as citrus (lime/lemon, oranges) and tomatoes.
Foods That Heal, H. K. Bakhru
The Complete Book of Nutritional Healing, Deborah Mitchell