HEALTHY FOODS — By Mini Padikkal — What comes to our mind when we see spinach? For sure it is ‘Popeye’, the famous cartoon character who derives his super powers and strength from a can of spinach! This could be because of the vibrant green leafy ‘spinach’ with its innumerable health benefits is considered the ultimate super food for man. The health benefits of spinach are countless. A single cup or a handful of raw spinach contains seven calories, seven grams of carbohydrate, four grams of fibre and five grams of protein. Spinach is low in calories, and is one the most nutrient foods. It is produced in Oman and fresh spinach is available in all the supermarkets daily.
Spinach is an excellent source of fibre and vitamin K. It is a rich source of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin and manganese. Loaded with iron, spinach is excellent for growing children, adolescents, pre-menstruating and post-menopausal women. Magnesium has a very important role in the management of blood pressure and also gives protection against heart disease. Recent studies indicates that vitamin K and calcium are extremely important for maintaining bone health. Spinach is also rich in folate, a water- soluble B vitamin which is important for good cognitive functions. Spinach with extra folate is vital for the development of a baby’s nervous system and lungs. Deficiency in folate can cause complications in babies such as cleft palate, spina fibida etc. The extra vitamin A in spinach is also highly beneficial for lactating mothers.
Spinach is especially high in vitamin A and related compounds such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Spinach is one of the richest sources of lutein, containing nearly 30,000 micrograms 3oz/75g of frozen spinach. Lutein is a carotenoid that protects the eyes against macular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness in people over 65) and cataracts. It is important to know that lutein is fat soluble. Therefore, you can have your spinach salad with little extra virgin olive oil or flax seed oil. Your eyes will say ‘thank you’.
Spinach is also rich in glycol lipids, powerful phytochemicals known to have cancer cell growth suppression and anti-proliferation qualities. Researchers have identified over 10 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that can act as anti-cancer agents against cancers of liver, gall bladder, colon, breast, cervical and prostate. Spinach also contains a carotenoid called neoxanthin that induces prostate cancer cells to self destruct. It contains a flavanoid called kaempferol which can reduce the risk for ovarian cancer. A National Cancer Institute study found that higher intake of vegetables that contain lutein and zeaxanthin, such as spinach, is associated with a lower Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma risk.
Our memory or our body functions start to slip as we get older. There is a large amount of Vitamin B that is present in servings of spinach that will promote a healthier nervous system, and will increase your normal brain and memory functioning. You do need to eat organically grown spinach if you can, because leafy green vegetables are subject to high amounts of pesticides. Spinach is one of the top ten vegetables laden with pesticides. And those who have kidney stones or any other kidney related issues are not advised to take spinach as it can absorb calcium.
To help maintain freshness, put unwashed spinach in a plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator. Use within a few days, or you will lose some of its nutritional value. Those who want to store it for long should wash the spinach and steam it for around one minute, allow to cool and place it in freezer bags. This will last up to 1 year. There are many recipes to help you include this great vegetable in your diet more often. You can also drink spinach juice, which is a good drink to have in the morning to help those who suffer from fatigue. Steaming is the best method to cook spinach because vitamin C and B-complex can be destroyed by water, heat or light. Spinach is easily available throughout the year in Oman. So do yourself a healthy favour and aim for a few ounces, raw or steamed, every day. Spinach is a vitamin bomb, so you should definitely consider eating more of it. You will never go wrong adding it to your diet. Start right now!
— The writer is a dietician at Atlas star Medical Centre, Al Khuwair, Muscat.