The health benefits of spinach include improved eyesight, healthy blood pressure, stronger muscles, the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, atherosclerosis, heart attacks, neurological benefits, bone mineralization, anti-ulcerative and anti-cancerous benefits, skin protection, healthy fetal development, and boosted growth for infants.
Spinach is a green, leafy vegetable that is cheap and affordable for everyone. It is a rich source of minerals, vitamins, pigments and phytonutrients. All of these together make spinach very beneficial for a number of vital processes. Due to the vast range of benefits from this vegetable, it is advisable to consume spinach on a regular basis. Spinach is a member of the Aramanthaceae family and its scientific name is Spinacia oleracea. One of the biggest reasons why spinach is so important and valued around the world is that it is very durable. It can even survive through the winter and be just as healthy in the spring.
Spinach is native to the Middle East, and was cultivated in Persia thousands of years ago. From there, it was brought east into China, approximately 1,500 years ago. It made its way into Europe a few hundred years later and quickly became a staple in a number of cultural cuisines. It can be eaten raw as a part of many salads, and it can also be cooked or sauteed down into a reduced form. This can be eaten as a side dish vegetable, or included in a number of recipes for soups, stews, and casseroles.
It has been used in various parts of the world as a medicinal plant specifically included in cooking to help increase overall health. Let’s take a closer look at why this leafy vegetable is such an integral part of our overall health.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF SPINACH
The various health benefits of spinach are due to the presence of minerals, vitamins, pigments and phytonutrients, including potassium, manganese, zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium. Spinach is a green vegetable which has a very wide distribution. It can be grown as a back yard crop or bought from the market at affordable prices. It is a source of vitamins like folate, niacin, vitamin A, B6, C and traces of the rest of the essential vitamins. Other important elements, including thiamine and riboflavin, which are used in various reactions in our body, are also found in spinach. Spinach is also rich in pigments like beta carotene, lutein, xanthene, and chlorophyllin. The best part is that spinach has a low fat content. Spinach offers a wide range of benefits to most of our physiological processes, whether consumed in raw or cooked form.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPINACH
Spinach has many important roles to play in maintaining a healthy body; various health benefits of spinach include the following:
GOOD EYESIGHT: Spinach is a rich source of beta carotene, lutein and xanthene, all of which are beneficial for eyesight. Beta carotene is supplied to the eyes by cooked spinach. It can prevent people from suffering from vitamin A deficiency, itching eyes, eye ulcers and dry eyes. This is also due to some of the anti-inflammatory properties of spinach, which can reduce the puffiness or irritation in the eyes.
SPINACH2AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION (AMD): AMD or Retinitis pigmentosa is responsible for causing blindness. It is due to the degeneration of lutein and xanthene which form a central part of the retina. According to research conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the consumption of spinach can result in regaining two vital pigments and effectively preventing AMD. Spinach also contains a wealth of antioxidants that reduce the harmful effects of free radicals, which are known to negatively impact vision and cause age-related conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration as well.
NEUROLOGICAL BENEFITS: Several components of spinach like potassium, folate, and various antioxidants are known to provide neurological benefits to people who regularly consume them. According to Neurology, folate reduces due the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease, so spinach is a very good idea for people who are at high risk of neural or cognitive decline. Potassium is an integral part of brain health as well, and it has been linked to increased blood flow to the brain, and heightened cognition, concentration, and neural activity.
MAINTAINS BLOOD PRESSURE: Spinach has a very high content of potassium and a low content of sodium. This composition of minerals is very beneficial for high blood pressure patients as potassium lowers and sodium raises the blood pressure. The folate present in spinach also contributes to the reduction of hypertension and relaxes blood vessels, while maintaining proper blood flow. By reducing blood pressure and relaxing the tension of vessels and arteries, you can reduce stress on the cardiovascular system and increase oxygenation to the body’s organ systems for optimal functionality.
STRENGTHENS MUSCLES: A component of spinach, factor C0-Q10, which is an antioxidant, plays an important role in strengthening muscles, especially heart muscles which continuously pump blood to all parts of the body. According to the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, C0-Q10 can be used to prevent and treat many cardiovascular diseases like hyperlipidemia, heart failure, hypertension and coronary heart disease.
BONE MINERALIZATION: Spinach is a good source of Viatmin K, which functions in retaining calcium in the bone matrix, thereby leading to bone mineralization. Apart from this, other minerals like manganese, copper, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus also help in building up of strong bones. This in turn can prevent an individual from developing osteoporosis of the bones. These minerals are also essential for maintaining healthy teeth and nails.
REDUCED RISK OF CATARACTS: The lutein and zeaxanthin present in spinach both act as strong antioxidants, thus preventing the eyes from the harsh effects of UV rays that can lead to cataracts. They also reduce the impact of free radicals, which can be a major cause of cataracts and other eye conditions.
PROPER METABOLIC ACTIVITY: There is a reason why doctors recommend adding spinach in a significant way to your diet. The amount of protein found in spinach is impressive for any vegetable, and they are easily broken down by enzymes into amino acids that are essential to humans. The re-formed mammal proteins aid our muscle development and growth, our body’s ability to heal wounds, and provides a boost for our entire metabolism, encouraging all of our organ systems to function at their optimal level. Also recent study suggests that Thylakoid found in spinach can curb cravings and hunger which can further help in weight loss.
ANTI-ULCERATIVE: It has been found that spinach and some other vegetables have the ability to protect the mucous membrane of the stomach, thereby decreasing the occurrence of gastric ulcers. Furthermore, the glycocyclerolipids found in spinach can boost the strength of the digestive tract lining, thereby preventing any unwanted inflammation in that part of the body that can cause harm.
PREVENTS ATHEROSCLEROSIS AND STROKES: Atherosclerosis is caused due to the hardening of the arteries. A pigment called lutein that is found in spinach has been shown to reduce the occurrence of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. This is due to the fact that spinach proteins tend to reduce the cholesterol and other fat deposits in the blood vessels.
FETAL DEVELOPMENT: Folate found in spinach is needed by a growing fetus for proper development of its new nervous system. Defects like cleft palate or spina bifida may occur due to a deficiency of folate. The vitamin A contained in spinach is advised to be consumed in higher quantities by the mother. Vitamin A is required in the lung development of the fetus as well, and can be transferred during breast-feeding, so spinach consumption should be continued after birth as well.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY CAPACITY: There are many anti-inflammatory compounds found in spinach, more than a dozen, in fact. They are classified into the category of methylenedioxyflavonol glucuronides, and spinach is one of the most powerful vegetables when it comes to reducing inflammation throughout the body. This not only means protecting the heart from dangerous inflammation and preventing cancer, but also in reducing the inflammation and associated pain from conditions like arthritis and gout, which afflict millions of people around the world.
ANTI-CANCER PROPERTIES: Spinach is made up of various important constituents that have been found to be promising in the treatment and prevention of various kinds of cancer. These include bladder, prostate, liver and lung cancers. Different constituents in spinach like folate, tocopherol, and chlorophyllin act via different mechanisms to treat and protect patients suffering from cancer.
Recent studies have revealed that spinach is very effective against aggressive prostate cancer, and this has been linked to epoxyxanthophylls, which are unique carotenoids, along with neoxanthin and violaxanthin, that directly reduce tumorous activity and the spread of cancer throughout the body.
SKIN PROTECTION: Different phytonutrients and pigments have been shown to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun, including UV rays. These not only protect, but also repair the damaged genes to some extent, thereby preventing skin cancer in the long run.
PROTEIN SOURCE FOR INFANT GROWTH: ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’ is known for his obsession with spinach. The cartoon was deliberately aimed to convince children to eat spinach and get strong. Infants are advised to be fed with spinach, which is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. These will result in proportionate development in their essential growing stages.
POSSIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPINACH
Diabetes management: spinach contains an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.1
Of note, most studies have used intra-venous alpha-lipoic acid and it is unsure whether oral supplementation would elicit the same benefits.
CANCER PREVENTION: Spinach and other green vegetables contain chlorophyll which has shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.
ASTHMA PREVENTION: The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients. One of these nutrients is beta-carotene, of which spinach is an excellent source. Apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin and carrots are also rich sources of beta-carotene.
LOWERING BLOOD PRESSURE: because of its high potassium content, spinach is recommended to those with high blood pressure to negate the effects of sodium in the body. A low potassium intake may be just as big of a risk factor in developing high blood pressure as a high sodium intake.
Other high potassium foods include potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans and oranges.
BONE HEALTH: Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improves calcium absorption and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium.5
PROMOTES REGULARITY: Spinach is high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract.
HEALTHY SKIN AND HAIR: Spinach is high in vitamin A, which is necessary for sebum production to keep hair moisturized. Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair. Spinach and other leafy greens high in vitamin C are imperative for the building and maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
Iron-deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, which can be prevented by an adequate intake of iron-rich foods, like spinach.
INCORPORATING MORE SPINACH INTO YOUR DIET
Spinach is a very versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is available fresh, frozen or canned. Here are some tips to try to incorporate more spinach into your daily routine:
Incorporate spinach into pastas, soups and casseroles.
Sautee spinach in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Add spinach to your wrap, sandwich or flatbread.
Make a dip with spinach, like spinach and artichoke dip or spinach goat cheese dip.
Add a handful of fresh spinach to an omelet or scramble, or throw a handful into a smoothie (see recipe below).