The topic we will be discussing here is Spinacia oleracea. Sound familiar?
Probably not. But I can pretty much guarantee you’ve had it or at least tried it. This is spinach.
Popeye used to eat it by the canful to make his muscles big and strong. Although your biceps won’t grow three sizes in the blink of an eye, spinach can have lots of beneficial health effects. After all, it is one of the healthiest foods out there.
Spinach is a green leafy green vegetable consumed by people across the globe. It originated in Persia. Spinach belongs to the amaranth family. It is related to beets and quinoa.
Spinach is so much more than a tasty green leaf. It has a vast and impressive nutritional profile. It contains several vitamins, minerals, and other compounds. Let’s talk all about this powerfully antioxidant vegetable.
Get Your FREE Eye Health Diet Plan
- Nine most important vitamins for eye health
- How to naturally protect and improve your eye health as you age
- Developed exclusively by our medical doctor
Spinach has great nutraceutical potential. This is also known as a functional food.
Spinach has potent medicinal properties due to its multiple antioxidant phytoconstituents. These are called the natural antioxidant mixture (or NAO for short).
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach have substantial health promoting activities. This is because of the functional properties of their nutrients and other non essential chemical compounds.
Spinach contains phytochemicals and bioactive substances that are able to scavenge reactive oxygen species. They are also able to perform the following activities:
- Prevent molecular oxidative damage
- Modulate expression and activity of genes involved in metabolism, proliferation, inflammation, and antioxidant defense
- Curb food intake by inducing secretion of satiety hormones
Spinach contains lots of vitamins and minerals. It also has glycolipids and thylakoids that impart health benefits.
A 100 gram serving of spinach contains 23 calories. It has 91% water content. Spinach also contains 2.9 grams of protein and 0.4 grams of fat.
One serving size of spinach contains 3.6 grams of carbs. Most of these are fiber.
100 grams of spinach has 0.4 grams of sugar, mostly in the forms of glucose and fructose.
That one serving of spinach has 2.2 grams of dietary fiber. Spinach contains insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to the stool as food passes through your digestive system. This can help to prevent constipation.
Vitamins and minerals
Spinach contains many essential vitamins and minerals.
Spinach is a good source of magnesium. This is good news, because magnesium is a cofactor for more than 300 metabolic reactions in the body. Some of the processes that use magnesium include the following:
- Protein synthesis
- Cellular energy production
- Cellular energy storage
- Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and Ribonucleic acid (RNA) synthesis
- Stabilizing membranes of mitochondria
Magnesium also plays a critical role in the following qualities:
- Nerve transmission
- Heart excitability
- Nerve to muscle conduction
- Muscular contraction
- Vasomotor tone
- Blood pressure
- Glucose metabolism
- Insulin metabolism
Since magnesium has so many functions in the body, it plays an overall role in disease prevention and general health. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to the following problems and conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cerebrovascular accident (also known commonly as stroke)
- Hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure)
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
Spinach is high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. This is why vitamin C is helpful for skin health and immune function.
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting. Luckily, spinach has lots of it! One spinach leaf contains more than half of your daily needs of vitamin K1.
This is also called folic acid or vitamin B9. Folic acid is important for pregnant women. It is also essential for regular cellular function and tissue growth. Spinach has quite a bit of folate.
The term “folate” comes from the Latin word folium, which means “leaf”. Folate is an essential nutrient for human beings. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folic acid is the form used in dietary supplements, medicines, and fortified foods.
Since the 1980’s, health care providers have been recommending that women who plan to become pregnant or already are take a folic acid supplement. This recommendation is based on studies showing that folic acid decreases the risk of neural tube defects in babies.
Many countries have since implemented folic acid fortification programs. Since then, there has been a population wide increase of folic acid intake and a decrease in neural tube defects.
Spinach contains lots of iron. Iron helps to create hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is crucial to health, as it brings oxygen to the tissues of your body.
Spinach also contains calcium. Calcium is good for bone health. However, calcium is also an important signaling molecule for your nervous system, your heart, and your muscles!
Other vitamins and minerals
Spinach also contains the following vitamins and minerals:
Spinach is full of compounds that are beneficial to health.
The ingestion of dietary nitrates can have the following effects:
- Promotes the bioavailability of nitric oxide
- Reduces blood pressure
- Enhances tissue blood flow
- Modulates muscle oxygen utilization
- Improves exercise tolerance
Eating nitrates through foods like spinach can enhance sports performance and decrease complications associated with limited oxygen availability or transport. It can also be helpful in hypertension and metabolic syndrome.
Recent studies show that eating nitrate foods might increase muscle contractility, improving the speed and power of muscle contraction.
Eating nitrate foods can also improve cognitive performance. This goes for both while resting and while exercising.
Researchers have stated that eating high nitrate foods such as spinach can be prophylactic in preventing diseases of aging and other heart and metabolic diseases.
Rubioscolins are in spinach. They are exogenous peptides in food proteins. They exert activities similar to opioids.
Spinach contains quite a bit of lutein. Lutein is linked to improved eye health.
Kaempferol is an antioxidant. It may decrease your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Quercetin is yet another antioxidant you can find in spinach. Quercetin may help defend against infections and inflammation. This is due to its anti inflammatory property. Spinach is actually one of the richest sources of quercetin out there.
Zeaxanthin is yet another antioxidant in spinach. This is similar to lutein and can help improve eye health.
Spinach also contains two types of chlorophyll. They are simply called chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b.
Omega 3 fatty acids
When we think of omega 3 fatty acids, spinach doesn’t usually come to mind. We tend to think of fish instead! Surprising as it may be, spinach does indeed contain omega 3 fatty acids.
Health benefits of spinach
Spinach can have protective effects against common chronic diseases. These include cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Spinach contains two compounds called MGDG and SQDG that may help slow the growth of cancer cells. In one study, these compounds helped to slow tumor growth in a woman’s cervix. They even made the tumor smaller. There are also several human studies linking consuming spinach to a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Spinach can also help to prevent breast cancer. There is an animal study stating that spinach might help to suppress cancer formation. This is because of spinach’s high content of antioxidants. These may also help to fight cancer.
Helps with Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is called NAFLD for short. One study looked at rats, who ate a high fat diet and got NAFLD. Their high fat diet also gave them high cholesterol and altered their gut microbiota. It also altered the pattern of short chain fatty acids and phenolic gut microbe metabolites.
Supplementing the diet with spinach helped improve some of these alterations caused by the high fat diet. Specifically, spinach helped to increase counts of Lactobacillus (a healthy gut microbe). Adding spinach to the diet also helped to reduce fasting glucose levels. It also reduced total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Low density lipoprotein cholesterol is called LDL for short. This is what we often call “bad cholesterol”. Spinach in the diet also helped to prevent excess cholesterol from accumulating in the liver. This helped with biomarkers for liver health.
One study looked at the antacid effect of raw spinach juice in an artificial stomach model. Researchers determined the acidity of spinach extract and its neutralizing effect on artificial stomach acid. This was compared to the values of raw spinach juice.
Both spinach extract and spinach juice had significantly better acid neutralizing effects than the control. They also both had consistent duration of neutralization. And they had higher antacid capacity than control. Researchers concluded that spinach displays significant antacid activity in both raw juice form and as an extract.
Effects on the central nervous system
Since spinach contains opioid peptides, these have regulatory functions in the central nervous system. These are mostly related to the perception of pain, emotion, and memory.
Affects gastrointestinal function
Food derived opioid peptides such as spinach influence gastrointestinal function. This includes the following parameters:
- Gut motility
- Hormone release
- Mucus production
- Local immunity
In healthy individuals, food derived opioid peptides such as spinach can benefit both the nervous system as well as the digestive system. Opioid receptors are important targets in the treatment of several disease processes.
Traditional opiate compounds include alkaloids. These have many side effects, so their clinical effectiveness is limited. Since food derived opioid peptides are far safer, they can be used as a functional food.
Reduce oxidative stress
Spinach has free radical scavenging activities. This means that spinach can help to reduce oxidative stress. Free radicals are byproducts of metabolism. They can lead to oxidative stress. This triggers sped up aging processes. It can also increase your risk of cancer and diabetes.
Antioxidants such as those in spinach fight oxidative stress. They also help to reduce the damage already done by oxidative stress.
A study looked at eight healthy subjects. They found that spinach helped in the prevention of oxidative damage. Even though this was a small study, other animal and human research has backed up its findings.
Benefits eye health
Spinach is high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These are both antioxidants. They are also carotenoids. They are responsible for the colouring in certain vegetables. Human eyes also contain lots of lutein and zeaxanthin. They help to protect your eyes from the damage that can occur from sunlight.
Several studies show that zeaxanthin and lutein help to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Both of these are major causes of blindness. Lutein and zeaxanthin may even be able to reverse existing damage in the eyes.
Other benefits of spinach
Spinach has many other health and nutritional benefits throughout the body, including the following:
- Anti obesity
- Hypoglycemic (meaning it helps to lower blood sugar levels)
- Hypolipidemic (helps to lower levels of fats in the blood)
- Lowers blood pressure
- Prevents deficiency of various vitamins and minerals
- Essential for normal physiological function
- Can help to prevent diseases associated with aging
Buying pre cut spinach is always taking a risk. Fresh cut produce is as greater risk of contamination with Salmonella. There have also been Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks attributable to spinach.
Because spinach contains food derived opioid peptides, it can lead to gastrointestinal permeability changes. This in combination with opioids can contribute to the formation of certain diseases.
Due to its oxalic acid content, spinach can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. If you are prone to kidney stones, your health care provider may tell you to avoid eating spinach for awhile.
Spinach is fairly versatile. You can enjoy it in a can, frozen spinach, or fresh. You can cook it, or eat it. Spinach is delicious on its own. It is also tasty in other dishes.
You may be asking yourself whether cooked spinach is as effective as raw spinach. Certain cooking methods can enhance or decrease the absorbability of certain nutrients in spinach.
For example, stir frying spinach lowers the bioavailability of carotenoids. On the other hand, steaming spinach significantly improves the bioavilability of lutein. Spinach nutritionists state that vegetables containing high contents of nitrate such as spinach should be boiled before eating.
Spinach pairs well with…
Surprising as this may be, spinach and nutmeg go well together. You can use both these ingredients in a creamed spinach or buttered spinach with feta.
Spinach and protein
Spinach pairs well with fish, meat, and dairy. You can make a spinach and feta stuffed chicken. Try a Parmesan spring chicken, or an organic spinach and fish risotto.
Salads and soups
Spinach goes wonderfully into all kinds of salads and soups. Try making a zucchini and baby spinach salad. Or make a lentil and spinach soup with bacon. You can even try a warm cauliflower spinach salad.
Spinach and pasta
Spinach goes easily and wonderfully into pasta dishes. Try it in a bacon, spinach and gorgonzola pasta. Try a spinach tomato pasta. How about gnocchi with spinach and roasted squash and goat cheese? Sounds delicious! And you can always top up your pasta dish with fresh spinach too.
Spinach for dinner
Spinach goes into dinner recipes flawlessly. You could make a salmon with spinach and tartare cream. You could mix spinach in with shrimp and roasted peppers. You could make a curry using chickpeas, tomatoes, and spinach. You could make a spinach tuna cheese melt. There are so many options. The list goes on and on.
Spinach has so many health benefits, and although eating spinach does come with a few warnings to keep in mind it is a nutrient powerhouse. If you have any of the health conditions we talked about in this article, you may want to incorporate more spinach into your daily diet. Why not try a spinach recipe for dinner tonight?